by Regina Shands Stoltzfus

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Psalm 25:1-5

This semester, I am teaching African American history. Tempting as it may be to only primarily lift up the stories of “the greats” and “the firsts”, to be true to the history of any marginalized people is to study the ways in which they have been marginalized – looking at the many ways they have been discounted, dismissed, and denied; and the violence with which that marginalization has been held in place. There are many days that I don’t want to read or speak another word about legislation that kept people in bondage or to see another image of a lynched body.

However, I must remember, and I also have to remind my students that in order to understand how we got here, we need to know the past in all of its ugliness. And — we need to remember that for every act of oppression, there have always, always been acts of resistance. Resistance in its myriad forms is always part of the story, it is the undercurrent that carries us along.

Ever more than that, the fact that I can read these words, look at these images and bear the horrible weight of this history means I am, we are still here. As Audre Lorde says in her poem “A Litany for Survival,” “we were never meant to survive.” Yet we did. Our continued presence is a testament to the ancestors who dreamed of us, sacrificed for us, and prayed us into existence. The ancestors who said “let not my enemies triumph over me.” Spoken word artist Sunni Patterson expresses it precisely in her spoken word piece We Made It.

(Please be aware Patterson’s piece contains strong language and references acts of violence, including lynching and sexual assault.)

God our Creator and Sustainer, breathe your power on us. Let each breath be a reminder of the ancestors whose faith carried us here. May we prepare the such space for those who come after us by bearing witness to our stories. Amen

Regina Shands Stoltzfus is a Roots of Justice trainer, doctoral candidate in theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, and former pastor. She teaches classes on race, violence, and peacemaking at Goshen College and is a co-founder of ROJ’s Damascus Road Antiracism Process.