“We the People:” Black History Month at The King’s College
What does the “We” in the famous constitutional phrase, “We the People,” really mean? Should modern leaders make amends for America’s grievous sin, slavery? These are the questions that The King’s College has been asking this month.
With the help of guest lecturers David Bailey, Executive Director of the community outreach program Arrabon, and Reverend Eugene Rivers, Director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, these controversial conversations are happening.
“Black history isn’t just black people’s story,” Bailey said to an audience of students, faculty and visitors at a lecture at The King’s College earlier this month. “It’s our collective story.”
In a talk entitled entitled “Redefining the ‘We’ in ‘We the People,’” Bailey focuses on issues of class and race that he believes the Church is equipped to deal with.
“When the Declaration of Independence was written, ‘all men’ meant men,” Bailey said, “and ‘all’ didn’t mean all.”
According to Bailey, issues that are political must also be a concern for pastoral leadership.
“You can’t steal land that doesn’t belong to you or steal labor that doesn’t belong to you and call that Christian,” he said.
Citing Frederick Douglass as his inspiration, Bailey was critical of the Church’s complicity in historical injustices, but enthusiastic and hopeful about the part that Christians may play in finding solutions and creating “a shared space to create a different narrative.”
Bailey’s vision for that kind of shared space is modeled on one of the past century’s most remarkable intellectual explosions--the Harlem Renaissance.
According to Bailey, “artistic movements are social movements,” and in order for the Church to succeed in dealing with centuries of inequity, it needs to learn to create culture using social, creative and economic capital.
“Someone like Jeff Bezos has more power than the President of the United States,” he said. “I’d love to see business done for the Kingdom.”
For college students, Bailey had some specific advice:
“In building the Kingdom, there’s two big things I would recommend: there’s the old-school stuff--reading the scriptures, fasting, and praying--and there’s putting yourself in proximity with the poor and the marginalized,” Bailey said. “Jesus was amongst the people who needed healing, and so we should do the same.”
In a panel discussion at The King’s College last week, Rivers, Dr. Paul Mueller, and Dr. David Tubbs tackled the question of how America should respond to its history of slavery.
“We need to get the history right.” Tubbs said.
Though racism is “a perennial human problem” and not unique to America according to Mueller, it is unique that Americans don’t treat slavery as the crime it was today.
“In Germany, it is a crime to fly a flag with a swastika on it. In America, people still fly the confederate flag. The fact that Americans hesitate to condemn the crimes against humanity in their own history is an issue of moral consistency.” Rivers explained.
Whether Americans should apologize for slavery is a question that seemed to sway back and forth on the panel.
“Most of us would not personally apologize for how the Nazis treated the Jews.” Mueller pointed out. “We need to think about our connection to these issues.”
Christians should be the first ones to be acknowledging and responding to these issues, Rivers believed, but more often than not they don’t.
“Who do you mean when you say ‘we’? Under slavery, who benefited and who suffered?” Rivers asked.
Despite their different perspectives Mueller and Rivers could agree that the idea of reparations is complex and that the best way to navigate how Christians and Americans should make amends for the nation’s slave history it is to take responsibility and provide African-Americans with opportunities.
“I want to salute the King’s College for having this discussion that most colleges, especially Christian colleges wouldn’t.” Rivers lauded.
This month, not only has The King’s College been prioritizing these important discussions but, the student body has elected Koby Jackson as the first African American Student Body President (SBP) since the college’s relaunching in 1998.
As a member of the student body, The Table, and newly elected SBP, Jackson believes that King’s has done a great job finding ways within our community to celebrate Black History this month.
“The difficult discussions have been great opportunities for us as a school to engage with topics often left out in conversations about American history. I believe, also, we have being doing a great job as a student body to celebrate this month. From Starlight Art Night to a joint discussion between the Table and Students for Life are just a few ways in which our student orgs are seeking to curate conversation about Black experience. All in all, I believe as a collective, we are doing better with finding ways to celebrate this month.” Jackson said.
However, there is still more that can be done Jackson expressed.
“I believe what more can be done is rather simple,” Jackson said.
That change, Jackson explained, can be as simple as attending the “Difficult Discussions,” engaging in conversations with others about “Black experience,” or befriending someone of a different background than your own.
“It may be uncomfortable, but it is enriching,” Jackson said. “If we want to be influential advocates of God’s Kingdom, we first need to be willing to engage with all members of His Kingdom. I believe this willingness needs to extend beyond just in the month of February — but it is a great start.”