Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Yet how quickly faith was perverted into a twisted vision of colonialism once Christianity was wedded to power. And then true faith became part of a shadow world as this nation was built upon a foundation of systemic racism. But Love and Justice raised up preachers and prophets to speak of the invisible lines of hate which snaked their way through what was once a holy land.
By faith Olaudah Equiano began to write his autobiography, believing that the details of his homeland and abduction could convince racist hearts to repent. By faith Phyllis Wheatley wrapped verse around the horror which housed her, becoming the first African American female writer, because she judged herself worthy even when others did not. By faith William Wells Brown escaped slavery to work for women’s suffrage and prison reform. By faith both he and Harriet Wilson helped to solidify the African American literary tradition and refused to create happy conclusions for their novels, instead choosing to critique a “Godly” society that held slavery as a just and viable practice. By faith Isabella Baumfree fought a white man in court to win back her son who had been sold. Not content with one small victory, she set out on life-long pilgrimage to find Justice, and like Jacob, took up her new name: Sojourner Truth.
They all died without receiving equality, but from a great distance they saw the promise of it, despite being seen as strangers in their homeland. And they desired to redeem this country rather than wait for the Heavenly one, as the Christians who enslaved them preached. Therefore, Love and Justice are not ashamed to be called their truth, guided by Mercy herself.
By faith Frederick Douglass questioned the white, western intellectual heritage by starting The North Star, for he wanted a nation that believed in the dignity of every human soul. By faith, W.E.B Dubois explored invisible, cultural constructions of the self to define double consciousness, wherein he and others saw America from both the inside and the outside while his friend Lorraine Hansberry cracked open Broadway in 1959. And when she danced with James Baldwin, the world was lit like a pillar of fire.
By faith Langston Hughes invoked blessings upon the future and history of Harlem as if it were the holy city itself.
By faith Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter to eight white clergymen that is an indictment of the church even today. Choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of Birmingham than to enjoy freedom, he considered abuse suffered for Love and Justice to be of greater wealth, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he led the charge against Eugene “Bull” Connor—who was as fierce as Pharaoh—yet he marched alongside mothers and their children, and when police officers shot them with water hoses, they did not drown.
By faith the walls of segregation began to topple when thirteen Topeka parents challenged the Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling that separate was equal. And like Jericho, they fell, but the foundation was not destroyed, the ruling never overturned. By faith Rosa Parks did not give up her seat to a white woman, knowing she was neither the first nor the last to do so, while five other women—Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith—took their case to court to permanently overturn bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. By faith Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black man, worked behind the scenes to help Martin Luther King Jr. organize a march on Washington in 1963. By faith, Malcolm X made traveled to Mecca to meet God. And he became a judge of the people, like Jephthah, despite the violence that surrounded and inhabited him. It was by faith, strength and love that bell hooks became an oracle for intersectionality as she produced more than thirty books that helped redefine feminism. By faith authors such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker gave voice to the black woman experience and through their stories blazed a glorious path for others to reclaim their divine bodies. By faith they spoke into existence the unspeakable, and made visible the racism which others wished to have remain forever and silently hidden.
By faith Beyonce invited us to the communion table with cornbreads and collard greens, while Billy Holiday and Nina Simone sang of broken bodies and strange fruit.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Roxane Gay, Joy Reid, Kara Walker, Jay Smooth, Colson Whitehead, Morgan Parker, Claudia Rankine, of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ijeoma Oluo, Laverne Cox, of Tupac Shakur, Yahdon Israel, Bree Newsome, Deray McKesson, of Barack and Michelle Obama, of Janet Mock and other African American visionaries—who through their faith conquered literary kingdoms, administered justice, obtained the White House, shut the mouths of bigots, taught us that time is illmatic, won strength out of weakness and put rhetorical armies to flight.
When mothers did not receive their dead sons and daughters again by resurrection, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created Black Lives Matter and took to the streets to make sure their names were not forgotten. Others were arrested, they were beaten and incarcerated without trial. They suffered mocking by the media and peers alike. They were lynched and assassinated, they were spit upon; they went about in purple suits and black berets—of whom the world was not worthy—prophesying through music and challenging police brutality. They wandered throughout the South and the inner city, lived in mansions and one room apartments which housed their entire family.
Yet these warriors, though commended for their faith, have yet to receive the promise of lasting justice and the eradication of systemic racism. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside the white privilege and prejudice that so easily besets us, and let us run with perseverance against injustice. For the promise of a heavenly kingdom is worth nothing if we by inaction help to sustain a living hell on earth. But by faith let us lay our bodies down in repentance for all black lives lost. Let us lay ourselves down as a defense. Let us lay ourselves down for love.