Sunday, February 5, 2012

Spotlight on Black History: the Spirit of School & Gospel Music

Life is so much more than our experiences. While there was an entire life that we lived before this second, minute, hour, day, month, year and decade, we are in the present moment with a whole life that will jump into new seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years and decades.  Yet, our experiences did exist and so, we carry memories of them in our mind.

Thank God for the treasures we find in lessons. We might not look at the issues as treasures while we are in them, but in the long run, we learn something and are able to apply what we were schooled on, in our future; we may even be able to spiritually lift up another person with the information we acquire.

Education is so important. In its grand design, education opens up doors to so many different things. Booker T Washington once saw a picture of students sitting inside of a classroom that impressed him so much that the idea of learning to him was like paradise; it was a land of promise.

Recently, an article was published in a Blog featured on MSNBC that talked about the future of the job market and how it will be affected by education. In it, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that 57% of the jobs in the upcoming years will require a college degree or higher.  I guess the slaves knew what they were doing when they built and started Wilberforce University in 1856. It was named after the writer of the song Amazing grace. To be the oldest historically black college signifies that people of all color should have the right to learn. What a blessing that today, education is not denied to anyone and is accessible to everyone.

Can you imagine if we lived during the times of Sojourner Truth or Olaudah Equiano with only a desire to learn but not an equally open door to classrooms? Let’s follow the examples of these individuals who later on found an extension to learning and were able to use their education to teach others and to also inspire.  
This is one of the concepts that Pastor Sednak Kojo Duffu Asare Yankson PHD teaches when he educates rooms full of people on the knowledge of the maroons and their culture. He uses his knowledge to expand the wisdom of others. Because he is from the Ashanti Dynasty and knows a lot about the experiences, the symbologies and the culture of his people, he is at liberty to teach and apply his understanding to his teachings and to his walk in life.

Like Yankson, Activist & Author Randall Robinson was able to extend his acquired knowledge of the past and use it to write a book called Makeda to let people know that even things like astrology came from the Dogons in Africa. Education to him is golden.
James Weldon Johnson did have the opportunities to learn.  Yet, he never learned the concepts of color until one of his young classmates in his integrated grade school told him that he was a Nigger.  What he found out that day was that he had a right to learn more about the people of color that came before him and left some kind of legacy. And so, he did research and read biographies, autobiographies and novels written by people of color to expand his sensibilities of truth.

Many do not do that. We learn the bits of history that teachers teach in classrooms but fail to go beyond to read about the anthropology of the world and how it all began and who was here and how people of color contributed to everything featured in this world. Robinson wanted to teach more when he found out that some of his students in Jamaica knew who the rapper 50 Cents was but not who Toussaint L’Overture was. The importance of Haiti gaining their independence 1804 didn’t even seem like something important to know. Yet, we feel like we know enough to find a reason to be proud. There are so many accomplishments that should be acknowledged and honored.

For instance, we can celebrate the writing and organizing of Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing which was a song that was made by James Weldon Johnson. The blessings found in its content, is simply beautiful. Like the Negro Spirtuals and Gospel music, it promoted benevolence to others and to God. The lyrics were inspired by Biblical scriptures and were written in poetry style.
“The lyrics of Negro Spirituals were tightly linked with the lives of their authors: slaves” (History). Johnson, however was never a slave but was so inspired by his mother who was a wonderful musician and by the culture that was carried with African slaves, that he decided to follow in their footsteps to keep their spirits alive.  Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing became such a popular tune that it was later coined the Black National Anthem.
The Negro Spirituals have expanded in richness and are sometimes still sung in churches today along with Gospel music. Have you ever listened? This genre provides a listen that is unique to all other forms of music.  It compels, inspires and has this force that channels the love of God. By listening, one lets in energy that is incomparable to any other force.

Like all other types of music, Gospel evolves every day.  There is no one style of Gospel music  that I like more. I love Gospel music for a few reasons.  The singing of the songs have meaning in them. The canters are not just singing to sing. They carry a message while also praising God for all he has done for us. The instrumentation found in Gospel music seems so coordinated, lively and is very good. Plus the lyrical content is something that can benefit anyone as a person in their walk of life.

There is nothing like hearing Vanessa Bell Armstrong sing the song Peace Be Still. That song is derived from a Negro Spiritual and is sung just as it was written in poetic form. Mahalia Jackson was a phenomenal woman who sang a number of the Negro spirituals. What characterized the Negro Spiritual was the call and response feature of it, like the song God is Good that Regina Belle sings. Instruments were simply not available during the times when they used to sing them, so they used their hands to clap to them, keeping the melody and their bodies to express the extension of joy found in them.

Negro Spirituals are great songs, but so are Gospel songs by groups like Out of Eden and Mary Mary who use R&B logic to create their Gospel-driven songs. Choir music is exciting also as you hear a group of a hundred voices like the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, The Mississippi Mass Choir or the Harlem Gospel Choir all singing in harmony of the mercies of the Lord. The difference with these is that they are accompanied by layers of instrumentation. Yet, whether the song is a spiritual or a Gospel tune, it is a song that is empowering, inspiring and that can help you to think differently about life, like teachers do. 

Negro Spirituals and Gospel music are great listens; especially in this month of Black History, to help in celebrating the lives of history makers like Harriet Jacobs, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr, Langston Hughes, Buddy Bolden who started the wave of blues music in 1895, Phyllis Wheatley and Queen Nefertiti. Let’s listen and thank God for all those who helped to make a difference in this very world that we live in today and for how they inspired future generations and our youth. May God continue to bless their souls.


Links to Consider

Black History Links


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