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Asking the Clergy: How does your congregation honor Black History Month?

The Rev. Maxine Barnett Rector, of All Saints

The Rev. Maxine Barnett Rector, of All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Lisa Williams of Salem AME Church, and Faroque A. Khan Board of the Interfaith Institute of Islamic Center of Long Island. Credit: The Church of St. Jude; James McCray, Hy-Sync Media; Newsday /John Paraskevas

February’s celebration of Black History Month continues at Long Island houses of worship, with inspiring messages from hymns, guest speakers and, of course, spiritual leaders in the pulpit. This week’s clergy discuss how they share the spirit of Black History Month with their congregations and the surrounding community.

Faroque A. Khan

Board of trustees chairman, Interfaith Institute of Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury  

Prophet Muhammad spoke about and advanced policies against racism, and as such black people have played a major role in Islam. To honor this, on March 1, the Islamic Center of Long Island will host its annual Black History Month celebration commemorating black lives, history and culture, and highlighting various aspects of the unique and priceless contributions African Americans have made in our nation’s history. Esteemed community leaders will serve as keynote and honorary speakers at an event attended by public officials, members of community organizations and the community at large. As a major highlight, ICLI will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to outstanding men and women who have made significant contributions to the lives of others.  

Our celebration combines the talents of new and veteran artists, poets, storytellers and motivational speakers, and features exhibits and tributes to inspirational and visionary -- but often unsung heroes. Our first event in 2001 was focused on 1960s civil rights leader Malcolm X. TV reporter Gil Noble, the keynote speaker, highlighted the role of Malcolm X, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in advancing the civil rights of minorities, work he said has made his career possible. The civil rights struggle also made it possible for a change in immigration policy that allowed immigrants from Asia and Africa, such as myself, to call America home.

The Rev. Maxine Barnett

Rector, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Baldwin

Our opening hymn on the first Sunday of this month was “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem. It helped set the tone for how our congregation would honor the part African Americans have played in our nation’s history. Music is one medium through which we can recall, make commentary and celebrate, and so our services include many Negro Spirituals and Gospel music for both voice and instruments.

All Saints has a tradition of celebrating the life and legacy of Absalom Jones, the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church. We remembered him by singing a special hymn and recalling his life at the service on Feb. 9. For many years, St. George’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn joined our congregation for this service.

I've also invited other speakers to Black History Month services to share a message about the often-overlooked struggles and achievements of black people, and hopefully to inspire and empower all of us for living in our diverse culture. 

In addition, we include information about black Americans, relevant events and inspirational quotes in our newsletter and on bulletin inserts. The litanies and sermons highlight the progress made through the gifts, sacrifice and faith of our ancestors. And each week, as part of a Franciscan benediction, we ask God to bless us with anger at the injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that we will continue the work for justice, freedom and peace.

The Rev. Lisa M. Williams

Pastor, Salem African Methodist Episcopal Church, Roslyn Heights

At Salem African Methodist Episcopal Church, Black History Month is not only about honoring those who have come before us, but about igniting hope, awareness and courage in today’s youth, and in so doing, training strong shoulders for future generations to stand upon. This is done through sermon illustrations that highlight faith in action; such as one about Mohammad Ali, who told the world he was the greatest of all time before it was a confirmed reality, thus tapping into God’s spiritual law of the creative power of the tongue.

Yet we are not all athletes, singers or musicians, nor do we have to be, hence we are also intentional about setting aside moments in our worship service to share stories from well-known to obscure figures in our history such as Marie Van Brittan Brown, who, feeling unsafe in her own home because of rising crime, refused to be held hostage by fear and invented the first home security system.

Some of the most poignant stories, however, are found right in the pews filled with individuals who are determined to make a difference in this world. For Salem, black history is having the freedom to share our collective stories, our triumphs and even our failures, which ignite hope, field passions and encourage us on our individual journeys. Black History Month inspires us to be the best version of ourselves possible, despite very real or even perceived obstacles.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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