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Rev Alexander Crummell (sepia photo)

Honoring Our Saint: The Reverend Alexander Crummell

UBE Sunday – Sunday, September 17, 2017, 8am and 10:15am

St James Episcopal Church, Austin TX, USA

Sermon by Simone Monique Barnes

 

I want Jesus to walk with me

I want Jesus to walk with me

All along my pilgrim journey

I want Jesus to walk with me

 

Let us pray. Eternal Spirit, Earth maker, Pain bearer, Life giver. Creator. Light. Lord. God. Love. You are known by many names, and seen in many images, and felt and experienced in many ways… I come before you today, asking, like every day, that there more of thee and less of me in my words and deeds. Let these meditations of my heart scatter in the wind, and fall down where they are needed. In you and to you, we pray. Amen.

 

African American opera singers have a tradition that is passed down from singer to singer, generation to generation. In every solo concert that is given, be it arias in Italian, German, French, or Broadway show tunes by Gershwin or Sondheim, they will always, always end with a Negro Spiritual in order to give honor, honor unto the mentors, role models, ancestors who have come before. They do not forget where they came from. I don’t sing very much anymore. Years ago, I transitioned my creativity into writing, and teaching, and curating. But my time spent at the “Fame” school in NYC, in the Harlem Girls Ensemble/Girls’ Choir of Harlem, and later in conservatory, laid a foundation for who I am today. Most of my writing, speeches, and just about every college and graduate school essay I have ever written, have started with the lyrics of a song, usual a negro spiritual, as a way of bridging past and present, and acknowledging that my life is but a moment on this continuous thread of time, giving honor to those who came before, and to gird me with their strength.

 

And in that tradition of giving honor, we are here to pay tribute to the late Reverend Alexander Crummell, a giant whose footsteps we walk in and whose shoulders we stand on. You may hear this refrain from time to time in this sermon. Feel free to join in if you feel so moved.

I want Jesus to walk with me

I want Jesus to walk with me

All along my pilgrim journey

I want Jesus to walk with me

 

Today’s reading from Mark is on the parable of the sower. Discussion of this parable often focuses on our response to the gospels. How do we receive God’s word and love? Are our hearts hardened, unchanged, distracted, or open? Are we or the fertile soil ready to receive, nurture, and grow? The metaphor is a moment to reflect on what kind of ground are we.

 

But today I’d like us to turn our attention to the sower. We don’t know a lot about this particular sower. The sower in this story is imagined; a fictitious character. So like actors, we have to imagine ourselves into the story.

 

It is interesting that this story focuses not on the farmer, who sees things through from start to finish, not the tiller and cultivator of the soil, who checks and balances the nutrients of the ground’s health, but specifically on the sower. They don’t prepare the ground.

 

This sower seemed to throw seed everywhere. Not the meticulous planter who digs a hole, and carefully places a single seed into the dirt, pats it gently, and watches it grow. But the sower scatters seeds everywhere, with some falling on the path, some on rocky ground, some in the thorns (bushes), and some into good soil.

 

This sower went out: didn’t stay home. Who are the sowers? They are the sojourners, the travelers. The go to places like Cambridge. Liberia. Like Texas.

 

They change jobs often. They are the bees and the butterflies. They are the immigrants. The migrators. The risk takers. They often do not have their names on buildings.

 

I went to a conference once, where the leader gave an introductory talk about the conference sessions and workshops. He ended with a request for us to be sure to leave room for the bees and the butterflies. The bees are the ones who go to one room for a few minutes, then they leave and visit several conference sessions never staying long enough to get the full impact of a workshop or talk. They are the cross pollinators. And then there are the butterflies. You see them in the elevator, you see them sitting at the bar. They are hanging out in the lobby. But they are never where they are supposed to be. Never. But you sit next to them and they say something so insightful, so impactful…that one key thought that suddenly puts all of the puzzle pieces of that project you’ve been working on together. And then they float off, often not even knowing how much they have changed your life. They are the sowers who change our lives.

