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Black History Month – Call to Action

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

February is Black History Month in the US and Canada, and it is a particular invitation to non-Blacks to open our eyes to the history of colonialism and slavery which is the backdrop to the lived reality of Black people all around the world. It is also an invitation to step up and fight for people of color in our own communities.

The quote above from MLK, from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, is a wake-up call to me every time I read it. So much of charity, particularly charity sent from abroad to the continent of Africa, falls into the category of “I agree with your goal, but not your methods…”

Organizations that prescribe solutions to poverty – not listening to the innovations of people who live the context – thwart real development.

Grants that want problems solved in one year, with programs wrapped up in the timeframe of the grant are, “paternalistically setting a timetable on another’s freedom.”

At Spirit in Action, we are continually pushing ourselves to unlearn the default setting of, “we think we know best.” Instead, we are leaning into a space of radical trust, and admitting how much we don’t know. The formation of the African Advisory Board to lead our grant process is part of that. As is our funding of administrative costs to grassroots organizations.

Children at Maruge School near Nairobi, Kenya come from Kikuyu and Maasai cultures, playing together is part of building peace in the region.

February Resolutions

What are you doing this month to engage with Black History Month?

I’m listening to the audiobook Baracoon, which is an interview that Zora Neale Hurston did with Cudjoe Lewis in 1927. He tells stories of being in Africa before being sold into slavery in America. I’m also listening to this History of Slavery podcast. At the end of February, there is a new Netflix thriller show from South Africa that looks really exciting!

Why not read one of these 20 new novels by authors of color? Or how about googling “Black History Month + [your city]” to find out what events are taking place? Or groove out to The Sounds of Blackness. If you have children in your life, try getting a book to help start a conversation about race, racism, and resistance.

There is a lot of work to be done. Now is the time to make a new resolution to bravely work for what MLK calls, “positive peace, which is the presence of justice.”

Looking through a doorway in Eldoret, Kenya

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