By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
“Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His Word; Just to rest upon His promise…How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er; Oh, for grace to trust Him more!” Hymn Excerpt from “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” (1882)
As I witnessed the recent historic U.S. presidential inauguration events that included the inauguration of Vice-President Kamala Harris as the first woman of African and Asian descent to hold the office, the sweet memories of my matriarchal family lineage came to mind. I recalled their laughter, joy, faith, wisdom, courage, and bold resolve for life during periods in the United States where such a historic occurrence was not even imaginable. Historical periods where daily loss of black lives, due to racialized terror, hunger, and poverty in Pan African communities, were normative. These periods were foundational to the same evils that exist today.
One may think justified anger and righteous indignation might be the only responses to this experience of Pan African peoples. But our history and testimonies also suggest a complementary response – sweetness. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sweetness as something that is pleasing, agreeable, and gratifying to the mind and feelings. Pan African peoples have lived into this definition of sweetness despite the ongoing struggle for human dignity, agency, and rights. This is, in great part, because of our primary trust in God – and not persons, structures, systems, and practices that may have the flawed moral values of exclusion and racial inequities that have demonstrated their inability to be trustworthy and hospitable.
People like Vice-President Harris and Senator Raphael Warnock, the first person of African descent to serve in the Senate from the former confederate state of Georgia, are beneficiaries of this historic struggle. While their elections to office are but two of many historic firsts; they, like us, are called to move towards a renewed season of repair and healing for those yet to come. Vice-President Harris referred to this when she also honored her mother’s instruction: “I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me…we are bold, fearless and undaunted…You might be the first, but make sure you’re not the last.” Youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman, who recognized her enslavement ancestry at the inauguration, said: “…the dawn is ours before we knew it… It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
Black History is a bitter-sweet testimony of struggle yesterday, today, and tomorrow seeking to repair and heal humanity for and with all of us. Our collective faith and ability to trust in God can inform and inspire all of us to a renewed vision of repairing and healing a world without hunger and poverty. Testimonial hymns like” Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”, a popular Black Church hymn, encourage more moments of sweetness, and not bitterness, to do this. Bread for the World has a number of resources to aid in your reflection this Black History Month and throughout the year, including “Lament and Hope: A Pan African Devotional Guide” and our report “Racially Equitable Responses to Hunger During COVID-19 and Beyond.”
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.