Service recalling slavery puts focus on future
Organizers of a service recognizing the 500th anniversary of slavery in the Americas want people to look to eh past to gain wisdom for the future.
The service is called “sankofa” – a West African term – and is scheduled for 3pm on Sunday in Hope College’s Dimnent Memorial Chapel. It is organized by the college’s Phelps Scholars Program, the Ottawa Area Summit on Racism and local citizens.
The groups want people to recognize the lingering effect that slavery had on America and consider how people should build a future.
Free and open to all, the 90-minute gathering will be marked by learning, reflection, prayer, and music. Two people from the American Indian community will sing “Amazing Grace” in Cherokee.
The event is likely the first of its kind in the area, and organizers believe it is the only one in West Michigan.
The Rev. Clarence Williams of the Diocese of Detroit said the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus is calling on churches to call attention to Sept. 16, 1501.
On that date, a Spanish governor ordered that an African slave transported to Hispaniola, which today is Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It ushered in centuries of slavery in Americas, the first slave arriving on North American shores in 1619.
Williams said the event points to how one date “changed the whole history of the world.”
Charles Green, director of the Hope College Phelps program and member of the Summit on Racism planning committee, stumbled upon the proclamation while surfing the Internet.
“For some reason, it just really struck me that this was an event we couldn’t really let go by, and that we needed to pause and understand that event,” Green said.
He contacted colleagues with the Summit on Racism, a February event held in Holland, and started planning the service. The result is a ceremony in the Christian tradition, a time Green hopes white American Christians like himself will use to foster a sense of responsibility.
“Slavery was implemented by Christians, so I feel it’s especially important for (white) Christians to remember … Not that I did it or it was my fault. I don’t feel guilt, but I do feel responsibility to reconcile and bring about justice.” Green said.
The Rev. Wayne Coleman of Church of the Burning Bush in Holland will give a sermon about a chapter in Genesis, which tells how a powerful ruler offers forgiveness to brothers who had sold him into slavery years before out of jealous rage. The brothers repent.
It is an especially powerful message for black Americans, Coleman said.
“In order for us to go on into and excel in our lives, we must be able to look back and forgive,” he said. “In order for us to be healed … we need to acknowledge the parts we played.”
Coleman hopes the worship service becomes a springboard for other efforts at racial reconciliation.
“I think there is a healing we need here,” he said.
Fred Johnson III, associate professor of history at Hope College, agreed. Johnson plans to give a brief overview of the history and legacy of slavery at the service, but he hoped attendees will ultimately focus on the lasting effects.
“The racism, class divisions and the things it causes are still with us,” he said.
Progress is slowly being made, but there is a long way to go, Johnson said.
“I think this service will be one of the many things going on right now that definitely indicate Americans and America are … looking over their shoulder to see what exactly this slavery thing entails.”