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Black History Month: What It Means to Me by Guest Author Clair Minson

In honor of Black History Month, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries invited Seminarian Clair Minson to share some thoughts about this topic with our readers.

 

What began as “Negro History Week” in 1926 — created by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson out of his concern that young African Americans lacked an education about their own heritage and ancestors — has since expanded to what we now know and observe as “Black History Month.”[1] Woodson, a life-long educator, understood the power of knowing one’s history and one’s ancestral heritage. Knowing that you are part of a long legacy of people who have the capacity to create whole societies can ground you in the belief that you too can do anything. Not knowing this history can become a seeding ground for internalized oppression.[2]

As Nikole Hannah-Jones writes in her book The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, “The vision of the past I absorbed from school textbooks, television, and the local history museum depicted a world, perhaps a wishful one, where Black people did not really exist. This history rendered Black Americans, Black people on all the earth, inconsequential at best, invisible at worst.”[3] I suspect that this erasure of Black his- and her-story is what Woodson was confronting through the development of Negro History Week.

As people of faith, steeped in the tradition of remembering and honoring our ancestors, we know the power of hearing, repeating and internalizing the miraculous stories of Moses, Joshua, Mary and Paul. Despite thousands of years of separation, we rely on these stories to help us cling to our faith and to a God who can at times feel very distant, despite always being with us. Understanding this, we perhaps also understand that recalling the stories of our Black ancestors is equally as powerful and necessary.

In preparation for this blog, I sat with the question “What does Black History Month mean to me?” and after some time an answer surfaced. To me, Black History Month is not just an obligatory nod to African American people; it’s a reminder of the strength and resilience of a people who, despite being erased from history and relegated to the margins of society, continue to contribute to the flourishing of our society. It’s a reminder of who we are and whose we are. It’s a reminder from “whence we came” and a vision for where we can go. It’s a clarion call to those who feel lost and need a reminder that their stories and their lives matter.

Black History Month is an opportunity for us as Christians to live into our call to be countercultural and share histories that many in society want to censure. It is an opportunity to live into the commitments we have made as a denomination to honor, protect and value the lives of people of African descent. I ask you, as people of faith, steeped in the tradition of remembering and honoring our ancestors, the same question: What does Black History Month mean to you?

 

Clair Minson, founder and principal consultant of Sandra Grace LLC, is a nonprofit leader, racial equity consultant, and theologian who leverages her decade-plus experience in workforce development and mental health counseling to maximize the impact of forward-thinking institutions across the United States.

Anchored in her faith in the human capacity for change and propelled by a critical analysis of systemic and institutional racism, Clair works with clients in the public and private sectors to develop and implement sound strategies that address the root causes of social inequity. She first entered the field as a counselor, directly supporting formerly incarcerated people in identifying and developing their skills and passions upon reentry into their communities, and later transitioned into the role of philanthropic strategist, in which she was charged with positioning workforce development as a catalyst for economic justice.

In 2019, Clair founded Sandra Grace, a change-management firm that provides training, consulting and thought-partnership to nonprofit, for-profit and public organizations in embedding racial equity practices in their policies, operations and programs. Sandra Grace serves clients in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco, among other cities.

Clair completed her B.A. in psychology at Clark Atlanta University and her master’s degree in community counseling from Argosy University; she is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She is a nationally certified counselor (NCC) and a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) in the state of Maryland.

Clair is from the Bahamas and currently lives in Colorado with her two daughters.

 

[1] www.history.com/news/the-man-behind-black-history-month
[2] www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2022/01/28/exploring-the-ways-internalized-oppression-shows-up-in-the-workplace/?sh=56abf6755f09
[3] Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (New York: Random House, 2021), xvii.
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Honoring National Day of Racial Healing: Guest Blog Writer Rev. Jennifer Thomas

In honor of National Day of Racial Healing, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries invited The Reverend Jennifer Thomas to share some thoughts about this topic with our readers.

 

As a person of faith, I am called to love God and my neighbor as myself. Because of this, I’m committed to learning how white supremacy culture and my own complicity in it cause harm to my global neighbors near and far — and when I know better, to do better. As a seminarian, I attended anti-racism training in the late ’90s. But my journey didn’t stop there. Even last month I learned a new term: “global majority,” a collective term for non-white people of African, Asian and Latin American descent, who constitute approximately 85% of the global population. It has been used as an alternative to terms that are seen as racialized, such as “ethnic minority” and “person of color,” or more regional terms across the globe. It roughly corresponds to people whose heritage can be traced back to nations of the Global South.  

