Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Funky Sexy Manifesto #57 Do a Speaking Gig Part 4

Recently in a conversation, I was asked the question:

"What does Black History Month mean to me?"

I responded by describing the historical significance of Black History Month and I why I acknowledge it today. There was a time when I rejected Black History Month since I felt that the celebration of the accomplishments of African-descended peoples should not be relegated solely to one month but throughout the year. As an educator and a citizen of this globe, I think that there is still an important role for Black History Month-- which is, that it does exist. Just because Black History Month exists for me every day of the year, does not mean it does for my fellow citizens in Canada and the globe. So what if delegating one month-- February-- (the shortest and coldest in Canada, although it has been mild) puts it on the radar for the rest of the country? So what if many teachers are now panicking and administrators are now scrambling to include Black history content in their schools, curricula, and lesson plans? So what if many Black artists, musicians, poets, writers, dancers, and motivational speakers are booked solid throughout February at a variety of engagements when their schedules remain empty at other times of the year? So what if my local bank is sponsoring a month long series of arts events which celebrate Black history? So what if other disenfranchised or marginalized groups such as Asian, Women, LGBTQ, Aboriginal/First Nations in Canada have followed the lead of Black people and also begun their own history/pride months? (Also some Black people may also fit into these aforementioned groups.) These are all good things, right? As long as we avoid tokenist observances, it is a start. I mean, when I attended elementary school in the 1980s there was no Black History month celebration, observance, or mention in my Canadian Catholic school and when I got to high school, it was thanks to my involvement in Black History groups in high school and mentors from the community that we organized celebrations. Not the administrators at the school mind you but the students with a few required teacher supervisors pursued this project. Consequently, I learned most of my knowledge about Black Canadian history on my own not in the school curriculum.

I am now realizing how far we have come in just ten years since we high school student activists who helped to place Black History on the map. However, as you can see, there is so much more growth necessary.

I was asked to talk about Black History month to my church congregation. At first, I was not sure if I should accept. I am not a Black history expert nor was I sure what the response would be if I delivered this sermon. Nevertheless, since I had placed #57 Do A Speaking Gig on my Funky Sexy Manifesto list, I accepted. Also I am a Black woman, living in Canada, and this identity probably more than any other (e.g., survivor, vegan, Christian) shapes my lived reality more than any other and so in this respect, I am an expert at being a racialized person and living a racialized reality. Plus, I have gotten to know many of the members over the last several years so I felt comfortable enough (accept for a few pre-speech jitters).

The writer in me leaped for joy. I loved writing this sermon. It took a lot of time to edit and I had to look up more details such as dates and places of birth. I started off wanting to connect the spiritual tradition of African peoples as an enduring source of strength for my ancestors to today but I am not an expert in that area and the words would not come. They sort of fizzled away. However, one verse in Psalms really stuck out to me:

The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.
Psalm 147:2

I immediately thought of the image of the Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol of a bird with its body facing forward but its head looking back. The Sankofa means we need to look back to move forward, a proverb I personally believe in which helps me to move forward.

According to the African American Studies website at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Sankofa in the Akan language is:
"se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki" which literally translated means "it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot."
Or "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today."They go on to say "whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be revived, reclaimed, preserved, and perpetuated."

After I finished telling the sermon and the service ended, I realized that there were two things that I forgot to mention. First, there are several other African influences that have remained with us, the descendants, in North and South America including rich spiritual tradition and orality. Second, I might have eliminated some details since the sermon was very much a history lesson and there was so much I wished to share. On the other hand, there was probably more I could have said about this topic but I will leave that up to you my audience to research or study on your own.

I was a little scared to listen to myself recorded as I have never done an mp3 before. My parents and my fiance sat amidst members of the audience. Once I was up there, I relaxed a bit more.

I will not say too much as I have linked the sermon below for your listening pleasure. (I do sing a in this sermon so this is a little bit of Funky Sexy Manifesto #83 Get My Voice Back.)

I have had a few reactions to the sermon which have mostly been positive. Many people thanked me for the history lesson. Others found it interesting. My mother said she learned a lot. My fiance thought my sermon was very Rasta. I am very curious to know what are your thoughts.

Click here to listen to the sermon. The sermon is called Sankofa: Looking Back to Move Forward.

I am standing with Minister, Martha ter Kuile.

No comments: