At World Relief, we believe in celebrating all people and cultures because we are all made in the image of God. This month, we’re focusing on Black history in honor of Black History Month, from the founding of our country to the Civil Rights Movement to today, and the immigrant and refugee stories that are being woven into this history as we speak.
To kick off the month, we asked some of our staff to reflect on what Black history means to them and how it pertains to our newest neighbors arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia and around the world.
As you reflect on historically famous African American Leaders, who stands out to you the most and why?
Yusri, Resettlement Specialist: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because he stood up for what was right, even though he knew the price of his action was costly.
Mahasin, Holistic Support Specialist: As I reflect on historically famous African American leaders, Fred Hampton stands out to me because of his dedication to seeing the Black community holistically transformed and elevated. For how young he was, he was a powerful activist who greatly influenced his community as well as the Civil Rights and Black Power movements at large.
Clarence, Employment Manager: My favorite African American leader is Harriet Tubman. She didn’t look like a leader, but in the end, she garnered the respect of generals in the military. She was leading enslaved people to freedom by totally depending on the guidance of the Lord. She served as an example of how to lead under pressure by being led by the Spirit. The life of Harriet Tubman reminds me to answer the call to lead but to not rely on my strength and intellect alone to achieve success. Through the fiercest storms and the most challenging situations, I’m learning more with each trial to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice and follow it, even when it doesn’t make sense to me.
Lydia, Volunteer Coordinator: Harriet Tubman is one of my favorite Black leaders. Under the circumstances and with all odds stacked against her, she was able to lead over 300 slaves to freedom and be an activist in the women’s suffrage movement. She was a woman, and she was illiterate. To most, those two factors might have been major setbacks. Yet, she escaped slavery and returned to help others. Her confidence and boldness were supernatural, and she attributes her success to the Lord. I hope to honor her legacy by standing up for what’s right and taking action, even if it involves big risks. I hope to walk in confidence wherever I go because of my dependency and trust in the Lord.
What lessons can be learned from the experiences of Black History Month?
Yusri, Resettlement Specialist: I think Black History Month has helped many African Americans to unite and learn more about their role in society.
Mahasin, Holistic Support Specialist: One lesson that can be taken from Black history makers is the value of perseverance and integrity. Sticking to these values (along with other factors) has led to the success of many Civil Rights movements in the U.S. and progress in the ongoing struggle for equity.
Clarence, Employment Manager: Three lessons that I will take to heart. 1) Never give up because you are the minority. 2) Perceptions are flawed more than ever, so people will judge you by the color of your skin and not the content of your character. 3) Plan, prepare, practice, deliver, pray, and in the middle of the night when no one is watching, feel it, cry it out, sleep, and repeat.
Lydia, Volunteer Coordinator: When I think about Black history makers, I think about our ancestors that weren’t given a choice to be taken from their homes. I think about them being uprooted from everything they knew and being forced into survival mode. They had children, and then they had children. Every generation has had to work through trauma and re-train themselves to believe that they were made and created with worth and value. Whether its Black history makers that are in school textbooks or the ones that will never be known, I believe the thing that they had in common was a deep belief and desire to be treated like they were created in the image of God. So, they spoke up. They fought back. Many died. Many have committed their lives to the cause of liberty, freedom, and justice for our people. A lesson that I will always take with me is to use my voice to speak up for what is right because that is the example that is set before me.
How does Black history help tell the story of what it means to be an American?
Yusri, Resettlement Specialist: Being an American may have many meanings that differ from one person to another. In my opinion, Black history tells a story of forgiveness and recovery.
Mahasin, Holistic Support Specialist: Black history helps to tell the story of what it means to be an American because it’s integral to painting a fuller, richer, and, most importantly, accurate picture of American history. Black history in America and American history are inextricably linked, so to understand one is to understand the other.
Clarence, Employment Manager: What comes to my mind was the memories of growing up not seeing people that looked like me as heroes, intelligent, respected, and valued. My family became my heroes.
Additionally, increasing my knowledge of Black History helped shape my mentality and gave me survival skills to endure as well.
A great variety of courageous Black women and men who contributed to American culture’s core taught me to seek outside-of-the-box solutions, daring to bring a difference that challenges mediocrity and superiority. I learned from Black history that there is always more than one way to solve problems, but only one way to eternal life. Whether those lessons make me more of an authentic American or a proud human craving opportunity is okay.
Lydia, Volunteer Coordinator: Black history tells a story of resilience and strength. When life gives you lemons you make lemonade. That is the story of Black history. As a people, we have taken the bad and the ugly and have been on a journey of rebuilding and restoration. Black history is American history. Black people built this country and shaped its culture, and I am proud to be a part of the legacy.
The history of African migration is long, but the story continues today. How do you think immigration helped shape Black history?
Yusri, Resettlement Specialist: Over the years, many African Americans have lost their connection with Africa and roots. However, I see that today’s migration has revived many of those who lost hope in searching or thinking about what links them to the African continent.
Mahasin, Holistic Support Specialist: I think that immigrants helped to shape Black history by pouring in elements of their own culture, that would then mix, into that of which they were integrating into. This mixing process has been happening since the first immigrants came to the U.S. and is still happening today. The result is a diverse yet distinguishable Black culture in the U.S. that many Americans claim.
Clarence, Employment Manager: The misconception is that Africans are the same as African Americans because we share the same skin tone. It’s not a bad thing; we have a difference in culture and values, just as any Caucasian American compared to any European with the same features and skin tone. I’ve talked with many African immigrants and African friends over the past 30 years, and I don’t take it personally. It’s the opportunity for us to learn and celebrate each other. We know that there is a difference, and we are all proud of who we are and where we were born and raised. It would be refreshing and rewarding to see people who don’t understand that there is a difference take action for themselves and sign up for a cultural sensitivity course covering ethnicities worldwide.
Lydia, Volunteer Coordinator: America is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have enriched American culture and continue to push past barriers that have been set up against them. Despite the challenges, Black immigrants continue to shape history with educational achievements and high participation rates in the workforce. This Black history month, we celebrate the success of Black immigrants and thank them for their contribution to our past history and history in the making.
Yusri, Mahasin, Clarence and Lydia—thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on Black history and for all that you do to help us empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.
If you want to help them welcome our newest neighbors to Memphis, join our team, whether it be as a staff member, an intern or a volunteer!