Black History Month for me had been an annual moment in February of reflection on the historical accomplishments of African American men and women who had achieved great accomplishments in history. It was a time of celebration because so much had been accomplished for men and women of color with abolition of slavery, the civil rights era, desegregation of schools, voter’s rights, and the list goes on. I vividly imagined crowds applauding the accomplishments of black men and women in America.
As I grew older my perception of the American dream of freedom for all was the American reality that there were distinct differences between Americans and African Americans. It was as if I had been looking into a mirror that I believed to reflect a certain image and with one wipe of the mirror it revealed what seemed to be hidden the entire time. Differences remained that even Dr. Martin Luther Kings “I have a Dream” speech did not resolve. Regardless of how hard I worked, how involved in my community, how philanthropic, how responsible, at the end of the day I could be summed up in three words: a black man.
There is a human dignity that Dr. King expressed that we the American people are still seeking today.
The freedom that black men and women fought for, lived for, and ultimately died for is the same freedom that is discussed in Paul writing to Christians in the province of Galatia. Paul is writing to Galatia as an apostle who has spent a great amount of time encouraging disciples across the province. A written warning of concern is given by Paul to those who might find themselves losing sight of the gospel of Christ and beginning to journey in their own way. In Galatians 5:13, Paul explains the importance of not abusing the freedom that they have received through Christ. The freedom from the law was not given to provide lawlessness but to provide devotion to a greater call – the call to love.
This freedom received should be used to serve one another. If we have not resolved within ourselves as individuals that the freedom we have been given is not for us alone, then we have not found freedom, but privilege. Privilege is exclusive, designed for a select few, and is only provided to those who meet certain criteria.
Galatians 5:14 highlights the responsibility of all believers is to “Love others as you love yourself”. The ultimate freedom is found when we are able to love others in this way. Black History month through this lens adjusts the perspective of the recipients of freedom. No longer is the applause good enough because it implies that it is over, all has been done. The reality for America is that Black History month is a reminder that many men and women sacrificed their freedom to secure someone else’s. As a nation I believe we must decide if we are satisfied with some people’s freedom when so many are still in bondage.
The ultimate freedom is found when we are able to love others in this way.
History has demonstrated what Paul writes in verse 15 which is the ultimate conclusion for humanity if it does not seek to love one another, “in no time at all you will be annihilating each other”. If we do not love one another, the freedom that we express exist for all of God’s children will not be available for all but for a few and this is not true freedom at all.
Fredrick Douglas escaped during slavery, a time where loving one another excluded African Americans, and used his freedom to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement. Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and used her freedom to return to slave states guiding slaves to freedom on the underground railroad. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery and during the era of Jim Crow laws used his knowledge as an educator to charge African Americans to use education and entrepreneurship to fight against injustices during his lifetime. Hiram Revels was an A.M.E. pastor and the first African American elected into the United States Senate. The memories of Black History month tell the stories of those who believed in more than just their own freedom, more than just an ideal of humanity, but it provides the scope for freedom to be demonstrated in its vastness;
freedom that comes at all cost to us so the dream of freedom for all might become a reality for all.