A Journey to Harmony: Sankofa Reflection
Last month, I had the opportunity and distinct privilege to go on a Sankofa trip with about 30 clergy persons from the Twin Cities that were predominately African-American and Caucasian. When one speaks of Sankofa, the speak of the West African concept of one going back in time to their roots so that they can better understand their today and move forward into a brighter tomorrow. This trip took us to several historical sites and Civil Rights Museums in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
What stuck with me having made this trip
This trip was more than an elementary school field trip, and more complex than a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. However, both trips would provide one with a great deal of information, insight and understanding, this trip was indeed more complex. I found this trip to be extremely informative as I walked through the various museums and historical sites. However, I also found this trip to be unlike any other, in that it violated the sanctity of my safe space.
deeply stuffing your emotions in the dark corners of the locked storage room of your soul for which there is no key.
As an African-American who grew up in a Christian home in New York City, I watched the news, read Ebony Magazine, I remember my parents explaining some of the current events to me as a child, however on this trip I realized they could only explain so much. How could they explain the murder of Medgar Evers in the driveway of his home? How could they when I eagerly awaited by the door of my home, that supposed safe place, waiting for my father as he came home from work? Then to see the dent in the refrigerator, and the hole in the kitchen wall where the bullet traveled through Evers back and exited his chest leaving him face down at the front door of his home with his wife and children inside.
No child, no family should have to go through this, but they did, why because of racial hatred.
To visit 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park and recall that Christ and the church were the seat of strength for the Civil Rights Movement. However, on this trip I also saw how many denominations and churches refused to support the African-American in these times, though they would often preach and teach the Parable of the Good Samaritan, how the Christian is to love everyone, and the moral obligation to do what Jesus would do. Many of these people were notably absent, and non-supportive. However, this peaceful movement sought the betterment of a people, and there were many that fought and fought violently against it. Such violence of American History was vividly captured by the many monuments throughout the park. Monuments of the Kneeling Ministers in Prayer, the attacking police dogs, high powered water hoses, and bombings against African-Americans and people of good will who willingly suffered to expose the evil hatred of systemic racism and white privilege in this country.
However, what really shook me was our early morning walk down Market Street in Montgomery, Alabama. Walking down to the Riverfront, through the tunnel to the “Great Fountain”, the same path the incoming slaves traveled on their way to the auction. We saw, the many warehouses where the unsold slaves were stored until they sold. This was the market of Montgomery, the capital of slave sales in America. Then we visited the Equal Justice Initiative office in Montgomery, once again I felt the violation of the sacredness of my safe place when I saw a complete wall covered with large jars of dirt with names, dates, and places on them.
…the residue of pain, humiliation, and shame of what my forebears experienced.
What am I doing now as a result of this trip
Therefore, having this exposure, I had to find a way to process it, therefore, I preached through it, I taught it, sharing with my congregation not just the information but the emotional turmoil and struggle I experienced during the trip. The things I learned on this trip are not in school text books, it is not taught in American History, nor African-American History, at all. I began to process these emotions through the lenses of my faith in Christ, which made clear that: a) the Lord is faithful b) that the Lord has saving power but the Lord also has c) keeping power. The exposure I had on this trip has reconnected my heart with my mind.
I preached through it, I taught it, sharing with my congregation… the emotional turmoil and struggle I experienced.
The brilliance of this trip was not in the making of arrangements, though they were excellent, but in pairing up the clergy with one another. I do not know what formula they used to determine which clergy person would be a good match with whom, but in my case, it could not have been better. My partner, was great, his personal background and life story was vastly different from mine.
I find myself better able to minister to those with deep-seated pain…
My desires for next steps as a result of this trip
In light of the current political climate with the numerous attacks on African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, this is a trip that cannot wait. This trip is not a luxury but a necessity if we as a nation are not to self-destruct. I believe more adults as well as High School Students need to go on a trip like this. It is my intention to see to it that a delegation of my young people take a Sankofa trip.
…the ugliness, and savagery of human behavior, when it goes unchecked by love and compassion.
Rev. Dr. Charles L. Gill, D.Min. is the Senior Pastor at Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul, MN