’Make It Plain’ - A Black History Month reflection
Black History Month often raises many questions and responses around why it is celebrated. Therefore, I ask for this moment of personal privilege, not as debate (my heart has grown weary of that), but as an opportunity of witness. February, Black History Month, is a time to celebrate the resilient accomplishments of a people forged in a hope that will not be denied.
It is our history together, all of us, and all of it. It is time to “Look to the rock from which [we] were hewn, and to the quarry from which [we] were dug” (Isaiah 51:1). Stone cut from a quarry is never perfect until it is chiseled and shaped for its purpose and God’s will. There have been many hands, red, yellow, black, and white, that have shaped our history. “[We] are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” (Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail). “For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be” ( MLK, Oberlin College commencement).
Black History Month is a time to give thanks for the countless men and women who, with both heart and soul, like Michelangelo, looked at a piece of marble and saw a masterpiece. History is never shaped in a vacuum; it is shared in all its uniqueness and in all its colors and hues. Black History must be shared if our nation is to rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, that all people are created equal (MLK, I Have a Dream Speech). It is my hope and prayer that during this Black History Month we celebrate together God’s ability to hew out of the stones of bitterness, despair, polarization, anxiety, uncertainty, and the stubborn stone of racism, a new thing glowing with a joy, power and hope that overcomes all obstacles.
If this is to become true, we must not be afraid to face the good, bad, and the ugly of our shared history. There can be no American History without Black History. I still hear Mr. Jackson, a parishioner in my second pastoral appointment, practicing the African American tradition of call and response during the sermon: “Tell it all!” “Make it plain!” His voice would boom from the amen corner. On the day when we are not afraid to “make it plain” and “tell it all,” we will surely understand that in Christ Jesus, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Even as I write these words, I learn that Kentucky State University has received a bomb threat. Kentucky State is one of many Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) living through this current nightmare. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are better than this. Winston Churchill said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Lord, have mercy. May we call upon our better angels in this season of already heightened anxiety. Please join me in prayer in for all our HBCUs that are experiencing this very scary, evil hatred.