In honor of Black History Month, Patheos invited a half a dozen black thought-leaders and activists — today’s black history makers — to share their responses to six questions about their work, their inspiration, and the racial justice movement.
Here, Claremont School of Theology Professor and AME minister Monica Coleman responds. The Rev. Dr. Coleman is an ordained minister in the AME Church and Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of Process and Faith at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author or editor of six books including the forthcoming, Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith (Fortress, July 2016).
What is your work in the world?
I teach a faith that liberates. I speak out about some of the issues that churches and society often prefer to keep silent. I talk about mental health, sexual violence, and domestic violence. I share my own experiences with the hope that other people with similar experiences feel less alone in the world. I also share ways that churches can teach and coordinate ministries to be a force for creative transformation in the world as people wrestle with being faithful in the midst of great pain. Our faith should not be a source of silence or condemnation. Our faith can free us to be more and more of who and how God calls us to be.
Who and what is inspiring your work currently?
My family inspires my work. I am inspired by my parents who taught me black history and literature when my schools did not. They were always politically and socially active through organizations like NAACP. I am also inspired by my preschool-age daughter. I think about the world in which I want her to grow, the kinds of schools she will attend, the kinds of friends she will have. I even wonder about her basic safety as she matures. I want her to have voice and faith and a drive for justice.
What is the most pressing challenge of the movement for the value of Black Lives/racial justice today?
That racism and hatred are so pervasive in the hearts of so many people to get us to a place of such unmerited violence against black lives. There are real challenges in the legal system — what is happening with voting laws in North Carolina and other states, what is happening between police and young black women and men, what is happening in some of the Supreme Court judgments. But these legislators have supporters who in some deep place inside do not believe black lives are as valuable or worthy as white lives. We need to change laws and efforts at justice, yes, but we also need to change vision and hearts so that when people see a young black child playing, they see just that — a child. Not a criminal or threat. A child.
Where do you see hope in your work for a better future for all people of color?
At Claremont School of Theology, I teach really amazing students committed to harnessing faith to repair the world. I have students in ministry between Hawaii and Maryland. Many of them are active in their local communities working in communities with racial tension or political strife or police intimidation or generational immigrant differences. They are passionate and persistent. They give me hope that one church at a time, one community organization at a time, there will be a generation that is more loving and more just.
Who, in your opinion, is making black history today?
The people of Black Lives Matter movements. Many of us know the founders and their concerns for police brutality and marginalized black lives — always bringing issues of race, class, gender, and sexual difference to play. But there are so many people on the ground in local chapters working on the issues of their community. This diffuse and dedicated movement is making black history. It changes how leadership looks, how the issues are framed, and they make a difference in their local communities.
What’s one question we haven’t asked that you’d like to answer?
What are five of my favorite books on African American (Christian) religious history?
Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion
Gayraud Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent
Herbert Robinson Marbury, Pillars of Cloud and Fire
Darnise C. Martin, Beyond Christianity