February is Black History Month. Help us celebrate, in part, by participating in MennoMedia’s winter CommonRead, “Been in the Struggle: Pursuing an Anti-Racist Spirituality,” by Regina Shands Stoltzfus and Tobin Miller Shearer.
Regina Shands Stoltzfus currently teaches at Goshen College and chairs the Religion, Justice and Society department. She is co-founder, with Tobin Miller Shearer, of the Roots of Justice Anti-Oppression program (formerly Damascus Road Anti-Racism Program). She and Tobin are the co-authors of the new book “Been in the Struggle: Pursuing an Anti-Racist Spirituality” (Herald Press, 2021).
I was nurtured and mentored by elders and peers who believe in working to create the world we want to see. My Anabaptist faith tradition — from which many of those elders/mentors hailed — taught me that God’s vision for the created order was shalom. I am a first-generation northerner whose parents were part of the Great Migration — that massive movement of mostly rural Black southerners, who moved to the north, Midwest and western U.S. between 1910 and the 1970s. At church and at home, in school and in our neighborhoods, race was something that was talked about. Race was certainly in the news.
With that foundation, it makes all the sense in the world to me that a significant part of the work I do in the world concerns race and faith. In this stage of my life, however, I admit that I did not foresee that the anti-racism work I started in the 1990s would still be a significant part of my work in the classroom and outside of it. In some ways, that feels discouraging. However, along the way, I’ve been blessed and challenged to work with and learn from so many co-strugglers from diverse backgrounds and life experience who feel called to the work of anti-racism.
Here is one thing that has proven to be true over the years: My best work is done in collaboration with others. Like most educators (if not all!), I love thinking and talking about teaching. I love the energy of testing out new ideas. I appreciated having conversation partners who can help me re-work a terrible lesson or workshop session. In the context of anti-racism work, particularly in the church, I have learned that we need each other, and we need to hold constant our vision of God’s shalom for all of creation.
As God’s people in this historical moment, we need each other more than ever.
I am additionally grateful that the childhood nurturing I received included teachings about the beauty of Blackness and Black culture. Yes, a lot of that learning included the stories of struggle, the narratives of the “firsts,” and lessons about perseverance and resilience. All of that is necessary, but I am grateful for the poetry, music, art and more that is just about the joy of Blackness. There was my fourth-grade teacher, who had us memorize and recite poems from the Harlem Renaissance. There was my mother, who directed and produced plays by Black playwrights in the community theater that she founded and who cast me in my first role in a Langston Hughes play. And of course, there was the celebration of gospel music and other Black art forms in my home church, the Lee Heights Community Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
There are deep divides in our nation — political, cultural and, certainly, religious. My prayer is that we can dig deep into the wells of our faith, stand on the shoulders of peacemakers and justice bringers — the preachers and prophets, the activists and the advocates — and do our part.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada and Herald Press are partnering to encourage every Mennonite to read carefully selected books to equip the church during this time. This winter, the CommonRead book is “Been in the Struggle: Pursuing an Antiracist Spirituality” by Regina Shands Stotlzfus and Tobin Miller Shearer. Learn more here: https://www.mennomedia.org/commonread/.