Today marks the beginning of Black History Month, a season when we remember important people and events in the history of African Americans. The first Black History Month was held in 1970 at Kent State University, but a week-long mid-February celebration of African-American history dates back to 1926. Why February? Because it’s the month when Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born.
This year, let’s center African-American voices in our readings and reflections. I am challenging myself to read a book by Barbara Holmes entitled “Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church” (second edition). This book was published in 2017 and contains chapters that explore spiritual life during the time of slavery, congregational life in African-American churches, the fusion of contemplation and activism in the Black church, the role of Christian faith in the Black Lives Matter movement, and the contemplative presidency of Barack Obama. I have had this book on my shelf for a couple of years but have not gotten around to reading it yet. I’m going to make it a priority this month.
In our daily “Scripture and Prayer” videos this month, we will read historic and contemporary prayers written and/or spoken by African-Americans. In the past, almost all of the prayers I have shared in these videos have come from one specific book, which predominantly features European (white) people. But the world is much bigger than Europe, and we all need to hear the voices of those whose ancestry traces back to a different continent.
Why is this important to do? Because the voices of people like me are heard all the time. Because the voices of people different from me have been ignored (or misunderstood) by people like me for a long time. Because Black lives matter, Black voices matter, and Black prayers matter. Because sometimes (perhaps often!) the prayers of African-Americans speak to situations that people like me would never experience. Because people of color have much to teach me about God’s compassion, provision, and presence. Because I need to listen in order to understand and to appreciate and to be transformed.
Join me in centering Black voices this month.