Finally, we have a story of rebellion that takes us beyond the slave narrative and shows the beginnings of the revolution of the African American. The Birth of A Nation is the story of Nat Turner played by actor and award-winning director Nate Parker, who is a literate slave preacher-turned-radical that endures the woes of slavery and reinterprets the Bible to be empowering, instead of a source of control.
Starting this weekend, audiences everywhere will have the opportunity to relive the slave tale from a different perspective. It is a story that sheds light on how Christian faith did not subdue slaves, but instead, it became a source of strength. We had the opportunity to view the pre-screening of this perfect retelling of the events leading up to this historic revolt and its haunting, gory imagery that depicts a reality of this undeniable time in history.
While viewing the film, some may spot some other similarities that Turner endures at the age of 31, so be prepared to cheer when he displays his God-given intellect and might. In the meantime, we would like to share some of the film’s most compelling themes with the uneducated, miseducated, and African American History enthusiasts that are prevalent both in the past and present below:
Using Scripture as a Source of Power
Historically, so much has been handed to black people for defeat and turned into a weapon of victory, including our faith.
In the film, the slave master’s wife discovers that Nat can read and takes it as a divine sign to mentor him in Scripture. As an adult, the owner uses Nat’s gift of preaching for profit while also using the sermons to subdue other slaves.
However, after taking a closer look and studying the Bible again, Turner realizes that the Scripture is being misused; so he chooses to use it as a source of power for the revolution.
The message we should all take from this is to read the Word and get to know God for yourself in order to prevent misinterpretation and enhance our sense of empowerment. The tale of false prophets is nothing new, so it is important that we are able to differentiate between a manipulated preacher and a vessel of God? The presentation of the Word will reveal the truth.
The Prayer Warrior, Not the Foot Soldier
What audiences will not see in this film is the majestic Black, female soldier that we have come to love in modern-day society. In fact, the women in this film are meek in comparison, however their strength comes in the form of prayer and support. This image may irritate some and make you wonder why the women are praying instead of picking up weapons and strategizing.
However, it is important to remember that the woman’s role during the days of American slavery was to sit back, observe and continue to be a constant support for the men in their lives.
As time went on, the revolutions to follow gave birth to many strong women who bore even stronger children and the victory continues amidst our battle on both the physical and spiritual battlefield.
“They’re killing people everywhere for no other reason at all but being black.”
This line in the film will make the audience shutter at the reality of the history and our present circumstances in the fight to show that Black lives do, in fact, matter. Although it is not meant to address the current movement, it is clear that the director, Parker, wanted to make the correlation.
The film shows what punishment looks like for the concept of freedom, and this same concept is something that Blacks pay for repeatedly despite their individual success and our community’s history of overcoming obstacles.
With films like Amistad, 12 Years A Slave and television series like “The Roots,” many of these stories are about surviving slavery and not the brutal fight to be free. Although the story is a carefully paced depiction of Nat Turner’s life, it pieces together the ancestral grit, new philosophy, and spiritual awakening that makes the oppressed ask, “When is enough is enough?”
We are living in a time where we are most certainly free and, somehow, still at war in an effort to show our worth. While it is not implied that we revolt in the form of violence against injustice, it is a reminder to stand up for our God-given right to be free and treated justly.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn plans to introduce legislation to designate the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” long a staple in the Black community, as the country’s national hymn.
“To make ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ a national hymn, would be an act of bringing the country together,” reads a Tuesday (Jan. 12) tweet from @WhipClyburn.
“The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”
The Democratic congressman from South Carolina could suggest the hymn — often described as the unofficial “Black national anthem” — as soon as this week, USA Today reported.
The hymn, with lyrics about liberty and faith, is often sung on occasions marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month and is featured in hymnals of different faith traditions. But Clyburn thinks it should be sung more beyond predominantly Black communities.
The newspaper quoted Clyburn as distinguishing the hymn from the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“You aren’t singing a separate national anthem,’’ he said, “you are singing the country’s national hymn.”
USA Today reported Clyburn asked his staff to create draft legislation last month, before the recent storming of the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists and after a surge in racial tensions concerning police brutality and racial injustice.
The song traces its roots to a 1900 celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in Jacksonville, Florida, according to a 2000 book, “Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the Negro National Anthem.” James Weldon Johnson penned the words for the occasion; his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, set them to music.
The lyrics are not explicitly tied to a particular faith tradition but do mention “God” several times in the hymn’s third verse.
The song has played at the start of recent gatherings of the “ Beyonce Mass,” been used to awaken astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and been included in the closing prayer of President Barack Obama’s 2009 swearing-in ceremony. This fall, a decision to feature it at NFL games drew praise and criticism.
