Flip The Script For An Invitation into Artistic Inclusion

Flip The Script For An Invitation into Artistic Inclusion

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.

11 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

11 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

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 AnthemLift 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.

Five Reasons To Celebrate Black History Month

Five Reasons To Celebrate Black History Month

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.

New Year, New You: The Only Resolutions that Matter

New Year, New You: The Only Resolutions that Matter

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.

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

All week long, African Americans have been celebrating Kwanzaa across the U.S.

Perhaps you may attend a Kwanzaa celebration at your church or even participate in Kwanzaa in the comforts of your own home, but do you really know why? What is Kwanzaa and why do so many African Americans choose to celebrate the holiday?

Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga created and developed Kwanzaa in 1966. Dr. Karenga is an author, professor, and scholar-activist who is passionate about sustaining Pan-African culture in America with an emphasis on celebrating the family and the community.

There are three main ideas that are foundational to sustaining Kwanzaa tradition. The first idea is to reinstate rootedness in African culture. The second is to serve as a consistent, annual, public celebration to strengthen and confirm the bonds between people of the African diaspora. And finally, Kwanzaa is to familiarize and support the “Nguzo Saba,” also known as the “Seven Principles,” which are each celebrated during the seven days following Christmas.

These seven principles represent the values of African communication. They include the following:

  1. Umoja or Unity
  2. Kujichagulia or Self-Determination
  3. Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics
  5. Nia or Purpose
  6. Kuumba or Creativity
  7. Imani or Faith.

People celebrate Kwanzaa in numerous ways and have different practices that have been incorporated into their celebrations.

Symbolic Decor

Are you unsure as to how you and your family can participate in a Kwanzaa celebration? A good way to start is to decorate your home or living quarters with the symbols of Kwanzaa.

First start by putting a green tablecloth over a table that is centrally based in the space in the space you intend to decorate. Then, place the Mkeka, a woven mat or straw that represents the factual cornerstone of African descent, on top of the tablecloth.

Place the Mazao, the fruit or crops placed in a bowl, on top of the Mkeka symbolizing the culture’s productivity. Next, place the Kinara, a seven-pronged candle holder, on the tablecloth. The Kinara should include the Mishumaa Saba, seven candles that represent the seven central principles of Kwanzaa.

The three candles placed on the left are red, symbolizing struggle, the three candles to the right are green, symbolizing hope, and one candle placed in the center is black, symbolizing those who draw their heritage from Africa or simply just the African American people. The candles are lit each day in a certain order, and the black candle is always first.

Next, include the Muhindi, or ears of corn, used to symbolize each child. However, if there are no children present, place two ears to represent the children within the community.

Also, include Zawadi, gifts for the children, on the table. And finally, don’t forget the Kikombe cha Umoja, a cup to symbolize family and unity within the community.

Pan-African Creativity

You may also choose to decorate the rest of your home with Kwanzaa flags, called Bendera, and posters focusing on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Some children usually take pleasure in making these flags or they may be purchased instead. African national and tribal flags can also be created to symbolize the seven principles.

Other ways to celebrate may include learning Kwanzaa greetings, such as “Habari Gani,” which is a traditional Swahili greeting for “What is the news?”

Other activities for celebrating Kwanzaa is to have a ceremony, which may include lighting the candles, musical selections played on the drums, readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflections on the Pan-African colors, discussing African principles for that day and/or reciting chapters in African heritage. Be creative!

 

Have you and your family been participating in your own Kwanzaa traditions? Share them below.

Why Are We So Fascinated with the Illuminati?

Why Are We So Fascinated with the Illuminati?

We are fascinated with the Illuminati. If you have been following any celebrity of note, then you have to be familiar with the concept of the Illuminati. The secret society that controls the world from the shadows is supposedly filled with Black celebrities. Jay-Z, Beyonce, and even Lecrae, the Christian hip-hop artist, were named as members of this elite group of world takeover artists. Now, LeCrae as a member of the Illuminati is about as believable as Donald Trump as a crusader for social justice. Although it’s ridiculous and almost laughable, the question still remains, “What is our fascination with the Illuminati?”

History of the Illuminati Fascination

The Illuminati has always been a hip-hop staple since I could remember. There were always subtle references in songs. From the Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy” to LL Cool J’s reference in the “I Shot Ya” remix, hip-hop from the mid-90s to now has had an obsession with the Illuminati. Ras Kass, Outkast, Bun B, and many others have all mentioned the Illuminati in their lyrics. In Tupac’s prime, he released Don Killuminati, and the reference was not missed.

