Strength Through Unity: Celebrating Black Leaders of Faith

Strength Through Unity: Celebrating Black Leaders of Faith

Cornel West's powerful words, "You can't lead the people if you don't love the people. You can't save the people if you don't serve the people," reverberate deeply during Black History Month. As we remember the struggles and triumphs of the African American community, it's crucial to celebrate the Black faith leaders who illuminated paths to justice and equality. These individuals, from athletes who shattered barriers to activists who fought for change, stand as testaments to the transformative power of faith and unity.

This blog honors five such leaders, each representing a unique tapestry of faith, perseverance, and impact. Their stories inspire us to challenge the status quo, embrace our individuality, and stand together for a more just world.

  1. Jackie Robinson: Breaking Barriers with Unwavering Faith

Jackie Robinson Stealing Home Base

Jackie Robinson stealing home plate

Imagine facing relentless racism and death threats while single-handedly integrating Major League Baseball. That was the daunting reality for Jackie Robinson, whose groundbreaking career transformed sports forever. Yet, amidst the pressure and prejudice, Robinson held onto his deep Christian faith, drawing strength from scripture and prayer.

Jackie Robinson’s faith was instilled in him by his mother and Rev. Downs who started minister to Robinson when he was a teenager.  Jackie’s mom used to tell him, “You are a child of God, made in God’s image. Because God is there, nothing can go wrong with you.  You can allow yourself to take risks because you just know that the Lord will not allow you to sink so far that you can’t swim.”

His autobiography talks about how Jackie didn’t drink alcohol or chase women.  He even told his teammates that he was waiting until marriage to have sex.  “His sense of self was tightly wound around core values of dignity and self-esteem, and he believed in God and the Bible. Absurdly or not, he drew a line in the dirt between himself and sin and tried not to cross it.” (Lamb, C. 2021)

Robinson's faith wasn't merely personal; it fueled his activism. He spoke out against injustice, organized boycotts, and fought for equal rights beyond the baseball field. His unwavering spirit proved that faith can empower individuals to challenge the status quo and pave the way for a more equitable future.

Discussion Point: How can we, inspired by Jackie Robinson's example, use our voices and platforms to advocate for justice in our own communities?

Side Note: My son Izaiah has dreams of making it to the major leagues, and Jackie Robinson is one of his favorite baseball players. I recall the first time we watched the movie “42” together. I explained to him that Jackie Robinson was one of the reasons why he has the opportunity to play the sport he loves today. Izaiah was shocked and couldn't grasp why black people weren't allowed to play in the major leagues back then. This moment was a powerful reminder of how far we have come and the importance of sharing these stories with the younger generation.

  1. Stephen Curry: Championing Change with Bold Faith

Steph Curry Giving God the Glory

Steph Curry is not just a basketball superstar; he's a vocal advocate for social justice. From speaking out against police brutality to supporting education initiatives, Curry uses his platform to uplift marginalized communities. But what drives his passion? His faith. Curry openly expresses his Christian beliefs, crediting them for shaping his values and commitment to service. He shared, " My faith is what helps me keep everything in perspective. I know I’ve been given these talents to play the game, and this is my way to reach millions and millions of people through those talents. That’s what makes me appreciative of everything that happens, good or bad." (Millennial, 2017).

Curry's story is a testament to how God can use someone in extraordinary ways, even when others doubt their potential. Despite being told he wasn't tall enough or strong enough, he defied expectations to become one of the best basketball players in the world. His journey illustrates how faith can be a source of strength and determination in the face of adversity. Curry demonstrates that faith can be a catalyst for positive change, bridging divides and fostering inclusivity.

Curry's bold faith challenges stereotypes and inspires others to use their talents and influence for good. He demonstrates that faith can be a catalyst for positive change, bridging divides and fostering inclusivity.

Challenge: Reflect on your own talents and passions. How can you use them to promote justice and equality, inspired by Steph Curry's example? Consider the obstacles you might face and how your faith can guide you through them, just as it did Curry did. 

  1. Jesse Owens: Defying Expectations with Faith as his Armor

Jesse Owens Raising Fist in Victory at Olympics

Jesse Owens raising his fist in victory at the 1936 Olympics

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens silenced Nazi propaganda with his four gold medals, a feat etched in history books. But his journey wasn't easy. Owens faced immense discrimination in America, denied opportunities due to his race. Yet, he carried with him an unwavering Methodist faith that propelled him forward.

"I knew there were greater powers at work than the hatred and bigotry that would surround me in Berlin," Owens wrote. "That faith saw me through."** (Source: Britannica)**

Owens' story transcends sports; it's a testament to the power of faith in overcoming adversity. He reminds us that faith can be a shield against prejudice, empowering us to rise above limitations and achieve our full potential.

What challenges do you face in your own life? How can you, like Jesse Owens, draw strength from your faith to overcome them?

  1. Mary McLeod Bethune: Building Bridges with an Unwavering Belief

Mary Bethune Standing in Front of College

Mary McLeod Bethune standing in front of Bethune Cookman University

Mary McLeod Bethune, a pivotal Black educator, civil, and women's rights leader, exemplified the strength of faith in action. As the founder of The Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls, which later became Bethune-Cookman College, she was a pioneer in education. Bethune's religious background was the driving force behind her educational work, as she believed that education grounded in religious ideals would benefit society.

Her dedication is encapsulated in her words, "Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible." This quote highlights her perspective on education, community, politics, and family through a religious lens. Bethune's influence extended beyond her educational achievements, as she was also known for her religious thinking and writing, her singing talent, and her daily practice of meditation (Sources: Women's History, University of Chicago, Daily Commercial).

