The Department of Arts and Humanities hosted “Spiritual Protest: The Role of Faith in the Fight for Racial Justice” on Nov. 5 to examine the significance of religion on the Black Lives Matter movement.
The event was presented by Dr. Liora Gubkin, professor of Religious Studies and Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, and was led by guest keynote speaker Hebah Farrag, Assistant Director of Research for the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California.
Farrag presented her research on how the Black Live Matter movement, a movement that is generally deemed as non-religious, is actually deeply rooted in spirituality and has brought spiritual healing to the Black community and continues to share and spread this information to non-Black communities.
Farrag explained that one of the most exciting things about having this discussion is that it opens the door for why spirituality is important within the movement, as well as providing spiritual leaders and religious institutions a reason to get involved.
Farrag started the presentation by giving some background on how the BLM movement came to be and then shifted to explaining the strong bias that has been utilized in the reporting of the movement.
“Today if you look at reporting on the Black Lives Matter movement, you’ll find coverage of rioting, destruction, and depictions of anger with a strong focus on criminal justice reform,” Farrag said.
But says that what is missing from the movement is the images that present the deep love that fuels it. Farrag explains that BLM is not about changing policies or lives but changing our culture and how we fight for this change.
Harrag said these images include “protestors clad all in white, burning sage across militarized police lines, chants and the pouring of vivations in front of court houses invoking the spirits of ancestors and those killed by police.”
“It is not a by-any-means-necessary movement; it’s a movement that deeply investigates what is the best means necessary for all Black lives to matter…and to confront white supremacy in every location it emerges from,” Farrag said.
Gubkin then presented the first of three community organizers Kim Jackson, Co-owner of “We Be Grubbin” vegan soul food and CSUB alumnus with a degree in anthropology and religious studies.
Jackson shared her personal experience participating in the movement. Jackson opened by sharing her first time attending a BLM protest and how anxious she was about the unknown factors of who would be there, how many, or would the police be there to confront them, but was certain in that she was prepared to deal with racism.
Jackson shared she was as worried about not being accepted by the protestors due to being a Black queer person that is gender non-binary, meaning Jackson does not conform to the norms of a single gender, and was scared of the possibility that it would be held by Black church leaders. To her surprise, the march was comprised of a multicultural group of high school students that made her realize this was a new movement, one that has utilized the structures and momentum of the Civil Rights Era. Jackson provided a powerful statement on the healing that has taken place in the Black queer community over the past six years
“People who used to casually spew homophobia now consider themselves to be allies and I think that has to do with the inclusive nature of the Black Live Matter Movement,” Jackson said.
For Jackson, her work with the BLM movement has allowed her to heal a lot of the trauma that she carried from organized religion and a large part of that has come from decolonizing, the process of undoing the adverse effects of European colonization, her spiritual practice. Using the beliefs and rituals of her ancestors to forge her own path forward helped, and she says that this is what is helping the movement at a community level.
The second panelist to present was Daulton Jones, a community organizer with Faith in the Valley – Kern, is a Christian, a practitioner of Hoodoo, a Caribbean religion and tradition that utilizes the spirits, and trauma sensitive yoga.
For Jones, being a faith-based organizer is a birthright of his as a Black person in America because there is not a Black movement that is not rooted or organized by faith, although the influence of faith may not always be shown.
As a faith-based organizer, Jones presents himself in a very interesting and diverse light as he is influenced by Christian pastors, shamans, medicine people, and the root-workers of his ancestral traditions.
When organizing, Jones says he looks to his ancestors in what he does and acts with their guidance in mind.
“Contrary to that annoying quote a lot of people say ‘I’m not my ancestors’ I am wholeheartedly my ancestors,” Jones said.
Jones ended his presentation with a message of getting back to one’s spirituality.
“For Black people in this country…a return to who we are by way of our spiritual upbringings is super important. That doesn’t have to look like Christianity or Judaism…but what it does look like is caring for yourself and caring for your people and it does look like returning to the Earth,” Jones said.
The final panelist was Faheemah Salahud-Din Floyd, the Executive Director of First and Always Melanin, a non-profit organization that sets out to bring together peoples of indigenous African ancestry.
Floyd is a born Muslim and a practitioner of traditional African-American traditions. Floyd is a student of Ifa, a widespread African spiritual system that is comprised of belief in Olodumare (the Creator of heaven and Earth), Orisa (Nature Spirits), and the ancestors.
Floyd begins by establishing, like Jones, that she does not necessarily consider herself a BLM organizer.
“I feel all of our movements, all of our organizations, all or our work as Black people stems from the very rich legacy of the enslaved Africans,” said Floyd.
For Floyd, spirituality is activism as Black people have had to organize and use their spirituality as a means to survive. Specifically here in the U.S., Floyd states that spirituality, the relationship with God, and the relationship with their ancestors is the cornerstone of modern-day Black culture because that when Black people organize, they are doing so on the foundations their ancestors built. Floyd wants people to understand that there is no separation between activism and spirituality for Black people as a whole.
“That is all that we do, that is all that we are,” Floyd said.
Which leads her to the importance of decolonization for Black people and their healing. Eurocentric values became the societal norm as Europeans began to colonize different parts of the world making the way they look and think the standard. From this Black people who were enslaved and brought to America where forced to change or hide their religions.
Following the abolishment of slavery with the 13th Amendment, Jim Crowe laws were put in place that continued to disenfranchise Black people and keep them second class citizens.
These laws forced segregation, created very limited opportunities for Black people and continued the limitation of their religious practices, as white Americans saw traditional African faiths such as Ifa or Hoodoo as socially unacceptable.
“The fact that we are able to practice African faith traditions such as Hoodoo, such as Ifa, such as Lucumi…is not because the world evolved, no, the world does not evolve, but our people are resilient, our people are masterful, our people are unable to be stopped…because of our relationship with the divine source,” Floyd said.
Floyd concluded with a look at what has allowed Black people to continue to organize and fight throughout history.
“We are carrying out a rich tradition of Black organizing that is dynamic, spirit based and gives honor to what we are doing… We are giving honor to the spiritualism and the activism that our ancestors did and relied upon,” Floyd said.
The event’s recording could be viewed Spiritual Protest with zoom link.