“It had historicity; it had the religious context,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, when asked by Religion News Service in 2009 why he borrowed the third verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in the inaugural benediction.
Lowery, who died in 2020, said he often used its third stanza as a hymn of praise in his worship services. “The Black experience is sort of wrapped up in that hymn.”
In USA Today, Clyburn echoed Lowery and said his plan is not merely a symbolic one.
“It’s a very popular song that is steeped in the history of the country,” he said.
He added “I’ve always been skittish” about it once being described as the “Negro national anthem.”
Rather, he thinks it’s a song for all and not just some in the nation.
“We should have one national anthem, irrespective of whether you’re Black or white,” he said. “So to give due honor and respect to the song, we ought to name it the national hymn.”
The first verse of the hymn is as follows:
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea,
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Pregnant women in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi have been calling nonstop to CHOICES Midwifery Practice in Memphis, but the center is booked.
The callers are terrified that they or their babies will contract the novel coronavirus if they deliver in hospitals. Some women live in rural areas far from hospitals and obstetrics units. The center’s clients are primarily black and other women of color.
“They’ve told us they’re going to risk it all and have an unassisted home birth,” said Nikia Grayson, a certified nurse midwife and director of perinatal services. “That’s very scary, and that’s what people are researching and seeing as a viable option.”
Many pregnant women are seeking out midwives to deliver their babies in homes or birthing centers rather than in hospitals, where they fear being exposed to the virus. But midwives and other maternal health experts say desperate women also are delivering without any medical assistance.
“It can go left real fast,” Grayson said.
Midwives across the country say they are stretched to accommodate additional deliveries because of the pandemic, while taking precautions to protect themselves and their clients. Midwives from Mississippi and Tennessee who deliver in homes are traveling to the rural areas around Memphis to help, Grayson said. But it’s dangerous to cross state lines without knowing where to go in an emergency.
The stakes are especially high for rural black women soon to give birth in Southern states. They have less access to health care providers and travel longer distances to care, while systemic racism and health care inequities put their lives at risk.
The coronavirus pandemic exposes a fragile health care system that already marginalized and traumatized pregnant black women, said Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative.
“The intersectionality of being a black woman and that the rural South chose not to provide insurance coverage is a deadly combination for many,” Crear-Perry said.
In Mississippi, the state Department of Health should address the concerns of pregnant women and families and discourage unassisted home births, said Wengora Thompson, who manages the Jackson Safer Childbirth Experience, a project funded by Merck and the Kellogg Foundation.
Thompson said a local doctor told her that a family had attempted a recent home birth to avoid local hospitals. The baby needed resuscitation and is in intensive care.
“It’s important that they hear from some official body or some trusted source that this isn’t the best option,” Thompson said.
But even before this pandemic, some black women were reluctant to deliver their babies in hospitals, Grayson said. Experts point to systemic health care inequities and institutional racism.
And when they express their concerns to medical professionals, they’re often not heard. Even tennis star Serena Williams had to demand a CT scan and blood thinner when she experienced shortness of breath following a cesarean section and feared she may have had a blood clot.
During the pandemic, hospitals such as the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group of Northern California are offering inductions to women near the end of their third trimester. The goal is to get healthy people out the door before hospitals are overwhelmed by a peak in coronavirus infections.
Advocates say it’s important for women to have choices, but also question whether women may feel pressured to induce pregnancy. They’re also concerned that an increase in inductions will lead to riskier births and premature infants.
Inductions don’t benefit all pregnant and birthing women, said Jamarah Amani, founder of the National Black Midwives Alliance. In a pandemic, some physicians take less time to explain a patient’s options, she said. Studies and first-person narratives underscore communication gaps, such as physicians spending less time with pregnant black women, dumbing down explanations and failing to fully answer questions.
“Once again,” Amani said, “we’re seeing a situation where the needs and rights of birthing people are being pushed to the side.”
Barriers to care
Among the Deep South states, only Louisiana expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to insure more low-income people. Many poor women have access to health insurance only when they are pregnant.
The U.S. maternal and infant mortality rates are higher than in most developed countries and are hitting black women the hardest.
Black women are two-to-three times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy than white women, regardless of income or education. The disparity increases with the mother’s age.
Black women’s babies are twice as likely to die, especially black babies born in rural areas, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is little public demographic data on midwives. But black midwives and advocates say there are few black midwives in the South, where restrictions on midwifery make it more difficult to practice.
