Holland Sentinel People asked to forgive at event recalling slavery
Much like the biblical Joseph who forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery, African-Americans and American Indians were asked to forgive their past tormentors and move forward.
“God is challenging us to forgive,” said the Reve. Wayne Coleman of the Church of the Burning Bush during Sunday’s observance of Sankofa and the 500th anniversary of the introduction of black slavery into the Americas.
An estimated 500 people attended the nearly 2-hour service in Dimnent Memorial Chapel on the Hope College campus organized by the college’s Phelps Scholars Program in conjunction with the Ottawa Area Summit on racism and local residents.
Sankofa is a Western African term calling for people to look back to their past for wisdom and to discern the future.
“We are one family in the world – but there must be repentance that brings forgiveness,” Coleman said. “Then there is reconciliation and restoration.”
He called on public officials and the church to play roles in healing society.
“We are a broken family that can be healed by God but it must start in the churches and communities and in the homes, where children are taught to accept people on their character rather than on their color,” he added.
And the community must talk about slavery and its effects openly, Coleman said.
“Nobody wants to talk about it,” Coleman said in addressing minorities such as Hispanics and Asians. “You don’t have to be afraid of slavery today.”
“You don’t face the lynchings and slavery – the blacks and the Native Americans paid for that,” he said.
“Today we are looking back in order to have a better future,” Coleman added.
Bill Dunlop, story teller and community elder with a band of Native Americans in Petoskey, told a story related by his father and grandfather about how his forefathers helped with the Underground Railroad, assisting runaway slaves to reach freedom in Canada in the 1800s.
Dunlop said one of the seven routes through Michigan headed along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Chicago to the Straights of Mackinac, and when slave hunters closed the six other routes toward Detroit, the lake route was extensively used.
A depot near Grand Rapids was overcrowded and slave hunters were in the area. A call went out for help from the Native Americans in Petoskey who responded. Among them was Dunlop’s grandfather.
The Native Americans were led along the trails and paths in the fall that year to the Straights, where a band of Chippewas ferried the refugees across the Straights in war canoes to the Upper Peninsula, by land to the St. mary’s River and by canoes into Canada.
Blacks owed the Native Americans a debt for the help in the Underground Railroad, but Dunlop said the debt was paid when the blacks crossed the bridge at Selma, Ala., during the freedom marches in the 1960s.
Martina Forgwe, a 22-year-old African American from Holland attending Kalamazoo College, agreed with the forgiveness message.
“I think forgiveness is the way,” she said. “This has provided a forum forgiveness on a wide scale.”
“People now can speak about it.”