It was January, 1961. These were a few of the words of a young John F. Kennedy as he stood on the steps of the United States Capitol, ready to take on the momentous task of leading a nation in turmoil:
‘Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe. Now the trumpet summons us again; not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are; but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation” – a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.’
To tyranny, poverty, disease, and war, I hardly think that it is inappropriate to add that people were angry.
Fifty-five years later, tyranny has perhaps changed its face, but still exists. There is still poverty, disease, and war.
And I will add, again, that people are angry.
So, as we enter the month of February, commonly known to many of us as African-American History Month or Black History Month, many will ponder the question, is this celebration still relevant? Indeed, it makes a much more pleasant life experience to pretend that the unkindnesses (my word, yes it is) of life do not exist. I know that while I am in our garden, or walking the neighborhood with my gospel or my old school R&B blocking out every bad memory, I almost think I am closer to Heaven. Especially as Believers in Christ, our tendency to shrink from disconcerting news, bury our heads in religion (I use the word ‘religion’ intentionally), and sing a sweet song can lead us to think that we can just carol the hurt away. But do we not realize that Jesus confronted evil?
President Kennedy went on in that very same speech to say more words, words that would outlive him and serve as a rallying cry to, well, ante up and kick in, so to speak, for the sake of our homeland–all of our homeland.
‘And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.’
One thing we can do is to educate our children differently than we have been educated regarding our collective history, our moments of promise as a nation, and our continuing to advance ourselves from the darkest moments of our past. I am but one voice, but with my one voice, I will use this month to highlight resources and provoke critical thinking about what African-American History Month means for all Americans. For I stand convinced that the more we, especially as Believers in Christ, speak of inclusion from a Biblical perspective, the less we have to concern ourselves about living in a world where exclusion, segregation, and separation are always today’s headlines.
I look forward to challenging you and learning with you, dear friends.