Where did you place your faith?
This is my reflection on Imani: Faith…
Faith is often thought of in a religious and spiritual way. Having grown up in a Baptist church I often heard, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) This common articulation suggests that there is a higher power ordering our lives and we must remain faithful to see it come to fruition. This orientation asks one to have faith in a higher power, often called God, and if I asked many walking the street, “Do you have faith in God?” they would likely answer, “Yes.” If I ask them, “Do you have faith in Black people?” I’m not sure I would receive such an affirming response.
Karenga defined Imani in the following way, “to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of struggle.” The definition noticeably and intentionally does not ask the basic question of faith in a higher being, but more so asks can you have faith in those with home you walk this earth? Can you have faith in those who you live with, go to school with and struggle with? The older I get, the more I find people openly acknowledging faith in a higher power and disavowing faith in our people. While I do not want to get into a question of religious or spiritual beliefs (that may come though), it strikes me as peculiar that with the tremendous history and contributions that people of African descent have made, that many of us – myself included, will suggest “we ain’t gonna make it.”
Is it an understanding of history or not understanding history that allows one to draw such a conclusion about the African Diaspora and particularly African-Americans? In the past year, I’ve been trying to push myself out of being a member of the Possible Police. The Possible Police are a unit of Black folks who whenever a discussion of change begins to happen, they ruminate, “It ain’t gonna happen.” “We already tried that.” “Let me know how that turns out.” Or “It’s impossible.” In all honesty, the election of Barack Obama pushed me to more deeply question my beliefs around struggle and victory. While I’ll be the first to say the election of Barack Obama is no magic salve, I must also acknowledge that his election is the fruit of significant struggle.
It worries me that at the age of 31 I can say “It won’t happen in my lifetime,” This in some ways reflects a resolution of defeat at worst or delayed gratification at best. This tradition of nay saying, instead of affirmation, conveys a deep lack of faith among the population who most need it and have the most to offer, the youth relatively young people. My walk with brothers at CCNY has pushed me to articulate hope, in spite of defeatism’s presence. In listening to their questions about the future, family, and opportunity I kept hearing a lack of faith in themselves, our people, and the world. I have taken to asking, “Why would you tell yourself you can’t? There are a million people who would tell you “you can’t”, “don’t try it”, “you’re not worthy” in a heartbeat. So why would you be the first in line to do that?” The path that we have walked has been a long one and often bitter one, despite this strong men and women keep coming.
Some brothers have asked me, why I keep a faith in our people? For me it is about faith in a higher power and in our people to make change. I would venture to say, a lack of faith in our people and ourselves individually often reflects a lack of faith in a higher power and/or the ability of people to produce change. While some may argue, “place your faith in God, not humans”, it is the divinity that I see in my people that forces me to fight through the muddy terrain of self hatred and doubt. A faith in Black people often is one that necessitates we see beyond the obvious and embrace the possible which were denied for so long. It is necessary that we are grounded and realistic, but not necessary that we concede defeat in the beginning of the battle. Can you begin to imagine if our ancestors, held in the bondage of slavery throughout the globe stopped themselves from dreaming and working on freedom? If the answer is no, then why should we come this far and give up our faith?