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An Invitation to Embrace and Embody Black History Month from Rev. Dr. April G. Johnson

Carter G. Woodson, son of formerly enslaved people, a sharecropper, a coal miner turned scholar, and founder of Negro History Week said, “Black history is our history.” Driven by both desire and demand to quench the thirst for the untold and under-told accomplishments of negroes in our nation’s history, Woodson gifted us with the nation’s first periodical on Negro History and the academic discipline of African American historical studies. This heritage observation that occurs each February offers an opportunity for all the world to embrace the fullness of the contributions of African-descendant peoples to the advancement of our nation. Each year, I anticipate and receive Black History Month as an invitation to explore and examine connections to the heritage that informs my identity and guides how I navigate the predominantly white spaces I inhabit as a part of life in the United States of America. 

Since history is predicated on the historian’s experience and lens, I am aware that it can similarly be distorted by the narrator/historian. It, therefore, is acutely apparent that much of Black History is filtered and excluded in American history because of our nation’s emphasis on colonialism and its benefits to the narrative of whiteness. Considering the evolution of Negro History Week to Black History Month, I am encouraged by the depth and breadth of Black excellence pulsing through my veins as a child of African-descendant peoples whose own education and familial history limited their capacity to pass on the fullness of our legacy.  

Concerning the question, “What is the meaning of Black History Month to me,” I realize my response is rooted in the language of invitation. My commitment to justice in general, and racial justice in particular, allows me to take advantage of the Black-centered exhibitions, and museums, and indulge in books by Black authors intentionally during this season of commemoration and observation. I am currently reading “I Bring the Voices of My People” by Dr. Chanequa Walker Barnes. This is not my only foray into these activities, it is simply an invitation to be intentional in expanding the base of my knowledge, as well as pride.

Though not exclusively, February also signals an opportunity for me to wear clothing and accessories descriptive of the cultural insignias of the whole of the continent of Africa. For example, I might wear garments and accessories I secured while visiting Southern, Eastern, and Western Africa inclusive of Kente cloth clothing, jewelry shaped in the form of the continent, and beads native to Western Africa. What I wear on the outside is a matter of personal indulgence. It is my preference to embrace my African historical roots as a matter of course, not as an exception to the other 11 months of the year. This is also my desire for the Church.

It is in this vein that I see the celebration of Black History Month for our beloved Church. It is an invitation to be intentional about broadening our capacity to embrace the entirety of our history as we seek new ways to engage mission and ministry in a rapidly changing landscape. My desire for the Church is that we commemorate Black History Month as an opportune time to study the history of the National Christian Missionary Convention (NCMC) and the National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The richness of our denominational history is due in large part to the inseparable contributions of Black Disciples. These dedicated servants of Christ forged a Convention of Negro Churches to attend to the interests and needs of the black churches. They did this in the backdrop of paternalistic efforts to shape negro churches through the lens of white missionary largess. The persistence and avarice of Negro leadership for the Good News of Jesus Christ continue to shape the mission of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) today. Their legacy also serves as a model for Black excellence – not exceptionalism. 

Black History Month is an invitation for each of us, individually and collectively, to embrace and embody the myriad complexities and contributions of African-descendant peoples in our communities and our congregations. This invitation grants us the privilege to be agents of liberation “from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth!”


Rev. Dr. April G. Johnson serves as Minister of Reconciliation/Executive Director of Reconciliation Ministry for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. She brings to this work a deep passion for racial justice, healing, and restorative justice.  As Minister of Reconciliation, Rev. Johnson facilitates the church-wide process of analysis, awareness, and action toward healing the fractures within the body of Christ caused by systemic racism and perpetual oppression. She collaborates with organizer trainers, regional and congregational staff leadership, anti-racism teams and ecumenical partners in her efforts to guide this work.


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