“Are you brown all over?”
The innocence of the question did nothing to prevent me from being flabbergasted. As I stared into the almost cartoon-sized blue eyes of this 4-year-old boy, compassion filled my heart. I simply smiled and replied, “Why yes, of course!”
He nodded in understanding and continued playing with the toys that had previously occupied his attention. As I sat there watching his imagination create a world only he would understand, I wondered if this moment would be as memorable for him as I was sure it would be for me.
There’s a temptation to somehow prove my humanity, to validate my existence; especially because I live in a society that labels me a minority. The definition of “minority” is “a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or social power without regard to the size of these groups.”
My nation, my homeland, defines me as a racial subordinate to the dominant group. It’s a label that follows me every time I check “Black/African-American” on any document. It’s a label that follows me any time I walk into a room and I’m the only one there who looks like me. I have a pre-disposition to believe that I am less than because it is what I’ve been told since I was born. It’s even printed on my birth certificate.
In indignation, I wear my hair natural. I comb through hundreds of photos on Instagram that have the “#BlackGirlMagic” marker. I recite Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” at any given opportunity. I go out of my way to compliment any black woman I meet.
I vote knowing what it cost my ancestors to grant me this right. I fight to prove that no quantifiable data could box me in and keep me from living the life I want to live.
It’s funny, all of that effort did nothing to quiet the comparison or stop the Caucasian woman from accosting me and my little cousins. It did nothing to abate the voice in my head that hurls insults every time I’m in front of a mirror. The only thing that has proven strong enough to rectify my identity is the Word of God.
I am black. I am a woman. I am southern. I am a millennial. I can come up with lots of ways to identify myself. I can make a list of a thousand superlatives. However, anything I fathom about who I am does not compare to who I am in Christ.
Society has a lot to say about who we are. In fact, we have a lot to say, ourselves, about who we are, and a lot of times we are better than anyone at putting ourselves down. Is it possible that when we say “yes” to Jesus, when we surrender our lives to Him, in doing so, we subject our idea of identity to Him as well? Identity then becomes more than a list of quantifiers.
If the Word of God created the world and all we see, how much more powerful then would it be to believe His words about us? We are children of the Most High God. We are His handiwork. In the same way He created the earth, He fashioned us together in our mothers’ womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We, the children of God, are His royal priesthood. We are the head and not the tail. We have every spiritual blessing made available to us through Christ. We are chosen.
We aren’t beautiful because of, or in spite of, being black. We are beautiful because we were created by Beauty Himself. My skin color becomes more than a sign of my socio-economic status; it is part of the hand-picked design as imagined by my Creator. We aren’t worthy because our society calls us worthy, but because Jesus thought us worthy enough to die for.
Our choice is this: To live subjected to societal labels or to allow this new identity to supersede what we once believed. My faith then doesn’t just inform my identity. It becomes the lens through which I’m even able to see who I really am. It doesn’t stop there.
When we are able to see ourselves through this lens, we are empowered, nay obligated, to see others the same way. It transforms a “me against the world” ideology into an understanding that it is “us under God.” The need for validation becomes obsolete and pure confidence flourishes as the love of Christ permeates the entirety of our beings.
With us being several weeks into 2017, you might have already gotten slightly discouraged or fallen off track when it comes to the goals you’ve set for the year, so we thought it may be a good idea to revisit those resolutions with an update. While setting goals, people tend to be very whimsical and sometimes unrealistic with their New Year’s Resolutions and how they want things to manifest in the upcoming year. So to assist with maintaining your goals, serving your purpose, and most importantly achieving the goals you’ve set, here are few tips:
SET SMALLER GOALS
Yes, I said it. You have to begin small. I know that you probably aren’t use to people telling you to think smaller when it comes to achieving something, but studies show that when you attempt to achieve smaller goals, you are more likely to be successful at reaching them. If one of your goals this year is to lose a substantial amount of weight, instead of aiming straight for the intended target, set a smaller one. If you want to lose 40 or more pounds, instead of focusing of the entire 40, concentrate solely on losing the first 10 to 15. And, don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you reach your halfway mark.
SET MORE PURPOSEFUL GOALS
Maybe this year you want to travel more, but what else? The point of a resolution is to make a positive change, but remember to ask yourself: “Will this change also be beneficial to my overall purpose?” While working towards your 2017 goals, think about the positive outcome in completing these goals and how it contributes to your purpose. And, as the months go by, remember to keep in mind how successfully completing such goals will positively affect those around you. Make sure that you are allowing the light that shines within you to beam and even reflect onto others. To be able to share your life’s purpose while achieving your goals? I’d call that a true win!