Certified professional midwives, or CPMs, who deliver in homes, often are left out of health care systems and face legal barriers to practice with autonomy.
Unlike certified nurse midwives who attend nursing school, CPM training is in out-of-hospital settings. In some states, Medicaid reimbursement for CPMs is insufficient, while private insurance may not cover their services.
Despite the barriers, midwifery care is proven to reduce rates of unnecessary interventions and improve outcomes for moms and babies. Advocates such as Crear-Perry say some black women choose home births to avoid over-medicalized care. They also fear the medical system and its legacy of mistreating blacks.
Some advocates are concerned that the challenges plaguing black Americans can’t be addressed if leaders don’t acknowledge black socioeconomic disparities. A senior state health official in Mississippi recently told reporters he did not know why COVID-19 appears to be disproportionately affecting blacks and deferred to other officials to explain.
“In a state as seeped in structural racism as Mississippi, the fact that someone of that stature wasn’t able to communicate that effectively and said they didn’t know was really alarming,” said Felicia Brown-Williams, Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates.
With lower COVID-19 testing rates in states with larger black and poor populations, blacks who couldn’t be admitted to hospitals or lacked access to care are dying outside of hospitals, Crear-Perry said.
“The next level of teasing out this data is counting the deaths that are happening in homes,” Crear-Perry said. “I’m afraid that when we start doing that, we’re going to start seeing some maternal deaths as well because people are not making it to the hospital.”
More black midwives could be part of the solution. Black midwives have long been beloved matriarchs in their communities. As local influencers, they encouraged breastfeeding, delivered public health messages and instilled confidence. But over the past century, black midwives have been whittled down to a handful.
A century ago, thousands of midwives practiced in several Southern states. They attended more than two-thirds of the African American births in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.
But state efforts to professionalize midwifery and training that began in the 1920s, and a push for more hospital births under a physician’s care, precipitated a steep decline in their ranks. Alongside racist tropes that characterized black midwives as ignorant, superstitious and dirty, they were blamed for high rates of infant and maternal mortality.
In the late 1940s, Mississippi began to retire elderly midwives while also making it difficult to obtain or renew midwifery permits. By 1975, 98% of babies were delivered in hospitals, and there were 259 registered lay midwives. By 1982, there were 13, according to “Protect the Mother and Baby: Mississippi Lay Midwives and Public Health.”
In the South, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina are among at least 15 states where CPMs have no path to licensure. Georgia CPMs lost their ability to legally practice after the state’s rules changed in 2015, but Republican state Rep. Karen Mathiak has introduced a bill to license and regulate CPMs.
A CPM has filed a federal lawsuit against the president of the Georgia Board of Nursing because it’s threatened her with fines for publicly identifying herself as a midwife. She says the restriction violates her First Amendment rights.
However, certified nurse midwives like Grayson in Memphis typically practice in birthing centers or hospitals, although she also does home births. They are legally recognized in all 50 states.
Grayson says she is the only midwife and local provider in Memphis who does home or hospital births. Her clinic will open Memphis’ first birthing center in June and is hiring more nurse midwives to meet local interest.
Florida is a model for what’s possible in the South and across the country, said Amani, the National Black Midwives Alliance founder. Florida provides educational paths to licensure and requires Medicaid and private insurance to cover midwifery care.
Of 200 licensed midwives in Florida, about 15 are black, Amani said. Some states have few black midwives who may legally deliver outside of hospitals and in homes, and others have none, according to Amani and other advocates.
More black women would choose home births if it weren’t so hard to find black midwives, said Shafia Monroe, a black midwife and consultant who’s led national efforts to increase the number of midwives and doulas of color. Medical professionals often don’t educate pregnant women on their options for midwifery care.
“For black people around the country, the majority don’t know what midwives do, or they’re afraid,” Monroe said.
OB-GYNs tend not to like home births because it’s not a part of their training, said Crear-Perry, who’s also an OB-GYN. “All we see is the catastrophe.”
Crear-Perry and others would like to see a health care system that embraces the model of midwifery care, which includes home visits, checkups and other personal touches. They also want better integration with existing health care systems to keep women safe, especially during the coronavirus crisis.
“The capacity of the midwives that are trained is already strained,” said Jennie Joseph, a British-trained midwife and founder of a midwifery school and birthing center in Winter Garden, Florida. “We might want to consider physicians even delivering outside of hospitals to maintain that safety for the mothers.”
When I was 15 years old I found out I was adopted by accident. I was flipping through the pages of my family’s gigantic keepsake Bible and I happened upon the family milestones section. In those pages documenting weddings and births was my own entrance into the family and it read as follows,
“Nicole was born to adopted by _________ and ________ born on December 26, 1980.”