And, in this parable, we see that the sower is alone, a solo traveling worker who walks amongst us. They are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They spend a lot of time alone in their heads. The sower plants the seed and often leaves it for us to find and experience, away from their eyes and ears.

So why do we tell this story when remembering Reverend Alexander Crummell? To acknowledge that the seeds he sowed we harvest today. WEB Dubois wrote of him in his work The Souls of Black Folks: “He did his work,–he did it nobly and well; and yet I sorrow that here he worked alone, with so little human sympathy. His name to-day, in this broad land, means little…” (362)

In my troubles, Lord walk with me

In my troubles, Lord walk with me

When my life becomes a burden,

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

 

How does a sower survive and thrive?

By finding other sowers who see them. I live the legacy of Rev Alexander Crummell. It was him with his Black skin being rejected by white members of the school community in New Hampshire in the 1800s that allowed me to be accepted by an elementary school community in the Bronx during the New York City’s first attempts at school desegregation. I live the legacy of Rev Crummell when I think of a time when in graduate school at Harvard, when each of us knew firsthand the experience of being rejected, and being in foreign spaces, planting seeds. There is an empathy that only other sowers can see.

 

What can you do for the sowers in your life? Cook for them. Feed them. They long for home, but know that this earth is not their home. See value in their work. You can remember them. Write their stories. Tell their tales.

 

I’m sure there were times in his life when Rev Crummell wondered if the work he was doing was in vain. He was rejected by godly men, rejected by his church. But the seeds he planted gave us WEB Dubois (who counted him among his greatest heroes). The seeds he sowed gave us Arturo Schomburg, whose namesake, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a research library of the New York Public Library and an archive repository for information on people of African descent worldwide…and it holds the legacy of our history and scholarship. The seeds he sowed gave us Langston Hughes, whose ashes are interred in the floor of the lobby of the Schomburg Center, and whose words have inspired us, from childhood to adulthood, for generations. The seeds he sowed became the Union of Black Episcopalians, which gave to all of us here today.

 

In my sorrow, Lord walk with me

In my sorrows, Lord walk with me

When my heart is aching

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

 

Amen.

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Cultural Appropriation Photo Scavenger Hunt

The Kahnawa:ke Youth Forum is hosting a scavenger hunt.

Although I can’t officially participate in the actual scavenger hunt contest, I do see a pinterest board in my future…

#KYFdecolonize

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The Washington Redskins change the name debate continues.

Letter To Everyone in our Washington Redskins Nation” from Dan Snyder,  Owner and Chairman of the Board, Washington Redskins. Excerpt:

Several months ago I wrote you about my personal reflections on our team name and on our shared Washington Redskins heritage. I wrote then – and believe even more firmly now – that our team name captures the best of who we are and who we can be, by staying true to our history and honoring the deep and enduring values our name represents.

So over the past four months, my staff and I travelled to 26 Tribal reservations [Editor’s math: 26 tribes = less than 5% of native nations*] across twenty states to listen and learn first-hand about the views, attitudes, and experiences of the Tribes. We were invited into their homes, their Tribal Councils and their communities to learn more about the extraordinary daily challenges in their lives.

I’ve listened. I’ve learned. And frankly, its heart wrenching. It’s not enough to celebrate the values and heritage of Native Americans. We must do more.

As loyal fans of the Washington Redskins, I want you to know that tomorrow I will announce the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.

*[Editor’s note: there are more than 500 federal recognized native nations, not including state recognized nations, nor tribal communities without official US government recognition. See 500Nations.com and Bureau of Indian Affairs.]

 

Meanwhile in Indian Country, discourse continues.