I’m a board member of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice and a member of the Central States Synod Racial Justice Team. As a member of both organizations, I’m interested in building a network of racial justice advocates and organizers across the ELCA. I also participate in #Reformation2022, a movement to reform the ELCA. Most of the work I do as a board and team member is amplifying the voices of the global majority community, whether it be an individual or an association within our church. 

When I was invited to blog this month for the “National Day of Racial Healing,” I had to look it up because it was new to me. The National Day of Racial Healing is a call to action for racial healing for all people. It is a time for contemplating our shared values and engaging together on #HowWeHeal from the effects of racism. It’s a day to come together in a shared commitment to building relationships. Launched on Jan. 17, 2017, it is an opportunity to bring people together in their common humanity and inspire collective action to create a more equitable world. The day is observed every year on the Tuesday following Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

You can’t change what you don’t know. So how much do you know about the impact of colonization on the global majority community?  

When we know the truth and embrace it, we begin the process of building and strengthening right relationships with our global majority neighbors. In 2023 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) launched the Truth and Healing Movement. Many resources are available to assist you and your congregation as you work on your responsibilities. 

The ELCA also has ethnic associations for Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries. For even more resources, visit the ELCA Anti-Racism Pledge page. 

If you are of European descent within the ELCA and passionate about anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy, we invite you to join our partner list. 

And plan to attend the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice Triennial Assembly, March 1-3, in Minneapolis. The registration deadline is Jan. 15.  

 

The Rev. Jennifer Thomas is an ELCA pastor, ordained in 1998. She’s served congregations in Wisconsin, Missouri and Kansas. Her current call is as associate director for Mission Funding in the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop. She resides in Kansas with her husband Vance, their almost adult children, Peder and Solveig, and two adorable rescue dogs, Rose and Dumplin’. In addition to organizing, advocacy, fundraising and proclamation of the good news, Jen enjoys cooking, baking, swimming, reading and bingewatching her favorite TV shows. 

 

 

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Honoring International Migrants Day: “Where Are You From?” by Rev. Menzi Nkambule

In honor of International Migrants Day, Racial Justice invited guest writer Rev. Menzi Nkambule to share some thoughts on being a migrant in the United States.

 

What is your response when someone asks, “Where are you from?” Mine is a joke and reality. I often reply with my Eswatini accent, “I am from Decorah, Iowa.” I was raised in Eswatini, attended Luther College in Decorah and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and am now a Lutheran pastor in Jersey City, N.J. For most people in America, “Where are you from?” is a tricky question. We need a different question if we are to be hospitable to one another.

When you ask people where they are from, you receive complex answers. Many Americans have lived in several parts of the country and, in some cases, the world. For example, some grew up in military families, moving from one base to another. Others grew up in a pastor’s family, moving from one church location to another. Like a plant, they were dug out of the ground and transplanted to a new place. Therefore, whether you were born in the United States or Eswatini, the question “Where are you from?” is, at best, challenging. At worst, it feels invasive and presumptuous, especially if asked of those born outside the U.S.

But do not worry; with generosity of spirit, there is nothing we cannot get past. Humor and genuine curiosity can generate a good conversation and help us connect in our similarities and differences. However, I find that, instead of “Where are you from?,” the question “Where is home for you?” embodies the generosity needed to spark instant connection.

In my experience, this alternative question reflects the kind of generosity that Leviticus 19:33-34 asks of us when it says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the native-born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Ask someone “Where are you from?” or “Where are you really from?,” and that person may hear you saying that they don’t belong. But ask someone where home is, and you will have treated them as if they belong. You will have given them the joy and ease they need to put down roots in your community.

When I first came to the United States, I was 22, had never seen the doors of a Lutheran church and never in my life thought I wanted to be a pastor. Understandably, I was feeling out of place. But then the question “Where is home for you?” transformed me. My campus pastors were the first to ask me this question. It brought a much-needed shift in perspective, from home as a data point to home as the people with whom I feel safe attaching roots and exploring.

As time passed, I began to see Decorah as a community of belonging. By my senior year in college I had explored Lutheranism and gotten baptized at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in town. I spent so much time with the pastors that I began to think I, too, could be a pastor. I studied management and made a leap to seminary and ordained ministry. Because I felt at home in Decorah, I belonged, planted roots and thrived.

Ultimately I am from Decorah and other places because I feel at home there. I believe that those transplanted across the globe or from one state to another need nothing more than for us to be their home. They need us to be what God calls us to be — the soil where the immigrants among us can take root and be at home in our communities.

 

 

The Rev. Menzi Nkambule is an ELCA Fund for Leaders alum serving as pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Jersey City, N.J. He enjoys cooking and cycling.

 

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