I almost dropped the five-pound Bible when I read those words. “Adopted?” I ran into the kitchen and interrupted my mom who was in the midst of cooking breakfast. With tears in my eyes, I said, “Why didn’t you tell me I was adopted? How could you just let me read it in a book without telling me yourself?” With tears in her eyes, she said, “I was going to tell you, but I wanted to wait for the right time.” That moment became the time—right or not. She told me my biological mother, a teenager about the age of 16, gave me up for adoption on the day of my birth. I would go from this young woman’s arms to the foster care system for about six months until I was adopted at eight months old.
Finding out about my adoption brought many questions. “Why didn’t my biological mother want me? How could she give a child up and never come back for it? Should I look for her?” It wreaked havoc on my self-confidence, my friendships, and on any relationships that were in formation because I was always afraid of people letting me go and never turning back. It was both the gift and the curse. The gift being that it gave me the wonderful parents I have who have loved me, and the curse being that I existed in a tension of that love and wondering about my other mother.
In my late 20s, during a Christmas vacation at home, my mother presented me with all of the paperwork from my adoption and she told me that if I wanted to I could look for my birth mother. At that point I never really thought about looking for her but I was thankful for my mother’s clearance all the same. Periodically I look at that paperwork, read about my biological mother, and then I put it all back in the age-worn manila envelope it was given to me in. Every few years I do a Google search using my mother’s name but I either don’t come up with anything or come up with too much. I also have my moments when I’m sitting in a room and I look at a woman whom I think looks like me and I wonder, “That could be my birth mother.” As quickly as the thought arrives is as quickly as it leaves and I come back to reality. That is the extent of search-like behavior and I have no plans to launch a full-on search for her. I’m not going to plan a stakeout in front of her home or meet her in a coffee shop—both scenarios I’ve seen on TV and in the movies. I may never meet my biological mother, and that’s fine, but there is always the chance that someone will remind me of what I may be missing.
This is what a close friend asked me when we were talking about my being adopted. His question gave me pause not because I never thought I didn’t know who I was without my birth mother, but because it showed me some of the misguided perceptions about adopted persons. There are some misconceptions about the lives of people who are adopted: that we don’t have a true sense of identity or that being adopted is a painful story for us. I’ve learned that more of that is imposed on us by a culture that has a skewed understanding of adopted people. As an adopted person I can say that I do have a sense of identity, one that was cultivated by my parents, and I’ve become increasingly thankful that adoption is part of my history. Sure it makes me wonder sometimes, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m happy with my life and my parents as they are. What is integral to this understanding is that at no time did I feel like a child who wasn’t my parents’ own because they raised me with the same love as their own flesh and blood. This helped ground me in something larger than an adoption narrative. I never felt like an “other” in my immediate or extended family’s presence, but I know that a sense of “otherness” pervades the spaces of an adopted person’s life. Recently an article captured this issue and that of other people’s perceptions of adopted persons.
In “Teach Your Children About Adoption Before Releasing Them on the Playground” Rachel Quinn Egan, a white woman who adopted a black child, shared her daughter’s adoption story and the issues that arose when other children realized that she was adopted. This amplified the displacement, pain, and confusion the child already felt and, Egan points out, identified that a key problem is parents not speaking to their children about adoption as another way of creating a family. Adoption is sometimes relegated to the periphery of our understanding of family creation which has resulted in many treating adopted children as if they are abnormal. But adopted children are just like any other child who was birthed from their mother’s womb–they just happen to have a mother who can’t take care of them for one reason or another. Parents should teach their children about the many ways families come into being and people must remember that persons who were adopted do a great deal of processing on their own and in therapy–11% of all adolescents in referred to therapy have been adopted. Our arrival in this world had a different structure but we seek the same type of love and acceptance as anyone else.
The Well-Being of All Children & Adoption’s Spiritual Precedent
Being adopted and being able to adopt a child is a gift. I will forever be indebted to my parents–both sets–for giving me a life that almost never was. I’m also thankful for the spiritual precedent on adoption that God established and it is with that precedent that I conclude this piece:
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Friday night young adult Bible study and I was sitting on the right side of the chapel being attentive to the minister’s teaching about spiritual adoption. In the midst of his lesson he told us to turn to Ephesians 1:3-6 and he read the scripture aloud,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
As he read this, tears welled up in my eyes at the thought that not only had God planned my earthly adoption, He adopted me into the family of Christ and secured my place with Him for eternity before I was even knitted in my biological mother’s womb. It was preordained for me to be adopted so that I could eventually understand the significance of my spiritual adoption and the fact that I was always kept. I came to see my physical adoption as a small part of a bigger portrait that God was painting of me.
