February is Black History Month. As faith communities and as individuals, throughout the month we can prioritize our time to explore and celebrate the rich cultural heritage and influence of African Americans. Whether you engage music, art, theology, or food, or seek to learn more about the triumphs, trials, and tribulations that led up to the Civil Rights movement and beyond, or delight in the inventions and innovations of great minds, there are innumerable ways to honor and amplify the stories of people of African descent that are an indelible part of our country’s history. I encourage all United Methodists from across the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area to create intentional space in worship, small groups, civic service, and your day-to-day way of living out your faith to commemorate, celebrate, and elevate what you discover.
Each year around this time, we tend to return to the prophetic stories of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, and countless other Black Americans before and after them who worked tirelessly and sacrificed so much in the quest for equality. There are four additional stories that you might explore throughout the month of February: those of Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, the Rev. Sallie A Crenshaw, and Bishop Leontine Turpeau Current Kelly.
There is one additional story I wish to share. Many of you are aware that I am in in the process of relocating from Iowa to our episcopal area. On Monday, my movers and I took a break from our work and enjoyed conversation while chowing on some burgers and fries I bought at Hy-Vee. Amid our discussion and the belly-deep laughter that revealed how close these co-workers are and as we were approaching the end of our meal, I asked how they were doing in the wake of the news from Memphis. I assured them they didn’t need to respond—but that I truly wondered how they were doing as young Black men in America.
To be honest, they were a bit caught off guard. One man shared his surprise that a white woman would ask the question and was curious what prompted it. My response was simple: Because I’m a Christ-follower. I explained that not only do I have a responsibility as a person of faith to name the violence perpetuated against marginalized communities, but I want to take every opportunity for self-education; this includes listening deeply to those most impacted by the systemic injustices in our communities, nation, and world.
They shared how they were feeling—and honestly, the fresh wounds of another life lost were still very raw. To honor and hold that in a sacred way, I am not retelling their specific experiences. Let me simply say that there is a vulnerability and current of fear that accompanies them at all times. And when they asked me about my background, I talked a bit about what it means to be bishop (you know, spiritual and temporal shepherding) and a lot about what it means to work for peace, justice, and social reform as part of our Wesleyan witness in the world.
I don’t know if I will see these three men ever again, but my hope and prayer is that they have been seen, heard, appreciated, and welcomed. I am deeply grateful to have been able to participate in an important conversation that named both the pain in our society and the promise of healing.
My hope for you this month (and truly as a regular spiritual practice) is for you to begin or continue conversations with those God places in your path—invite a story, share in sacred space, and be emboldened to do so, knowing that best of all, God is with us in these holy moments.
Two great resources from the United Methodist General Commission on Religion and Race:
29 Ways You Can Participate in Black History Month
Black History Month Activity for Kids