Tag Archives: Black History Matters

Free At Last: A Poem On Black History & Christianity

Last night I had the opportunity to perform this poem at an open mic event in D.C. The poem expresses my thoughts on Black History, the significance of it, two figures in Black History, and how Christianity is weaved into the narrative of Black Americans. Here’s the imbedded YouTube video link and lyrics, hope you all enjoy!

Free At Last

Negro History Week
Let us–take a peek and rewind to the time where the mind of a black man conceived the thought of a national holiday 
celebrating the achievements of colored people–
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, thank you for your contributions 
On the second week of the second month in 1926, 
The Havard-trained historian attempted to re-educate the miseducated negro and the American public through the public school system
Unfortunately his creatively crafted curriculum meant to correct false views of black folk was at first lukewarmly received 
But year after year after year 
The celebration of black excellence continued 
where Teachers, Scholars, and the ASNLH became the sinews of a once infant skeletal structure 
making its way into metaphorical adolescence in 1976 
Negro History Week became Black History Month 
and it still got a lot more growing to do before it’s mature enough to no longer need special attention 
but while I have your attention, let me let you in on a little secret
Slavery is not the beginning of black history, it was just an interruption
Pardon me for the tangent 
However—
I’ve grown increasingly interested in the intricate lives of Frederick 
Douglass and Phillis Wheatley 
Brother Douglass was born a Talbot County slave— 
Went from being sold on auction blocks to articulate author and abolitionist 
but what caught my attention was the faith that he finished with
continual hope in a Liberating God was imperative 
And as I sat down one night 
scanning through the pages of his Narrative 
I couldn’t help but question a few things….
Like why would a man plant himself so deeply into the soils of Scripture 
when them same Scriptures were used to rationalize the whipping of Aunt Hester? 
Could you imagine staring into the blood-shot eyes of a drunk slave master?
Captain Anthony, so intoxicated with power and pride
that he could not see the humanity of the woman in front of him
So Frail, 
So Broken,
So Terrified 
and yet popular Puritan preachers at the time justified this heinous crime 
Or Sister Wheatley, 
the West African slave girl turned prolific poet 
who trusted in the Providence of God
the same God that evangelists taught created her dark ebony skin as a curse 
slowly ripping away at any sense of dignity and worth 
and yet still immersed herself in a faith-filled life? 
Why and How?
the two questions that were so ever-present in my mind 
weighing heavy on my psyche all night
I decided to sleep it off
And the next day 
as I awoke from my slumber sitting on the cold corner of my bed
poetic rhetoric from Propaganda rang powerfully through my head
“Scratch your temple, so deep it’s simple…in all your getting, get understanding, you don’t get it do you?”
Then it clicked–
The reality of God’s existence is not dependent upon poor performance from backwards Puritan preachers 
Nor should the truth of Christ be eclipsed 
By the white slave master’s whips
And I know some who claim to follow Christ, 
Wake up, 
Brush they tongue in hate speech, And go to bed under Confederate Flag sheets deter you from traversin’ on that straight and narrow
Believing it only produces narrow-minded, straight people 
And I know that it’s a dark part of our history
A winter solstice, where the sun shines few and its bright light dim
the Longest Night
And them cold, frigid winds of lies 
cuts at your skin giving you frostbite
Making it hard to breath, it suffocates the truth
Like a noose wrapped around its neck
Hanging from poplar trees
All I see is strange fruit—
However, we all know that winter don’t last forever 
And that the renewing warm breeze of Spring brings 
what was dead back to life
what was hidden in plain sight 
And them potent rays of light pierce through thick gray skies
So that the reality of the Sun (Son)
Loosens that noose 
Gives breath back to them lungs
And heals the wounds of those to whom it may concern
So now, I emancipate my vocal cords 
for the proclamation of a narrative that’s far from a European folklore
–that was extra for my 5% & Hotep brothers, how a Mideast movement gon’ be a white mans religion? 
Like didn’t you know that Jesus grew up in Nazareth & his tattered feet walked Egyptian soil?
And yes, them Puritans were trippin’ 
They used faith to bind black men, women and children 
but Yeshiva, God in his Providence loosened the physical shackles and chains of our people 
And in the process some even became His people
Spiritually set free from the grip of their own depravity
Harmoniously proclaiming: 
“Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty we’re free at last!” 
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Black History Month: #BHMReadingList

As we end out the second week of February, I’m sure you’ve already seen a plethora of think pieces about Black History Month, Afro-American achievements, the Civil Rights Movement and more. You’ll find some pieces explaining why Black History Month is still needed today (*hint* *hint* Stacy Dash) while others focus on its founder, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and his original vision. Pieces such as this one from Dr. Tony Evans articulates that the celebration of Black History Month among Christians can help address racial tension and disunity within the Church. Towards the end of the article Dr. Evans writes:

“Black History Month gives us an opportunity to intentionally familiarize ourselves in such a way that will enable us to embrace our diversity to its fullest, putting unity to use for good.”

