February’s Black History Month is drawing to a close. I haven’t written about this earlier because, as I stated in one past post, 2017 is Black History Year for me. My writing focus for this year will continue to focus on racial issues that need to be addressed and solved in the church. I may write some on other subjects, but this is my subject of choice for the year as God sustains my life and keeps my mind functional. However, just because it is a special month designed to catch up (and ‘fess up) to history that was long neglected regarding the plight of African Americans and their often unsung heroes, I will dedicate at least three articles to BHM.
Black History Month had its earliest beginnings in 1915, fostered by the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland. They founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent. Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.
President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The theme for 2017 is “The Crisis in Black Education.”
Learning from Movies
I have seen many movies regarding the terrible status of black people through the earlier years in our country. Such movies were gut-wrenching and heart-breaking, leaving viewers like me discouraged at best and deeply hurt at worst. For me, the movies may have portrayed history, but other than that, they contained no redeeming value. I still have gruesome scenes etched in my mind from movies like “A Time to Kill,” “Mississippi Burning,” “The Great Debaters,” and “Twelve Years a Slave.” More recently, documentaries like “Thirteenth” contained similar graphic, disturbing scenes as we are reminded that our history is replete with unspeakable and violent injustices.
Movies like “The Help” are less disturbing to watch, lacking the violence shown in those others, but they are still very difficult for me to watch because they show what life was actually like for blacks during my childhood. Those memories are very sad memories now, although at the time, it was simply life as it was and most of us white folks were distanced enough from it to not understand just how bad it was. Thankfully, in “The Help,” they included a couple of scenes that did gladden my heart, the chocolate pie scene being the apex!
My Favorite Movies
Since Black History Month has its roots in the recognition and honoring of black heroes, I have been most encouraged by seeing several movies that do exactly that. I loved “Hidden Figures,” and have seen it in theaters twice already. It is historically pretty accurate, based on my study. My heart was thrilled when John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth in space, wouldn’t board the spacecraft until a black female math prodigy looked over the numbers one final time. Glenn trusted her more than he did the new massive IBM computer at NASA! Those three black women had to endure the racism of their day, but they didn’t let it stop them from using their talents to rise to the top and overcome much of the racist attitudes toward them from fellow workers with white skin.
Another movie I found inspiring was “Something the Lord Made.” Although it was originally an HBO movie, it is available for free viewing on You Tube in HD. I’ve watched it two or three times and will watch it again. Interestingly, the immediate family of the star of the show demonstrated three different ways to respond to racism. The father, a carpenter, focused on the progress that Africans had made in America. He reminded his two sons that his grandfather had been a slave, nothing more than a piece of property, and yet two generations later, he was a free man with a decent job and a decent (by comparison) standard of living.
One of his sons was a teacher, and he was very emotionally disturbed by the lack of equal pay for teachers of color. He was determined to fight this inequity, to the chagrin of his father. The other son, the star of the show, went from being a janitor in the laboratory of a young white surgeon to becoming one of the most revered trainers of surgeons in Johns Hopkins University ─ with only a high school education. He accepted his lot in life but kept working to improve himself until he won the respect and admiration of some of the world’s greatest surgeons. During that process, he and the white surgeon developed two surgical procedures that have saved literally millions and millions of lives. I will return to this movie in another blog, and further examine biblically these three varying views that each of the men in the family held.
Separating History from Politics
Another movie I saw quite by accident (providence, I think) was when I was just looking through titles on Netflix for something good to watch. This particular movie had Cuba Gooding Jr. as the star, and he’s a favorite of mine. The movie was “Gifted Hands,” portraying the life of Ben Carson. I know that some reading this article are somewhat dismayed by the fact that he ran for president as a Republican and now has become President Trump’s nominee to be the 17th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
If you are among the dismayed in this case, please do not lose sight of the rather astounding accomplishments of this Black American. He rose from the poverty of a single parent home, could barely read as a child, experienced extreme racial prejudice in his early years, and yet became the greatest pediatric neurosurgeon in the world. The movie portrays all of this accurately, although it actually downplays the amount of racism and ridicule he endured on his way to success.
He is a Bible believing person with seemingly no skeletons in his closet. No matter what you think about his political positions, let me ask you one question. Would you rather have the President surrounded by those who have strong biblical convictions or those who do not? I can personally cast a very quick vote on that question. We have to be very careful not to be so caught up in political agendas that we lose sight of some important realities, and the Ben Carson story is one of these in my humble opinion.
Cheated ─ But Making Progress!
In talking with my old friend and now blogsite adviser, Tony Chukes, he told me about finding out about black heroes about whom he knew nothing from friends and how incensed he was that he was not taught about them in his history classes. And one of his special interests was in history! I understood, feeling much the same ─ cheated. Maybe there were more stories in my history books about black heroes than I remember, but I doubt it. My history courses were taught right in the middle of Jim Crow days, and blacks were still being forced to “keep their place,” and their place certainly wasn’t having hero status.
I am glad that we are becoming enlightened about black history, both the good and the bad of it. I remain convinced that systemic racism is ingrained in our culture, in spite of the fact that many whites are oblivious to it and themselves aren’t racist as individuals. However, the effects are going to be felt until we recognize it for what it is and take steps to eradicate it. We are making progress and I am thankful for the progress, especially in the church. More must be made.
Making Progress in the Church
In the Dallas church, we have a Hispanic brother who is an expert in the area of racial diversity, and along with a black brother on staff, they are working to educate us. They started by meeting with our ministry staff, dividing them into small but diverse groups, teaching principles and then having the groups discuss the principles. It was done in a way that the teaching and the discussions were spaced out so that not too much material was covered in one discussion setting.
Next, this was done with all of those in our Singles Ministry. Soon to come will be a similar session for all of our Bible Talk leaders and assistants ─ at least 250 people and perhaps closer to 300. Our leadership meant what they said to the church when they sent out that email which I mentioned in my first article on this blogsite. Other churches are doing similar things. We understand that the world is in a hateful mess and we cannot change our society ─ except as we change and let our light shine before them.
People have started noticing what we are doing and more will notice. We cannot force change, for God himself does not force change in people, but we can influence change by being the light set on the hill. As our congregations heal and help heal on these racial issues, we will have more influence than we now imagine. It is for that cause that I write and labor, and it is for that cause that a growing number among us are doing the same. If we can keep our hearts loving, our minds open, and our kingdom priorities in the right place, God will use it all and use us all. We are a family, a diverse family, and a family with the potential to affect the world. Let’s do it, together!