And so I hope and pray that many adopted people would come to see their adoption as a small part in a bigger portrait that God is painting of their lives, that people will learn how to embrace adopted persons as they would their own, and that more children will be placed in loving homes and be afforded the opportunity for new life.
QUNU, South Africa (AP) — July 18 marks 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013.
Visitors can follow in Mandela’s footsteps from the villages where he was born and raised, to the Soweto township where he became an anti-apartheid leader, to Robben Island where he was imprisoned for years.
THE EASTERN CAPE
“When Mandela was just a child, he walked for miles on this route, moving from one village to another,” said tour guide Velile Ndlumbini as we drove through the picturesque green rolling hills of the Eastern Cape.
The homestead where he was born can be seen in the small village of Mvezo. He lived here until age 2, when his father lost his position as village chief in a dispute with a magistrate.
The family then moved to neighboring Qunu, where Mandela lived until age 9, when his father died. He and his mother then moved 19 kilometers (12 miles) away to Mqhekezweni.
Here he was adopted by the acting regent king and groomed for leadership. Mandela wrote in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” that his interest in politics was first kindled listening to tribal elders holding community meetings in Mqhekezweni. A shady spot under a circle of gum trees, Ndlumbini said, is still used for that purpose.
It was Qunu where Mandela returned after 27 years in prison. He built a complex there along the N2 highway for his family, where some still live, and he moved back to Qunu himself after retiring from public life.
Dusty roads lead to his private grave, across from his family’s burial site.
Qunu also houses the Nelson Mandela Museum, which opened on Feb. 11, 2000, the 10th anniversary of his release from prison. It takes visitors from his childhood through his involvement in politics to his triumphant election as president.
Some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south lies the Steve Biko Museum in King William’s Town. Biko was an icon of anti-apartheid activism, an African nationalist and a leader of the grassroots Black Consciousness Movement. He was a major influence on Mandela, and died in 1977 after being arrested and beaten.
In neighboring Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth, an installation called Route 67 showcases 67 artworks symbolizing Mandela’s 67 years of service. The art, all by locals, depicts significant moments on the journey from apartheid to democracy, moving from laser-cut steel figures forming a voting line in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, to a stairway that starts in darkness and progresses to an era of color and new beginnings.
Created in the 1930s by the white government to relocate the black population away from Johannesburg, Soweto became the largest black city in South Africa. Poverty was rampant in the shanty towns and civil unrest was common during apartheid.
Mandela lived in Soweto from 1946 to 1962 and met African National Congress activist Walter Sisulu there.
Mandela’s Soweto home has also been converted into a museum. But the most exhaustive and heartbreaking site is the Apartheid Museum. The entrance is divided into “blankes/whites” and “nie-blankes/non-whites,” followed by a display of “passes” that the black population was required to carry, restricting their movements. The museum details the white settlers’ history in South Africa, the beginnings of apartheid and daily struggles blacks endured, along with the story of how Mandela transformed the African National Congress into a mass political movement.
The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum tell the story of the 1976 Soweto riots. Hector was 12 when he was shot and killed by police firing on student protesters. A famous photo shows his limp body being carried as his sister ran alongside. Some accounts say hundreds died during the protests. The museum contains a heart-wrenching and moving collection of oral testimonies, large-scale photos, audiovisual displays and historical documents about the uprising.
A drive north takes you to Liliesleaf, in the suburb of Rivonia. This farm-turned-museum, once owned by South African Communist Party member Arthur Goldreich, was used in the 1960s as a secret hideout for Mandela and other activists on the run from police. The famous Rivonia Trial ended with Mandela and his comrades sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island.
A 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Town, Robben Island is where Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 years in prison, beginning in 1964, alongside other heroes of the movement like Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.
The most powerful part of the tour, led by a former prisoner, is a visit to Mandela’s cell, a 7-by-9-foot (2-by-2.7-meter) room. Despite the humiliation and oppression of his years here, this was also where he honed his skills as a leader, negotiator and proselytizer, which put him on the path to the presidency in 1994.
For visitors, making a pilgrimage to places connected to Mandela’s life is both distressing and uplifting. While South Africa has come a long way, this young democracy still has a lot of work ahead, including improving living conditions and resources for its majority black population.
A mobile app, Madiba’s Journey, created by South African Tourism and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, can help you trace the footsteps of the man who dedicated his life to freedom.