YOUR PURPOSE IS NOT THEIRS
Your year won’t look the same as the next person’s simply because your purpose is not the same. While nurturing and tending to your goals this year, make sure to focus on your own individuality. Your resolutions will never be identical to someone else’s and that’s ok! No one has the same purpose, therefore no one will have the same goals. Staying focused on one’s self is key to achieving your greatest potential. Think of it like coloring, if you stay within the lines, you will create your own beautiful picture.
So another Black History Month is here, and for artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types that hail from the Black community, it’s an opportunity that comes with a burden.
February is a time when your workplace, school, or church might be more open to forms of artistic expression that highlights the achievements of Black people, particularly for those of you who live and/or work in a predominantly White community. And while it’s obviously a great opportunity to highlight the best of our tradition as a community, it also means that from an exposure standpoint, it’s an opening to get your songs, poems, plays, or paintings seen and heard by people who might be able to support you financially.
But the burden is the challenge of successfully executing your art without being swallowed whole by the bitterness of the struggle. I mean, let’s just be honest: struggle might be the catalyst that serves to incubate powerful works of art, but it’s terrible as a sales technique. No one can alienate their audience through their art and simultaneously persuade them to become financial supporters.
The truth is, we’ve come a long way as African Americans. No longer are we restricted to the kinds of gigs and roles that kept us docile and subservient in the minds of the majority. In recent years, there has been a greater level of visibility to the everyday struggle that Black Americans endure, and it’s also helped place a premium on authentic Black art that helps to articulate that struggle.
Still, if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into a false dichotomy, where we feel like either we must keep it fully 100 at all times with our art, or we’re selling out for the money.
But there’s a middle ground.
Discerning the Difference
Ten years ago, I was in a hip-hop duo traveling to a Christian camp to do a concert for a bunch of youth from the inner city. When I arrived onto the campus, I headed to the most logical place for music performance—the chapel.
As I walked into the chapel, I walked up to the sound booth, and told the guy that I was with the hip-hop group that was supposed to perform. He gave me this blank stare, so I thought, “Hey, it’s loud in here, so maybe he can’t hear me that well.” I tried again, a bit louder.
“I’m with the Iccsters… y’know, the hip-hop group.”
Again, he gives me this confused stare. And then he says, “This is Christian camp.”
Right then and there, I almost lost it. I could tell that he didn’t really mean to say anything offensive to me, but it was like all the years of being stereotyped as a young Black man, overlooked and misunderstood as a rap artist, all the times hip-hop had been blamed for all of society’s problems—by other Christians, no less!—almost overwhelmed me. I wanted to set him straight and tell him that there are Christians who perform hip-hop, and his assumption was shortsighted, racist, and insulting.
But I had somewhere to go, so I swallowed that rage, walked out of the room, called my contact, and located my actual destination (a different building with a smaller setup).
Often, when I’m invited to share hip-hop as a form of worship music and find myself in spaces that remind me of that day, I’m tempted to go back to that moment, tap into that rage, and give the audience a piece of my pain.
The wisdom and maturity of age helped me learn how to posture myself, not as someone with an axe to grind, but as someone with something of value to share. And when I share my pain, I do it with an eye toward giving others an opportunity to join me in my struggle, instead of guilting them for not already being onboard.
Sometimes God calls us to stand up and fight; other times, He simply gives as an opportunity to share who we are and how we got here. As an artist, my prayer is for us to flip the script and learn to discern the difference.
As Black History Month commences, here are a few must-have books from Black authors, spanning time periods, themes and genres. However, one thing they have in common is critical acclaim and a strong command of tackling the Black experience with grace, courage, originality, and historical context, making them essential reads during Black History Month and throughout the year.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece novel is frequently included on the list of must-read American books by one of the most prolific Black authors. The story follows an African American man whose color renders him invisible. It’s a groundbreaking take on a racially polarized society and the struggle to find oneself through it all.
Home by Toni Morrison
The 2012 novel by Morrison tells the story of a 20-something Korean War veteran and his journey home from an integrated army to a segregated society. The book was named one of the best novels of 2012 for its careful consideration of mental illness, race relations, family, history, and the concept of home.
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
Baratunde Thurston, a longtime writer for The Onion, serves up laughs with this collection of comical essays, such as “How to Speak for All Black People” and “How To Celebrate Black History Month.” Thurston covers social interactions and media portrayals with an insightful and satirical perspective.
