This October I attended the first ever Joy & Justice Conference at the historical Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago. The year was chosen to reflect on 400 years of the Black experience in America. The location was carefully selected too not for it's design but for it's history and legacy. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson had also spoken from the sanctuary and for The Witness BCC it was a careful choice to honor history as well as boldly speak into the future.
I sought to be a guest and learner in this Black centered space. I realized that my own baggage and issues with trying to 'prove' to myself and others that I am a "white ally" can prevent others from being truly free in this space where it is necessary that I have a guest and learner posture. It is not for me to discern whether I am an ally or not. What is up to me is the posture in which I enter in. I am so thankful for the deep and reaching work of The Witness BCC not only in my life but in the lives of many throughout the years. The opportunities for listening and growing were overwhelming as theologian and modern prophetic voice to the church Ekemeni Uwan (read this for some of her fire and truth), Black Church apologist Dr. John Fasion, author and leader Dr. Rev. Nicole Massie Martin, and author, podcaster, & historian Jemar Tisby shard insights, reflections, and challenges. Along with other powerful voices like Tyler Burns, Ally Heeny, Lisa Fields, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, Earon James, BJ Thompson, and Beau York these leaders spoke hard truths, challenges, and encouragements.
it was a weekend full of deep teaching, clear calls to justice work, and prophetic lament.
Jemar Tisby summed up the weekend,
"Intentionally black-centered occasions are not a separation from people of other races or ethnicities. It is cultural appreciation rather than appropriation. It is poised in the midst of plurality. It is diversity with unity.
The Joy and Justice conference was a multi-day answer to pray. It gave us a picture of God’s faithfulness to the Church through people of African descent. It was no less than a demonstration of God’s glory through a celebration of the Black Church and Black Christianity."
To mark and remember Black History Month I want to suggest some recommendations for Black History Month from The Witness Black Christian Collective that will- as they should- take you WAY more than 1 short month to engage in.
"A great debt is owed and for the witness of the Church and the glory of God reparations now."
"Repentance and repair does not have an expiration date. Restoration is the future and now. Sanctification is progressive not linear. Everything that has been stolen will be restored" -Ekemeni Uwan "The presence of joy in the Black Church in America- that which the world can't take it away (as he sang) is a real and miraculous work of the Spirit."
Too often the price of admission to multi ethnic churches is the erasure of non-white identity."
"I am preaching better than y'all are Amen-ing," Dr. John Faison reminded all present that preaching in the Black Church context is never a monologue.
"We forget about how GOOD the gospel is- the gospel is about disrupting systems! There are those called to make changes from within a system and those called to change it from the outside- we cannot look down on the other."
"What would your life look like if you were filled with the Holy Spirit to the point of overflowing?" -Dr. Rev Nicole Massie Martin
Jemar Tisby & Tyler Burns recorded a live episode of Pass the Mic during the conference as well. This podcast has been so influential for me personally.
Michelle Higgins of Truth's Table and a gifted group led powerful times of worship.
Jemar Tisby spoke true racial reformation as Biblical reformation. He challenges us all with the 3 elements that must be present to see this kind of change, 1. reminding/remembering, 2. reckoning, and 3. reforming.
The conference ended the way it began: with prayer. You can learn more about The Witness Foundation & support the work they are doing to fund and empower Black Ministries. Hawa Images supports The Witness foundation because the work they are doing is so needed in our world.