Our Joy Is Our Strength

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Editor’s note: On Fridays in February, we featured articles selected by our guest curator, Andre Henry. Andre writes: Black History Month is a good time for us to take stock of the racial history of the United States. I’ve asked some emerging black voices in the national conversation to share what is on their heart this Black History Month, because I believe that the beginning of racial progress in this country begins with listening. Today, Delonte Gholston concludes the series with a reflection on February, 2019.

By Delonte Gholston

…although we are only formally given these 28 short days to celebrate the history of a people that begins with the dawn of creation itself, we as a people still just shine.

February 2019 will probably be remembered as one of the wildest and most bizarre Black History Months in the history of Black History Months.

We had only just begun to recover from the blow of seeing Dr. Angela Davis, one of the mothers of black pride and black power, have her Civil Rights award rescinded and then re-awarded by the Birmingham Civil Rights Commission. It was an award named after none other than Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a pastor who was beaten by white supremacist terrorists for attempting to enroll his children in public school. The children of the people who bombed and beat us apparently still thought they could tell us how to protest and what causes to support. And that was just the last week of January.

February began with the release of yearbook photos of Virgina Governor Ralph Northam posing in blackface while standing next to someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan uniform. He swiftly apologized. Then he denied it was him at all. Then he told us about that one time that he wore blackface while doing the moonwalk. His wife had to stop him from attempting to do the moonwalk at a press conference addressing the blackface scandal.

Then there was the Jussie Smollet controversy. After many throughout the country expressed outrage at Smollett’s harrowing account of an attempted lynching by MAGA supporters, the city of Chicago has now indicted him for filing a false police report and orchestrating the entire catastrophe. It only made matters worse that the same police department that investigated him covered up the murder of LaQuan McDonald only months before, further deepening the corrosive divide between the police and the black community.

Relief this month could not come fast enough. Thankfully, a silver lining did begin to emerge as former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick reached a settlement with the NFL after years of protest and organizing across the country on issues of police brutality and mass incarceration. And after decades of his victims being ignored, a new incriminating video led R &B star R Kelly to turn himself in to face 10 counts of sexual misconduct. Activists who organized the #MuteRKelly movement, along with scores of victims’ families now see a small sign of hope.

Wow. What a month.

As the Oscars aired recently we saw Black Panther take home awards in a variety of categories, and Green Book, a movie about what black folk had to do just to have a place to eat and sleep in this country, take home Best Picture. Then we all bore witness to Spike Lee finally taking home an Oscar and literally jumping into the arms of the legendary Samuel L. Jackson as he shouted out “Da House” for a proud Morehouse alumn. Even if BlacKkKlansman couldn’t resist the temptation to paint police as the savior and hope of black liberation, I could not help being struck nonetheless by the beauty, brilliance and joy of blackness.

There is something about the way that we as a people use our joy. There is something about the way we express our joy. There is something about the way we use the God-given power of our art, music, vast intellect and creativity to make crooked places straight and rough places smooth. And although we are only formally given these 28 short days to celebrate the history of a people that begins with the dawn of creation itself, we as a people still just shine.

White supremacy and white supremacist theologies have tried with all of their might to steal, kill, and destroy us.

White supremacy and white supremacist theologies have tried with all of their might to steal, kill, and destroy us. But as #blackjoy on Black Twitter, Facebook and Instagram constantly remind us, for all that we have faced and will face, our joy is our strength. The Jewish prophet Nehemiah once put it like this: “…be thou not bitter, neither be afraid, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” We know the power of joy on our bones. Joy is the reason that the poison of hatred poured out upon us has not infected or overcome us. Joy is the reason that although the fire has burned all around us, we have not been consumed.

We are a people who, from the rich coasts and libraries of West Africa, to the hush harbors of Maryland, from the struggle for black power and civil rights, have somehow always known that our joy is a form of resistance to the powers of this world. So as this wild ride of a Black History Month comes to a close, we continue to sing with the ancestors of old that “…this joy I have, the world didn’t give it to me. The world didn’t give it. The world can’t take it away.”

Joy is the reason that although the fire has burned all around us, we have not been consumed.

Delonte Gholston is lead pastor at Peace Fellowship Church, a multicultural, multi-socioeconomic community in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

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