On Wednesday, February 26, 2020, Eden Seminary hosted an African American Read-In. This event was the last in the Black and Brown Lives Matter series that was hosted throughout the month. The event was open to anyone who wanted to attend and read.
The event was held in the Rotunda, where students, staff, and visitors could stop by and listen. This particular event highlighted African authors and their literary works. Guests could bring their own pieces to read from, or there was a table set up with piece that participants were welcome to pick from. Each person was given 15 minutes to read from their chosen author(s).
Sonja Williams, associate Dean of Students here at Eden and organizer of the series, commented on the final event and what it meant to her.
Eleven straight hours of uninterrupted theological wondering that included both tears and joy. The Holy One showed up in ah-ha moments, the rejoicing of the amen corner, and the community hugs and most importantly, the sacred space of an alternative theology –the intentional space to have church a new way. The Rand Rotunda located in the center of the building, the center of theological discourse became priority for black wisdom and black experience to reverberate beyond the halls and into a space that willingly engaged a shared church history and Afrofuturism- love for the arts, for a perfect utopia.
The African American Read-In on Wednesday, for me, was putting theory and theology into practice. It was an opportunity to listen intently to the wisdom, griefs and joys of the past. Not simply to honor them, but to become involved in the making of a future they fantasized about. This was an opportunity for the wider community to engage in a praxis of inclusion, at least a praxis that wonders how to imagine a society absent of supremist oppression.
Cory Lovell, a student here at Eden, also attended and read during the event.
The Black & Brown Lives Matter Series: African American Read In, which occurred at Eden Seminary on Wednesday, February 26th, was one of the most compelling and engaging events I’ve experienced in my time at this institution. Having a background in contemporary art and literary event planning, it reminded me of the enduring transformative power of performance art in public spaces, especially spaces in which this type of performance rarely happens outside of prescribed roles. Prophecy was quite literally brought down from the pulpit and put into a public thoroughfare. The words and ideas of various authors of the African Diaspora, from every era, genre, region, and religious and ideological background you could imagine, were read by a diverse array of performers; white, black, brown, male, female, non-binary, and interfaith as well.
The experience was multifaceted, and interacted not only with thought and rhetoric, but with space and behavior as well. It was not only the power of hearing novels, biographies, poems, biblical commentary, political theory, and correspondence from prominent voices of color read aloud in a religious institution, but also the power of watching which of those voices each performer specifically chose to lift up. What that choice said about a particular individuals engagement and focus on African/African American thought. What it sounded like to hear often revolutionary Black words spoken in these hallways, where oil paintings reflecting a long leadership lineage of Euro-Whiteness is omnipresent in our psyche. Hearing how timeless and relevant words from the 1960’s and the 1840’s, from Nairobi and Harlem, from the pulpit and the prison cell, still are to our time and our community, right here and right now.
The public nature of this prophecy led to inevitable engagement by passersby in many forms. No one could simply ignore these words. You had to engage and make a choice. Folks often chose to sit down and directly listen, many to stand up and read. Sometimes folks were taken by surprise and tried to respectfully sneak around the proclamations, treated them respectfully but went about their business as usual. Others avoided all together, often entering a doorway, and immediately turning around to utilize an alternate entrance. It was impossible as a viewer to not see in these interactions the macro-cultural connections made to how we engage with prophetic Black and Brown thought in America as a whole.
Finally, as a part of a religious community here at Eden who believes in the ever present Eternal Spirit of the Divine, it was powerful to hear that Spirit manifested in sound, in vocal vibrations of life affirming revolutionary thought, and to have those vibrations bounce about the marble, granite, and wood of this building, infusing with our physical infrastructure, so that it is now inextricable from our heritage and institutional theology.