It’s gotten to be a staple for the YouTube crowd as well. Tons of videos analyze different artists and how their music and videos are laced with Illuminati symbolism. The symbolism is usually related to the all-seeing eye or Eye of Providence—the famous image on the dollar bill—as well as references to light or pyramids. Also, skulls, goats, snakes, the sun, fire, and eagles are seen as Illuminati symbols. Basically, everything is an illuminati symbol.

Doing a casual search on YouTube will also reveal celebrity exposé interviews with the likes of Professor Griff of Public Enemy fame and others speaking of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. as Illuminati blood sacrifices. There is also a theory that the Illuminati-controlled hip-hop industry is influencing young men to turn homosexual.

Theories abound on how hip-hop is influenced by this supposed secret society. And hip-hop is chock full of references about the Illuminati’s influence over the entire world. But just who are the Illuminati? Where did this understanding of a secret society dominating the world even come from?

Who are the Illuminati?

uknown identityThe Illuminati was a group in the 18th century formed to oppose religious and cultic superstition. It’s ironic that this group that was formed to fight against superstition has now become the stuff of legend. Charles Theodore, a Bavarian ruler, used an edict to outlaw the group, along with a host of other secret societies. Subsequently, the group disbanded.

This didn’t stop people from believing that the group was still in operation. Soon after, they were accused of being responsible for the French Revolution. This was the first of many accusations that the formally disbanded Illuminati were supposedly masterminds behind, some of the greatest events in history. The Illuminati have been said to be responsible for events from Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo to the assassination of JFK. Even recently, they were said to have orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The organization is said to have risen to this kind of power because of their connection to the big world banks. Through these connections, they have consolidated power in the media industry as well. This has given rise to theories that different music artists and Hollywood stars are also members of the secret society. In fact, the list of people who are said to be members of the Illuminati is a who’s who in terms of the Hollywood A-List; Kanye, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga, Emma Watson, Celine Dion, and Miley Cyrus have all been alleged to be on the Illuminati roster.

Why are we fascinated with the Illuminati?

So, the question remains, “Why are we so fascinated with the Illuminati?” There is a lot of energy and discussion about a secret society that no one knows for sure exists. The evidence regarding their existence is skimpy. The different signs and symbols used to rope celebrities into the Illuminati’s orbit are coincidental at best. What makes people suspect that a secret society is pulling the strings of everyone on the planet?

I think this goes back to the feeling of powerlessness many in underprivileged communities feel. Since things are so bad, then there must be a secret power doing this. This can’t just be normal life. There’s got to be an explanation for the evil we see in the world. There’s got to be a good reason for the injustice and oppression that makes its way to my neighborhood on a daily basis.

Said in another way, there can be no good reason for people to be losing their minds like they are now. Why is there so much Black-on-Black crime? Illuminati. Why is there so much pollution? Illuminati. Inflation? Illuminati. Unhealthy relationships? Illuminati. Pharmaceuticals with crazy, harmful, side effects? Illuminati. Every bad thing can be traced back to the Illuminati, and ultimately no one is responsible.

When it’s connected to celebrities, it’s kind of a different story. People want to know how someone like Jay-Z can rise to the top and make millions and they can’t. They want to explain away success. In their minds, for someone to be that successful, they had to sell their soul to the devil and join a secret society. Let’s push aside hard work, talent, and market trends. Let’s give credit to people we can’t even verify exist.

How Do We as Christians Respond to This Fascination?

questions on a blackboardIt’s crazy that some people have actually accused Lecrae of being a member of the Illuminati because of his latest video. Yeah, the same Lecrae whose songs are laced with the fundamental truths of the Gospel. I don’t see how the Illuminati can use the story of the Creation, Fall, and redemption to their advantage. This is where Illuminati conspiracy theories become laughable.

The funny thing is in some way I agree with many of the Illuminati conspiracy theorists. There is someone pulling the strings. It’s just not the inheritors of an 18th-century secret society bent on world domination. When it comes to evil and oppression as a Christian, I believe there are invisible forces at work whose sole goal is to control people’s actions and direct them towards evil.

In the Bible, they are called demons and are led by Satan. In Ephesians 2, he is called the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience. The devil is bent on world domination by causing people to disobey God. When they don’t bend to his will, then he is set on destroying them. That’s his modus operandi.

At the same time, I’m convinced that, ultimately, He’s not the one pulling the strings behind it all. That position goes to God himself. There’s an attribute we give to Him called sovereignty. This means no matter what is happening, God is in control. He is superintending over world events and personal decisions.

Who knows, there might be a secret society out there, but I’ll take my chances with a faithful, loving, and compassionate God who not only has my best interests, but the entire world’s best interests in mind.

 

Check out Trip Lee’s “Monolo”  ft. Lecrae below: