The memory that children have always surprises me! Some can name for you every U.S. president; others can tell you every kind of dinosaur. For me, I could quote some of my favorite movies from start to finish with ease. I don’t know where that gift of memory went, but I know it’s long gone. I suppose that, as one gets older, memory becomes more about recalling passwords, pin numbers, and parental carpooling schedules. After all, much like a computer, our brains only have so much room to store information. So, as the more pressing day-to-day concerns begin to pile up, we slowly lose storage space for holding information like the schedule for Saturday morning cartoons.
This is why we take a month out of every year to commemorate African-American history. Because not only do we personally struggle with memory loss, but society does too; some like to call this “societal amnesia.” By no fault of our own, our memory gets distracted by concerns that face our everyday. February is a time dedicated to recollecting significant events within the Civil Rights Movement; such as the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-1956, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
A part of what it means to be a Christ-centered community is remembering times when our brothers and sisters were in the trenches of our darkest moments throughout history. It is always mind-blowing for me to think about just how recent these times were in our history. Only 50ish years ago, not everyone in this country had the right to vote. Once we bring our history out from the shadows, we can begin to shine light on those who continue to face discrimination both personally and institutionally.
If we are honest, our memory loss is not simply due to a lack of storage space in our minds. The truth is, we don’t want to remember. Repeatedly, I hear stories and see images of the Civil Rights Movement and I can’t help but want to disassociate myself from them. I have given every excuse in the book, I say things like “that was a different generation” or “that kind of oppression would never be tolerated today.” Because I have taken myself out of that history, there is no longer a need to store it in my files, or so I thought. I am slowly realizing that, when it comes to historic events, disassociation breeds repetition. As Christians, we called to live within the turmoil, we are called to confess the sins of our past and live with the assurance that God has forgiven.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see countless examples of him mastering the ability to be empathic. For instance, we see Jesus eating with prostitutes, sitting with tax collectors, and associating with sinners. To follow Christ’s example, we too should strive to place ourselves in the shoes of those around us. This is the key difference between empathy and sympathy; sympathy deals with one’s ability to feel sorry for someone else, where empathy captures one’s ability to relate to such hardships. Through empathy, we can begin to understand that issues of injustice do affect the concerns of too many people’s day-to-day. The shift from learning about the struggles of history, to applying them to today’s world is difficult, but it’s an important shift to make. Black History Month is not solely about the past, but it’s also about envisioning the future.
Just as God was present in the midst of our past, I am confident that God will continue to lead us through the sorting of our memory files. Once the process of recollection is underway, God will also guide us through our recovery, so that we may build God’s reign; building a place where peace and equality ring true for all people. Although it may seem that age brings forgetfulness, God will never forget us. God will remain beside us in our deepest valleys and eventually lift us high atop of the mountains, to a place where we cannot help but shout to all the world the Goodness of God’s love. We must always remember that God has lifted all of us to make our voices heard, soon our voices will ring equally across the nation!
With radiant hope,