Each lived and taught faith as a fulcrum to be used to push society toward inclusion, liberation, and peace. Remembering their legacies in the context of Black History Month is a reminder that the path to a better future can appear, but only if each of us is willing to accept accountability for the past and to practice mindfulness in the present.
As chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Archbishop Tutu facilitated a process by which whites and Blacks alike could look at their country’s history and at the same time process painful feelings like guilt, helplessness and fear. That process led to social transformation and a shared commitment to a more peaceful future for their country.
Thich Nhat Hanh introduced the West to the power of mindful awareness. He knew 1,000 monks by name who were killed in the Vietnam War, and yet he came to the United States to model what it looks like to move beyond judgment, condemnation and hatred to practice universal love, compassion, peace and nonviolence.
As people of faith, we believe forgiveness is more than a divine gift to free us from the eternal judgment. It is a means of spiritual transformation that frees all parties to live in harmony without being laden by the weight of history and the freight of fear. Tutu and Thich showed us how to walk that path to freedom.In sad contrast, between last year’s Black History Month and now, leaders in the Texas State Legislature have used faith and other sources of influence to pass bills that foster or entrench exclusion, oppression and even physical harm. Passing a law that explicitly bans teaching about systemic racism in our schools denies accountability for our country’s history, which includes systemic as well as individual dehumanization, violence, inequity and injustice. Accepting accountability for historic wrongs could lead to a shared commitment among Texans of all races and ethnicities to a fairer, more peaceful and just future. Instead, our governor and other elected officials claim they must protect students from the feelings that, if unexamined, make it impossible to close the chapter on our ugly history of racial discrimination and write a more beautiful story.
These same leaders passed laws to make it harder for Texans to vote, to gain access to health care, and to reform the criminal justice system, all of which disproportionately harm black, brown, and poor Texans. As a result, in 2022 Texas, the purpose of Black History Month is not only thwarted by censorship of the past, it is a challenge to celebrate it with confidence that things can improve. Insisting on hope is the first step if we are to forge a better future together.
Connie Razza and Solana Rice have suggested that it is not enough to observe Black History Month—we need to pair that observance with Black Futures Month. They say, “Black folks do not have the luxury of allowing ourselves to stay in survival mode. We can’t let what will be, be. Dreaming begets believing. Believing begets acting and building. And action and building together beget transformation. Imagining a beautiful future does not negate or distract from the current reality or current pain; it clarifies our destination, the tools and strategies to get there, and the crew we need to roll with. Our history is full of powerful dreamers, believers, doers—who seeded revolutions of expanded possibility and built our present. Futuring is a muscle we cannot afford to let atrophy. And the future is indeed ours to see and shape.”
This year during Black History Month we at Faith Commons join our Black brothers and sisters in their refusal to stay in survival mode. We will continue to study and learn from the past and to be held accountable for it as a precursor to reconciliation. And we honor the memories of dreamers and doers and pledge to join them, lending our weight to the side of inclusion, liberation and peace.