Beyond February

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Peanuts, freedom, and sports sum up my childhood interactions with Black History Month.  The month of February launched my predominantly white school into a building lined with posters of Black icons and library displays of books featuring children that looked nothing like anyone in my class. During the celebration we would “learn” about the edited lives George Washington Carver (who was not to be confused with our first President, George Washington), Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and of course Jackie Robinson. These were the “important” Black people in history, and there were times I thought these were the only Black people in history books. I would wonder, Where are all the Black people my parents told me about?

The community I grew up in was very mono-cultural, but my parents thought it was very important to expose my sister and me to all sorts of people. Diversity was important, from our dolls to our books to our music. My sister and I were brave with Sojourner Truth, we watched the revolution begin with Crispus Attucks, we learned about leadership and education with Malcolm X, and we danced to Buddy Guy. These were not men and women who were important only once a year, they were people who helped shape my childhood.

My public school may have found a home for Black heroes once a year, but to me they were just heroes and history shapers. Over the course of my not-so-long life, I have had the privilege of tearing up at the Lorraine Motel, strolling across the wooden fishing bridge of a young Harriet Tubman, standing on the ground Mary McLeod Bethune attended Bible College, watched on as Questlove brought Philly to its feet, and have embraced my neighbors as they fought for justice in Chester, PA. Black history is part of the fabric of America, and as I love to celebrate February with extra emphasis on this great heritage, knowing it has shaped this nation, my community, and me, February is not enough.

There are populations within America that celebrate the sorrow and the triumphs of the Black experience daily, as we all should. The passion, drive, non-violent dedication and justice mindset of Black heroes should be honored daily and looked upon for inspiration, strength and wisdom as we each discern how to handle race relations and current events in this nation. We should honor those we quote, learn about and praise by integrating their thoughts and actions into our response. February taught us about the select few, now go and dig deep, there is much wisdom to grow from.

Love and Danger in the City

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I spent seven years in one of America’s most dangerous cities, or at least that is what the media tells me. While I lived there I never felt like I was in danger. My safety was never an issue, but others thought it was. I would be on a plane going to visit my family and would chat with the passenger next to me. They would hear that I live in Chester, PA, and tell me I should move to some place “safer.” I do not think there could have been a safer place for me: I knew all of my neighbors, I knew most of the block, and I was a part of the fabric of the community.

It is said that the safest place for you is in the center of God’s will, but what about when His will leads you into the danger zone? I have friends who were called to Afghanistan; my best friend grew up as an MK in Sierra Leone during the civil war; I lived amongst gunshots, sirens, and violence. God called me to a “scary” place, and I fell in love with it.

One of the dealers on our block would constantly be looking out for us when the block got particularly violent; he escorted my housemates home: armed. It was a bit unsettling, but that is how he knew how to be a gentleman, that is how he took care of us.

On another occasion there were gunshots that rang through our back yard, and while we were on the floor praying there was a knock on our door. It was our neighbor checking in on us to make sure we were ok.

Or the time three women showed up to our neighbor’s home with baseball bats, and half the block called the police. We all made the decision that that type of behavior is not acceptable; we watch out for each other.

Violent, scary, or dangerous communities are being defined by those who are aggressors, by those “who live by the sword” and not by the peacemakers who walk behind them cleaning things up and seeking reconciliation. Next time the media makes a list of the most dangerous cities in the US, remember the Church is there, Christ is there, and pray for those who are called to be light in what can feel like utter darkness.