Gyasi Ross’s “Hush Money and Ransom: An Open Letter to Dan Snyder, the Idiot” on Indian Country Today. Excerpt:

Here’s the thing: I, like a lot of other Natives, don’t give a damn about the Washington Redskins or mascots or any of that. There are absolutely MORE IMPORTANT things to worry about that MOST of the Natives who constantly complain about the Redskins and mascots (yet don’t live amongst other Native people or work in our communities) don’t see. That’s because MOST of those adamantly anti-mascot Natives don’t live within our communities (of course there are SOME who do live in our communities, but in our home territories, there are plenty of Native-themed mascots that a lot of us Natives love very, very much. We are proud of them and those folks who want to get rid of all Native mascots definitely don’t speak for us).

Adrienne K. (Native Appropriations) response to Gyasi Ross’ article. Excerpt:

…I don’t understand why we have to create the divide between “real Indians” who don’t care about mascots and those of us who do. The reason why many of us off-reservations (which is over 60% of Indian Country) care deeply about representations is because we are forced to deal with them everyday. Because we aren’t in our communities we can’t turn and see hundreds of counter-narratives and counter-representations in our aunties, cousins, our community events, or our ceremonies. What we see instead are the majority of Americans who think we’re fantasy creatures or extinct. They don’t know that our communities are full of joy and strength, because they don’t think we’re real.

Additionally, mascot issues, halloween costumes, and themed frat parties are things that happen on college campuses, so it’s often our Native students who are forced to confront them–and telling them that they’re somehow “less Indian” or “less connected” for caring about how their peoples are represented is the last thing they need as they already struggle far from home.

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Crow is as Crow does.

An MTV Artist of the week,  SupaMan, is an Apsáalooke fancy dancer, drummer, singer and Crow-Hop Hip-Hop artist from Crow Nation Reservation.

Check out more on SupaMan on PolicyMic.com and MTVIggy.com.

Proof that artists build nations. [drops mic]

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Can a Tribe Sue for Copyright? The Maasai Want Royalties for Use of Their Name

“According to Ron Layton, a New Zealander who specializes in advising developing world organizations on copyrights, patents, and trademarks, about 10,000 companies around the world use the Maasai name, selling everything from auto parts to hats to legal services.

….

Most of the value of the Maasai brand is not in the handicrafts the tribe produces,” Layton says. “It’s in the cultural value of an iconic brand.

….

And yet, as a people, they have benefited little from the visitors. They see their images on billboards and their beadwork in gift shops, but they are underrepresented in the industry’s craft markets and other trades. They see tourists take their pictures and imagine them sold for riches abroad.”

Read the Bloomberg Businessweek: Global Economics article in its entirety.

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Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds
— Bob Marley, Redemption Song (lyrics adapted from a speech by the Honorable Marcus Garvey)

While none but ourselves can free our minds, sometimes an image or a verse helps with the calibration process.

Alek Wek Elle Magazine Cover 1997

In November 1997, Alek Wek made history as the first African model to grace the cover of ELLE Magazine.

Lupita Nyong’o’s tearful speech defining beauty at Essence’s 7th Annual Black Women in Hollywood event gave honorable mention to Alek Wek and Oprah for reshaping her self identity.

An excerpt:

‘Dear Lupita,

I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight . I was just about to buy Dencia Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.’

My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me. I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the tv and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my nightshaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter skinned…

…and then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night. She was on all the runways and in every magazine. Everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful, and that made it a fact…

It’s easy to gloss over all the hoopla around fashion and beauty surrounding awards shows and media as superficial and materialistic.

lupita-nyongo-colors-full

But bedecked in her Nairobi blue gown, this is not a Cinderella story, this is a redemption song, a song of freedom, widening the landscape of elegance, beauty, talent, strength and class.

Lupita Nyong'o in Nairobi Blue

In Lupita Nyong’o’s own words taken from her Academy Award acceptance speech:

It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s….

When I look down at this golden statue may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.

Lupita Nyong'o 2014 Oscar Win

Lupita Nyong’o accepts her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress (for the role of Patsey in the film 12 Years a Slave). 2014, 86th annual Academy Awards

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I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to — who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.

From “The Problem With Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being A Voluntourist” by Pippa Biddle (also published on PippaBiddle.com), an interesting coming of age reflection essay on outgrowing the white savior complex.

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