February 27, 2019 under Faith Based Work
On the evening of February 11th, the sounds of African drumming transformed the sanctuary of Harlem’s historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with over 400 persons gathered to participate in “Our Calling to Fulfill,” an Interfaith and Intergenerational Justice Service held in honor of Black History Month. The event, hosted by FPWA in collaboration with faith leaders and activists in New York City across religious traditions sought to remember the transcendent words of influential civil rights leaders and freedom fighters with the purpose of uniting the voices of religious leaders and social activists who make full use of their platforms daily to inspire the broader community to do the same.
Iconic quotes from Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, James Baldwin, Rev. Pauli Murray, Esq., Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Ruston, and Ella Josephine Baker were used as primary texts for our seven speakers of the evening. Min. Candice Simpson, Rabbi Bob Kaplan, Natasha Alford, Iman Talib Abdul-Rashid, Rev. Michael Walrond, Dr. Dennis Gunn, and the Honorable Dr. Hazel N. Dukes. Everyone brought the words of these ancestors to life in our modern-day context.
Minister Candice Simpson started our program with a quote from James Baldwin: “If the concept of God has any validity or use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we get rid of God.” Minister Simpson brought to light the need for people of faith to recognize the ways our beliefs have incited emotional, psychological and physical violence towards queer people and the LGBTQ community. Our vision of God here, in Simpson’s prophetic perspective, does not make us larger, freer, and more loving.
Hon. Dukes lifted the prophetic words of Ella Baker, “until the killings of black mother’s children is as important as the killings of white mother’s children, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” Ella Baker pinned these words in 1964, and sadly, 55 years later, her words are just as piercing and powerful. Dr. Gunn petitioned those of us who seek comfort and stability to become divine troublemakers for justice in our nation instead, heeding the cry of Bayard Rustin. Natasha Alford, spoke boldly of the need for journalists, media professionals, and storytellers to recognize their call to choose justice over objectivity. Iman Talib Rashid charged those assembled to be true lights in a world of oppressive darkness. Rabbi Kaplan, reminded us that if we are waiting for a holy person to rise and remedy the ills of this world, we must wait no longer and turn toward ourselves to find the holy within.
Rev. Walrond, our final speaker of the evening, ended our program with the profound words of Dr. Martin King: “Being Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in the mental skies. It means having their legs cut off, and then being condemned for being cripple.” Rev. Walrond skillfully helped the listeners in the room to detangle ourselves from need of being accepted and approved by those who oppress us.
The evening and its impact were felt immediately. After the service, Dr. Kenya Murray stated, “A verbal contract was forged during “Our Calling to Fulfill”. Person by person, the justice service created a space for us to stand in witness of the works and commitments of our named and unnamed ancestors. Rev. Erika Jones- an assistant minister at Metropolitan AME Church in Harlem, was challenged to think more critically about her work reflecting on a time when she did not believe all ministries should include social justice and the shift in her opinion.
Our calling at that moment became clear. For it will not be the work of Muslims, Christians, or Jews individually, but the collective work of all interfaith leaders that will guide us to justice.