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Reflecting on Black History Month

A slide quoting Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer from a presentation at the Gathering this week

I am writing this from an apartment on the Texas-Mexico border overlooking the wall separating El Paso from Ciudad Juarez. Liz, Jared Noetzel and I have spent the past 3 days at the Matthew 25 Gathering, hearing stories from Anglicans working for justice and mercy across our province in incredible ways.

In my time here, I’ve been reflecting on Black History Month, which draws to a close Monday. Although February is nearly over, I hope we will all continue to listen and learn, and I wanted to share a few voices that have been helpful to me this month.

  • Michelle wrote such a lovely personal reflection last year on her own relationship to Black History Month and to her grandparents. I’ve re-read it several times, and I recommend you do the same! I love the phrase she uses there — “learning and unlearning” — I think that captures so much of the task of racial justice and reconciliation. (It’s actually a pretty good description of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, who often issued this gentle invitation to his followers to reimagine what they thought they knew: “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.” May we always be following, listening, and learning more of the way of Jesus, and always unlearning the destructive way of the world.)

  • Teesha Hadra and Kimberly Deckel, two priests in our province, put together a beautiful contemplative resource for Black History Month focused on the photography of Gordon Parks and works by various Black poets.

  • Just this week, I was struck by a comment from Herb Bailey, a 6’11” dreadlocked force-of-nature deacon who works in a poor suburb of Pittsburgh. Herb said something like this: “I wish Black History Month was just American History Month. Or not even a month at all, just a willingness to remember our own history with honesty and intention, because Black History is American History.” If you are interested in approaching BHM through this lens, Coracle’s An American Lent traces America’s racial legacy as a Lenten discipline of contemplation and repentance. For a deeper dive, Little Lights' Race Literacy 101 class is a challenging opportunity to learn and wrestle with others over 10 weeks together on Zoom.

Finally, I want to share six practices of peacemaking that I learned this week in a presentation from Telos, a peacemaking organization that works in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the American South. These are principles we can carry with us long after Black History Month is over, as we continue to do the kingdom work of “learning and unlearning” our country’s racial past and our role in its healing.

Principles of Peacemaking

  1. Listen to understand

  2. Hold truths in tension (another way to phrase this might be to hold different experiences in tension; I practiced this yesterday as I listened to the stories of Central American migrants, then of border patrol officers. It’s challenging to hold people’s stories — and our own — in tension, but humanity is complex.)

  3. Own your responsibility

  4. Center the leadership of those on the margins

  5. Self-interrogate (Your capacity to change the mind of ‘the other side’ is very small, but your capacity to change your own mind and those of your ‘side’ is much greater. Spend more energy in self-critique than other-critique. This one is really difficult.)

  6. Create beloved community

  7. (Listen to the prophets and the poets - this wasn’t one of the official principles, but an often-repeated point!)

We’d love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources!

- Amy


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