God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson, creator of the Black National Anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” first published God’s Trombones in 1927 as a book of poems. The poems take on the structure of a traditional sermon and tell several different parables and Bible stories, some of which specifically focus on the African American story. Dr. Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates have called this collection one of Johnson’s most notable works.
The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates
From the best-selling author comes a poignant tale of life and race in the inner city. Coates explains how his father worked for his sons to obtain a free education and escape Baltimore’s drug culture. This inspiring book tells a powerful narrative about community and honoring your history across generations.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Citizen is an award-winning collection of literature blurring the lines between poetry and criticism. Divided into seven chapters, it provides a powerful meditation on race that creates a lyrical portrait of our current social and political climate. Hailed as “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of Black life in America,” according to the Washington Post. Citizen is said to feel like an “eavesdropping on America.”
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
You may think you know Malcolm X, but you’ve never read anything like Marable’s highly-regarded biography, which provides new perspectives and information on the controversial leader. Marable connects Malcolm’s life with other leaders, faith, and Black Nationalism in a masterful, historical context and call for social change.
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
In this novel, an African American teenager spends a summer with his brother in 1985 Sag Harbor. The work is more personal than most of Whitehead’s books and explores race, class, and commercial culture in light of a newer generation of Black Americans who are less marked by their color.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
In a classic tale, Wilkerson chronicles the journey of three African Americans who took part in the massive movement from the South to the North, Midwest, and West that millions of Black families took in the 20th century. The Warmth of Other Suns is an acclaimed historical account that studies a definitive period in American history.
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
This extensive collection of poems was hand-picked by Hughes, himself, prior to his death in 1967 and span his entire career. They offer a breathtaking look at being Black in America that is contemplative, celebratory, gut-wrenching and praiseworthy. From “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “The Weary Blues,” to “Still Here” and “Refugee in America,” this collection directs us to fight, believe, dream, and claim our self-worth.
Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals
In this riveting memoir, Beals recounts her time on the front lines of school desegregation as a member of the Little Rock Nine – the group of African-American students who famously integrated Arkansas’ Central High School. Her account of the harrowing experiences that forged her courage will stick with you long after the last page.
Are there other titles that you’d like to add to the list? Share them below.
A Quartet of Black History Icons (from left to right): Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Nelson Mandela (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.com)
February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month. Each year U.S. residents set aside a few weeks to focus their historical hindsight on the particular contributions that people of African descent have made to this country. While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a good thing, here are several reasons why I think it’s appropriate to celebrate this occasion.
The History of Black History Month
First, let’s briefly recount the advent of Black History Month. Also called African American History Month, this event originally began as Negro History Week in 1926. It took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, is credited with the creation of Negro History Week.
In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month. He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Objections to Black History Month
Black History Month has been the subject of criticism from both Blacks and people of other races. Some argue that it is unjust and unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group. Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year. Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this past for the remaining eleven months.
Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history. Here are five reasons why we should celebrate Black History Month.
1. Celebrating Black History Months Honors the Historic Leaders of the Black Community
I have the privilege of living in Jackson, Mississippi which is the site of many significant events in Black History. I’ve heard Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, speak at local and state events. It’s common to see James Meredith, the first African American student at Ole Miss, in local churches or at community events.
Heroes like these and many more deserve honor for the sacrifice and suffering they endured for the sake of racial equality. Celebrating Black History Month allows us to pause and remember their stories so that we can commemorate their achievements.
2. Celebrating Black History Month Helps Us to Be Better Stewards of the Privileges We’ve Gained
Several years spent teaching middle school students impaled me with the reality that if we don’t tell the old, old stories the next generation, and we ourselves, will forget them. It pained me to have to explain the significance of the Harlem Renaissance and the Tuskegee Airmen to children who had never learned of such events and the men and women who took part in them.
To what would surely be the lament of many historic African American leaders, my students and so many others (including me) take for granted the rights that many people before them sweated, bled, and died to secure. Apart from an awareness of the past we can never appreciate the blessings we enjoy in the present.
3. Celebrating Black History Month Provides an Opportunity to Highlight the Best of Black History & Culture
All too often only the most negative aspects of African American culture and communities get highlighted. We hear about the poverty rates, incarceration rates, and high school drop out rates. We are inundated with images of unruly athletes and raunchy reality TV stars as paradigms of success for Black people. And we are daily subject to unfair stereotypes and assumptions from a culture that is, in some aspects, still learning to accept us.