This piece from Chidike Okeem focuses on Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian and the author of The Mis-Education of the Negro. Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, was birthed out of a desire to see black achievement celebrated in American society, particularly in academia. Thus, Woodson’s primary focus was in curating curriculum and literature for classroom study. The motivation behind this endeavor can be summed up with this quote from Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro:

“If you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race.”

As far as I can remember I’ve never approached this annual celebration as seriously as Dr. Tony Evans, Chidike Okeem, or Carter G. Woodson. I remember doing a Wax Museum-like project in elementary school on George Washington Carver. I also remember my high school’s annual Black History Month celebration assembly. However, I don’t remember intentionally celebrating black historical achievements outside of mandatory school projects. Black History Month 2015 was the first time I made an effort to do exactly that. For those 28 days in February, I decided to look up lesser known or unknown black history facts and post what I found on social media. In my search for black history facts I came across inspirational people like;

  • Dr. Ernest Everest, the recipient of the Spingarn medal for his pioneering in cell division and fertilization on February 2nd, 1915.
  • Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the first known physician to successfully perform open-heart surgery on February 3rd, 1893.
  • Rebecca Lee Crumple, the first black woman to receive a medical degree on February 24th, 1864.

Now with an even greater passion to see diversity celebrated and a love for education, I’ve decided to do more in-depth reading—reading that will extend past the month of February.

Currently, I’m reading Harlem Renaissance by Nathan Irvin Huggins and How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas C. Oden. The Harlem Renaissance was an artistic movement that took place in Harlem, NY during the late 20’s and early 30’s. It was an influential movement made up of black intellectuals, artists, poets, playwrights, authors, actors, and musicians. These Harlemites created art addressing black identity, American culture, Jazz, and more. Huggins’ book doesn’t simply relay information about the Harlem Renaissance, instead it seeks to give the reader “a better understanding of America as a whole” during the 20’s and 30’s.

Oden’s book covers ancient African Christianity, the Christianity that existed in Africa before the transatlantic slave trade. Throughout the book, Oden explains how “Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture from its infancy.” He also talks about how “some of the most decisive intellectual achievements of Christianity were explored and understood in Africa before they were in Europe.” This is not to be confused with the idea that Europeans stole Egyptian mythology and reworked it into Christianity. Instead, the book seeks to debunk the myth of Christianity being the “white man’s religion.”

As a Spoken Word poet, much of what I do is artistically rooted in the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz poets like Langston Hughes and Melvin B. Tolson were among the first to write poetry in the form of improvised Jazz while addressing black issues. The Jazz poetry developed during the Harlem Renaissance would then evolve into what’s now called Spoken Word poetry. Reading about Ancient African Christianity has deepened my understanding of my faith and it has confirmed the fact that Christianity is more than “European folklore.” North African church leaders like Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian, Origen, and Athanasius of Alexandria all contributed to the theological and practical life of Christianity before it moved westward. If you’re like me and interested in doing more in-depth reading, I’d highly recommend these two books. In case you breeze through those two, here are 20 other books that I’ve read or I’m currently reading:

  1. The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson
  2. Navigating the N Word: How Keeping ‘Niggas’ Alive is Killing Black Folk by Brady Goodwin Jr.
  3. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois
  4. Narrative of the Life by Frederick Douglass
  5. My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass
  6. Life and Times by Frederick Douglass
  7. Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience by Carl. F. Ellis Jr.
  8. With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman by Howard Thurman
  9. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  10. The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life by Wallace Thurman
  11. Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes
  12. Cane by Jean Toomer
  13. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  14. The Stoney Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation by Cain Hope Felder
  15. Oneness Embraced by Tony Evans
  16. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis
  17. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X
  18. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr; Edited by Clayborne Carson
  19. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
  20. Somebody’s Calling My Name: Black Sacred Music and Social Change by Wyatt Tee Walker