Joseph Jones, Ph.D., President
From the Connections blog. See all Connections at blogs.fresno.edu/connections/
When I was in elementary school each year we celebrated Negro History Week. The celebration was not observed as an official holiday, but it was essential to the education of those of us who were segregated as second-class in society. The school walls were plastered with figures of African American heroes who overcame the challenges of discrimination through their tenacity. They evinced possibilities for those who would believe they could overcome. For many of us even as children this week was a revelation of faith over circumstances.
The time was later made official and extended into what is now referred to as Black History or African American History month. February was originally selected to honor the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, which are in the same week in February. This month has become a time of reflection, encouragement and motivation because of the role of faith for many in the progress of people of color in this nation.
This country’s abolitionist movement was led by Christian activists from some of the non-traditional churches, with little support from the established churches in the Caucasian community. The Civil Rights movement was also led by many Christians, most of whom were ministers in the African American community. Few people realized that Frederick Douglas, (a historic African American abolitionist and runaway slave) was not only a man of faith but an ordained minister who developed his skills in oration and debate in the A.M.E. Zion Church. From slavery to the present day the African American minister cared for the people through activism in support of biblical justice and equality. We have a more recent example as we are reminded of the life and death of the Reverend John Lewis, an associate of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He referred to his work as his calling; and said “…with love and a sense of community you can make the impossible possible.” The church, through the voice of the minister, protested injustice, but also encouraged hope and faith that God would help the community to overcome.
As we reflect and celebrate over the month to come, I trust we will lean to appreciate the contributions, sacrifices and perseverance of so many who by faith beat the odds of hatred, segregation and disenfranchisement. This time should remind us of our complicity with a self-serving world, our complacency with injustice and our rationalizing in favor of the status quo. Jesus sends us out into the world to be different, to be light and to demonstrate by our relationships with others what it means to be a Christ-follower. He tells us that by our love for one another the world will know that we are his disciples. This compassion, family love, commitment to the good of others without ambition or self-service and appreciation for the gifts each person brings to nurture wholeness in our communities can only be realized within the Body of Christ.
We may have difficulty seeing it now because of all that has happened in this country, but if we would humble ourselves to love through serving courageously, we would step out of those prisons of fear and guilt to grow into a maturity in Christ Jesus. Let us trust that God has something to teach us through the multicultural experiences of so many others. Not only will we mature in our ability to discern hearts through listening to the stories of others—we might also discover the hidden crevices in our own hearts which Christ is ready to seal.