Black History Month provides the chance to focus on different aspects of our narrative as African Americans. We can applaud Madam C.J. Walker as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. We can let our eyes flit across the verses of poetry Phyllis Wheatley, the first African American poet and first African American female to publish a book. And we can groove to soulful jazz and somber blues music composed by the likes of Miles Davis and Robert Johnson. Black History Month spurs us to seek out and lift up the best in African American accomplishments.
4. Celebrating Black History Month Creates Awareness for All People
I recall my 8th grade history textbook where little more than a page was devoted to the Civil Rights Movement. I remember my shock as a Christian to learn about the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church because in all my years in churches and Christian schools no one had ever mentioned it.
Unfortunately it seems that, apart from intentional effort, Black history is often lost in the mists of time. When we observe Black History Month we give citizens of all races the opportunity to learn about a past and a people of which they may have little awareness.
5. Celebrating Black History Month Reminds Us All that Black History Is Our History
It pains me to see people overlooking Black History Month because Black history—just like Latino, Asian, European, and Native American history—belongs to all of us. Black and White, men and women, young and old. The impact African Americans have made on this country is part of our collective consciousness. Contemplating Black history draws people of every race into the grand and diverse story of this nation.
Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month
As a believer, I see racial and ethnic diversity as an expression of God’s manifold beauty. No single race or its culture can comprehensively display the infinite glory of God’s image, so He gave us our differences to help us appreciate His splendor from various perspectives.
God’s common and special grace even work themselves out in the providential movement of a particular race’s culture and history. We can look back on the brightest and darkest moments of our past and see God at work. He’s weaving an intricate tapestry of events that climaxes in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And one day Christ will return. On that day we will all look back at the history–not just of a single race but of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue–and see that our Creator had a plan all along. He is writing a story that points to His glory, and in the new creation His people won’t have a month set aside to remember His greatness. We’ll have all eternity.
A desire for self-improvement and positive change is the very reason why New Year’s has long been my favorite holiday. It’s been the time of year when I’ve been most willing and ready to embrace change. It’s a time when I pause to reflect on my growth and accomplishments to date—whether personal or professional—and then readily consider any areas that might require some adjustments. It’s during this time when I make those required adjustments plain by translating them into a list of resolutions so that, come January 1st, I can become the “new me.”
But, I’ve never gotten around to achieving all of my resolutions—most people don’t. In fact, studies show that only 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions go on to achieve them.
That’s pretty disappointing.
But the good news is there is the Good News.
I finally began to study God’s Word and found that, as a Christian, I don’t have to wait until a new year to become the “new me” or even an “improved me,” and I certainly don’t have to tackle these changes on my own. The Word has matured me so much spiritually, and that has translated to my personal and professional growth this past year.
Here are three biblical resolutions that will help you, too, become the “new you” in the New Year:
In all your getting, get understanding.
I used to resolve to read more books or master a new language to become more cultured and learned, which isn’t a terrible goal. But meanwhile, I didn’t know much about the God to whom I claimed to devote my entire life.
There is no knowledge any of us can obtain that is more valuable than the knowledge of God. Knowing His will, voice, character, purposes, and promises give us the wisdom we need to navigate this life, and it girds our spirit to commune with Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
This wisdom also spills into our familial and romantic relationships and leads us toward wiser financial, career and business decisions. The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord, and knowledge of Him is understanding (Proverbs 9:10). So, in all our getting, we should certainly resolve to get that!
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
We might set out in search of a new career or even our life’s purpose in the new year. However, the benefit of first seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness is that you begin to learn that you already have purpose (to glorify God), a destiny (to abide with God in eternity as an heir with Christ), and a job (to make disciples).
Our inherent gifts and talents then indicate how we might best carry out this purpose. From there, we begin to operate in God’s perfect will for our lives. And by being in God’s will, any material resources or people we might need to help us fulfill that purpose will come—and we are guaranteed access to them through prayer (1 John 5:14–15).
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
One year I resolved to smile more, but I still lacked genuine joy and I continued to battle attitude problems, depression, and other sins of the flesh. But the Word of God gives us a renewed mind, which is the mind of Christ.
Through Him we have a new perspective on this life because in Him we find light, love, and truth. And knowing the truth sets us free (John 8:31). It is not enough to read self-help or leadership books for tips and tricks to tackle certain aspects of life. Some might offer helpful treatment. But healing is found in Jesus Christ.
There is so much transformative power in the pages of God’s Word. As you prayerfully study it, the Holy Spirit will do a work in you that puts your New Year’s list of “to- dos” to shame. Making resolutions is great! But filtering those resolutions through the Lord is profitable. This is the only way we will enjoy change that is lasting and accomplish goals that will matter this year and for years to come.