Black Voices of Transformation

In what feels like a lifetime ago, way back in February 2020, a group of Black students, faculty, and staff at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago planned a fabulous series of events for Black History Month. This was a necessary and beautiful experience in a denomination that is the whitest in the U.S. As the director of A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice, I knew that I wanted to continue contributing to opportunities that highlighted Black voices– in mosques, churches, and a variety of other social contexts and spiritual traditions. 

During the months that followed, two pandemics (racism and COVID) became a central focus of communities across the nation. Several online interfaith events added to my awareness and the importance of the perspectives of the Black community. I personally have been compelled to reflect, reckon, respond, and move toward reconciliation by the writings of Isabel Wilkerson, Rev. Lenny Duncan, and by hearing from Hind Makki. The Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign kept reminding me that “anti-Muslim discrimination and anti-Black racism are highly interconnected.”  

But it was through programs like “Multi-Religious Action to Address the Legacy of Racial Injustice in the Americas” by Religions for Peace, and a” Showing Up for Justice: Reframing Crucial Conversations for Black Liberation” series by Book a Muslim, Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST Chicago), and Midwest Muslim United Student Association where I realized that it is not only white Christians who need to attend to racial justice and anti-racism work, but that Muslim communities too are challenged to face many of the same issues in their communities. We are certainly better together as we share resources and encourage one another toward true inclusion and equity. 

In conversation with partners at American Islamic College and the Inter-Religious Institute at Chicago Theological Seminary, a plan emerged that would provide a platform for various African-American creative artists to share messages of faith and justice through a virtual space. We pooled our resources and connections with other area individuals and institutions (Inner-city Muslim Action Network, Young Chicago Authors, Silk Road Rising) and “Black Voices of Transformation: A Spoken Word Event” came together in amazing ways. 

Meeting and learning about the commitments, passions, and community involvement of the eight artists featured in the event inspired me long before the event on Feb 18, 2021. Many of them work with young people, encouraging them not only in expressing their own identity creatively but building their confidence as social change agents in the world around them. But the beauty and power of each individual set all of our hearts ablaze as soon as our emcee, Tasleem Jamila drew us into the love of the Divine, preparing us for the ‘soul food and nourishment’ to come.  

The program contained voices of wisdom and history that emerged alongside the words of motivation and comfort for the here and now. Fluent, expressive lyrics flowed from each person - dynamic in their own unique way, and building toward a freestyle conclusion by J.Kwest bringing it all together at 1:06:44 

“…since the beginning of this event 

when Tasleem spit about resilience 

since Babylon’s lies tryin to kill us 

24-7 like the weather 

Preacher Moss winter blues  

make me wanna leave today like Ted Cruz 

but thunderstorms always keep my plane grounded 

Adarah and all my Muslim fam bein’ hounded 

I heard Obbie say, ‘Yo, it’s not your fault.’  

They just don’ assault - But we still slip 

Jason say, chocolate is how he dip 

God musta dipped me in caramel-lemon bars or somethin 

K-love droppin, 10 commandments 

You see how she honor her father 

God bless the dead 

The livin’ stay here as a witness 

Maggie we can hear you 

And yes we thank God for your spirit 

Remindin’ us we worthy 

Cuz sometimes I be stressin 

But I am black and that is the blessin 

Brown eyes forever 

No second guessin.” 

Throughout the event, the chat was filled with shouts of Truth! Amazing! Powerful! Snaps! Amen/Ase! Moving! Wow! and one person shared, “This was seriously amazing. I am from a small town in Saskatchewan in Canada and would rarely have the opportunity to witness such talent, insight and divinity. The past 90 minutes have been a blessing. Thank you so much.” 

With the help of an award from Interfaith Youth Core, we were able to provide honoraria to appropriately support the craft of each artist, which is especially needed in this time and place. The most asked question from the audience that night was ‘How can I find out more about the artists and support them? Here goes: 

Tasleem Jamila 

Obbie West 

K-Love the Poet 

J.Kwest 

Adarah Hale Instagram @adarvh_ or through Young Chicago Authors 

Preacher Moss 

Maggie Brown 

Jason Williams Instagram at jaycuts6 or through Shekinah Chapel    

In the words of Romana Manzoor from American Islamic College, who closed the program by expressing appreciation to all involved and outlining a key aspect of the mission of the three host institutions: “Our educational work, which is rooted in faith, is a quest for social justice and inter-religious relations. We struggle toward critical consciousness, commit to betterment in society, and continually act in radical love and justice. Let us reflect, honor, and act every day, not just during this month, to work together as one human family.” 

 

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.