Black history month is traditionally a time to reflect on the accomplishments of notables from the past. We often think of people who have done marvelous works that impacted thousands, if not millions of people during their lifetime and beyond. Their legacies bless us from generation to generation. Men and women from every walk of life, including science, math, economics, education, literature, sports, religion, philosophy, architecture, politics, music, etc., are studied and applauded throughout the nation. This annual focus on the nation’s best and brightest serves to educate minds and transform perceptions of men and women of color. This is especially true and significant for identity formation in young people. At a recent visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I was equally impressed and inspired by the exhibits and the reaction to the exhibits by the young people touring the museum. The experience was life-changing on every level. The youth stood a little taller as they waited in line to enter the exhibits. The lines were long, and the designers, as though expecting large crowds, utilize the halls and walls to educate the public through the African-American lens. Most of the names are familiar — Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley Chisholm, Charles Drew, Michelle and Barack Obama…the list is formidable. The museum curator was careful to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of color. Among the notables, you will find Bayard Rustin, Moms Mabley, Audre Lord and James Baldwin.
This month, as we celebrate Black History, remember to look at current members of our community that are making history. One such visionary is Leslie “Mouse” Bond, founder of Beyond Blessed, who is breaking new ground in the catering and business world. Educator, poet, and author L’Monique King is making literary history and recently released a book, “From Collards to Callaloo: Poems & Letters to Assata.” Rev. Debra Hopkins, a transwoman of faith, has surmounted tremendous obstacles to become one of the leaders in social justice for transgender people of color.
What do all of our history makers have in common? They demonstrate spiritual principles in their lives. Note spiritual, not necessarily religious. Spirituality is the platform upon which these individuals have built their lives. Each of these individuals demonstrate compassion, care and concern for their families, fellows and community. They persevere in the face of opposition and adversity. They share a determination to do what is right, to live out their purpose. These local notables are known for their character, strength, determination and belief in the Divine. They are making history, and if we aren’t careful, their stories, like those of countless other African-Americans, will go untold, or be appropriated in ways that misrepresent them. They tell their own stories, in print, on stage, in pulpits. They define themselves and in today’s world, Black History Month is one platform upon which the wealth of our culture can be intentionally shared with the world.
This was true of historic figures of the past, whose stories have been handed down through the generations; and this is true of historic figures of the present, whose stories we must hand to future generations. Let’s build on our historic and cultural traditions, broaden the focus to include brothers and sisters that are making history today and highlight the spiritual gifts, talents and skills that set them apart. Ase.
Rev. Sonja Lee is the pastor for Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C.