Discussion Point: How can we integrate Bethune's principles of faith and education in today’s world to continue her legacy of empowering future generations?

  1. Harriet Tubman: Guided by Faith on the Path to Freedom

Harriett Tubman with Hand on Leg

Harriet Tubman, renowned as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, was a symbol of courage and faith. Her belief that there was no separation between the physical and spiritual worlds empowered her to lead over 60 slaves to freedom and serve in various roles during the Civil War.

Tubman's visions from God, which she received during seizures caused by a childhood brain injury, guided and protected her, rendering her fearless. She famously said, "Twasn't me, 'twas the Lord! I always told Him, 'I trust to you. I don't know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me, 'an' He always did." A lesser-known story about her includes undergoing brain surgery without anesthesia, opting instead to bite on a bullet, a practice she had seen soldiers do during the Civil War to cope with pain (Errick, J. 2022).

Challenge: Think of a situation in your life where you faced fear or uncertainty. Draw inspiration from Tubman’s faith and resilience. How can you apply her unyielding trust in a higher power to overcome challenges in your life?

As we reflect on the stories of these five remarkable individuals - Jackie Robinson, Steph Curry, Jesse Owens, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Harriet Tubman - we are reminded of the incredible power of faith in shaping history and inspiring change. Each of these leaders, in their own unique way, used their faith as a foundation to challenge societal norms, break barriers, and advocate for justice and equality. Their legacies continue to influence and empower us today.

Jackie Robinson's bravery in the face of racial adversity, Steph Curry's unwavering faith amidst professional skepticism, Jesse Owens' resilience against discrimination, Mary McLeod Bethune's dedication to education and spiritual growth, and Harriet Tubman's fearless commitment to freedom are all testaments to the strength that comes from a deep and abiding faith.

These stories are not just historical accounts; they are ongoing invitations for us to explore how our own faith can be a source of strength, guidance, and transformation in our lives and in our communities. They challenge us to consider how we, too, can be agents of change in a world that continues to grapple with issues of inequality and injustice.

As we celebrate Black History Month and the contributions of these incredible faith leaders, let us also commit to carrying forward their legacy. Let us be inspired by their courage, guided by their wisdom, and motivated by their unwavering commitment to a better, more equitable world.

In the spirit of unity and strength that these leaders embodied, let's continue to build bridges, break barriers, and create a world where everyone is empowered to live out their faith boldly and pursue justice fearlessly. Let their stories be a beacon of hope and a reminder that, with faith as our foundation, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Until next time.

 Stay strong and stay faithful.

Cora

Sources:
  1. Rooney, J. (2023). “This Day in Dodgers History: Jackie Robinson Steals Home in Game 1 of 1955 World Series.” https://dodgerblue.com/this-day-in-dodgers-history-jackie-robinson-steals-home-plate-game-1-yogi-berra-1955-world-series/
  2. Lamb, C. (2021). “Jacki Robinson’s Faith Sustained Him During Unrelenting Turmoil”. https://sabr.org/journal/article/jackie-robinsons-faith-sustained-him-during-unrelenting-turmoil/
  3. Millennial Journal, 2017. “Steph Curry on His Faith and Being a Role Model”.  https://www.google.com/search?q=stephen+curry+%22My+faith+plays+a+huge+role+in+everything+I+do%22+sports+illustrated&sca_esv=763518fcaa3e3101&sxsrf=ACQVn09rq_CK9tpOJ4CrNesshdzLQROg5Q%3A1707155571130&ei=cyDBZZOzB6qawbkPttS5gA8&ved=0ahUKEwjTuJKL4pSEAxUqTTABHTZqDvAQ4dUDCBA&uact=5&oq=stephen+curry+%22My+faith+plays+a+huge+role+in+everything+I+do%22+sports+illustrated&gs_lp=Egxnd3Mtd2l6LXNlcnAiUHN0ZXBoZW4gY3VycnkgIk15IGZhaXRoIHBsYXlzIGEgaHVnZSByb2xlIGluIGV2ZXJ5dGhpbmcgSSBkbyIgc3BvcnRzIGlsbHVzdHJhdGVkSABQAFgAcAB4AZABAJgBAKABAKoBALgBA8gBAPgBAeIDBBgAIEE&sclient=gws-wiz-serp#ip=1
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2024. “Jesse Owens: American Athlete”. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesse-Owens
  5. Michals, D. (2015). National Women's History Museum. “Mary McLeod Bethune”. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/mary-mcleod-bethune
  6. The University of Chicago. (2022). “Mary McLeod Bethune). https://womanisrational.uchicago.edu/2022/05/17/mary-mcleod-bethune-education-and-social-activism-through-socially-responsible-individualism/
  7. Osborne, E. (2018). Daily Commercial. “A Lesser Known Mary McLeod Bethune”. https://www.dailycommercial.com/story/lifestyle/faith/2018/01/20/bc-u-religion-professor-explores-faith-of-mary-mcleod-bethune/16044250007/
  8. Errick, J. (2022). National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “5 Facts You Might Not Know About Harriet Tubman”. https://www.npca.org/articles/2314-5-facts-you-might-not-know-about-harriet-tubman?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAiAq4KuBhA6EiwArMAw1EZ4qhe8mxKyl9qt89Nc-BOXjPwFA5VyLNNrUWNxMS8Knh5o6d6uVBoCI4QQAvD_BwE
  9. Gudmestad, R. (2019). The Conversation. “Faith Made Harriet Tubman Fearless as She Rescued Slaves.” https://theconversation.com/faith-made-harriet-tubman-fearless-as-she-rescued-slaves-127592
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