Tag Archives: Christianity

BLACK HISTORY AND WHITE PARENTING By Elle Dowd, Candidate for Ordination in the ELCA


(photo credit Fresh Blend Media in St Louis.

When other white folks hear about the way my family was formed via transracial adoption, they will often respond with some well-meaning phrase that goes something like, “Oh how great!  Everyone knows that it doesn’t matter what color a child’s skin is, love is all they need!”

In some ways, I know what they mean. I agree that, as Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms puts it “Love is the most powerful force in the universe for social change.”  But when that statement is coupled with words saying my child’s skin color “doesn’t matter”, it gives me pause.

Because even though I grew up in white suburbia on a steady diet of Colorblind Ideology, my conversations with adult transracial adoptees [1], the anti-racism training I’ve received, and my work following the Uprising in Ferguson, Missouri have lead me to understand that while being “colorblind” sounds nice, it does nothing to dismantle the system of racism and only serves to erase the experiences of people of color.

That’s something that doesn’t sound very loving at all. [2]

trust anyone
who says
they do not see color.
this means
to them,
you are invisible.”
― Nayyirah Waheed , salt.

I don’t want to erase my daughter’s Black skin.  I don’t want to tolerate it.  I want to celebrate it as one of the best parts about her.  “Dear one,” we whisper to her as we rub coconut oil over her luminescent dark, African skin, “Your melanin ties you to all kinds of beauty and power throughout the ages.”

Representation matters to children.  To be able to see themselves reflected in the world around them justifies their existence in the world and gives them role models to aspire to.  This is crucial for all children, but it is particularly important for children like my daughter who does not see her own face reflected back in the faces of her parents.  Our mainstream culture in general is awashed in whiteness, and so this takes some special consideration and effort.  Love might be enough, but often love requires mindfulness and intentionality.  Love requires sacrifice.  Love requires reflection, repentance, learning.  As a white parent of a Black child, I try to be conscious of the pictures on my wall, the neighborhood I live in, and the media I consume. This is a job for us year round. My daughter is Black all day every day, 24/7, forever and ever, amen, and thank God for that.

Yet I look forward to February.

February is Black History Month.  And in our family that means it is a special time to really lean into and celebrate our daughter’s Blackness. [3]


In our family that means this: we go through her entire collection of books and pull out all of the Black History ones.  She has an enviable collection, thanks to gifts from family and friends who understand how important representation is for the development of her racial identity. After nightly prayers and family devotions, we have story time. We commit in February to only read bedtime books about Black History, with Black protagonists, or African/African American folk tales. This might mean that we read an illustrated version of one of Maya Angelou’s poems, read one story from “The People Could Fly”, a gift given to her by Womanist Theologian Candace Simpson, and then wrap up with reading a biography about Wangari Maathai from Kenya.


Before bedtime each night in February, after our activities and homework and dinner, we like to watch a documentary or a piece of a biopic about Black History.  “Watsons go to Birmingham” is a favorite of my daughter’s, although between the recent PBS documentary on the Black Panther Party and Beyonce’s new lyrics  my daughter has become a fan of documentaries of revolutionaries with Afros.  A lot of the documentaries and films take a lot of unpacking. A lot of them are hard to watch. We leave plenty of time for questions and plenty of room for feelings.

And then each year for Black History Month, we do a project as a family.  Last year in 2015, my daughter interviewed prominent Black leaders in our community. She interviewed one West African immigrant who works for the Army, Johnetta Elzie, one of the important voices coming out of Ferguson and St. Louis as part of the Movement for Black Lives, one older church member who marched with MLK Jr. when she was my daughter’s age, 8 years old, and one trans Jew of color.  Our daughter knows that Blackness and the Black experience is as diverse as it is beautiful.  She wrote the interview questions herself, took notes, and wrote a report for each of them.


This year for Black History Month 2016, we chose an artistic, creative project.

Together, with help from her dad who is an artist, she made a mask out of her favorite influential Black folks. My daughter is a West African immigrant, so the mask symbolized Africa, since we have a lot of West African masks in our house it is a symbol that makes sense to us. They created the mask, paper-mache style, in the shape of my daughter’s face, connecting all the power and beauty of these Black Americans back to Mama Africa.  My daughter researched each of these people and chose them herself, from well-known historical figures like Harriet Tubman all the way to contemporary leaders like the founders of Millennial Activists United in Ferguson. These are the people who made a way for my daughter and whose stories and courage helped to form her.

AlicesArt2 AlicesArt1AliceWearingHerArt

This might seem like a lot of extra work, but unfortunately, its necessary.  The more I learn about Black History, the more I am aware that outside of Rosa Parks and MLK Jr, most of us weren’t taught much in our schools.  For example, how many of us white folks know anything about Fred Hampton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker?  How many of us have heard about the bombing of MOVE or Black Wallstreet?  More and more it is becoming clear, we are seeing a blatant white-washing of history because as Naoimi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “In this country we teach history to teach pride, not to learn from it’s lessons.”

As parents and as Christians, we are charged with telling the Truth.  And so here is where I plead with you, parents and faith leaders:

It should not only be Black children who are learning Black history.  White children, white adults, white churches need to take up this task.  We must be able to see the image of God in our neighbors, and in times such as these, that means our Black neighbors especially.  We need to know that Black Lives Matter because Black lives, like all lives, were created in the Image of God.  When we teach and learn about Black history and Black contemporary leaders and issues, we are showing that we believe that Black people matter, that their contributions were important. We are saying, “We see you. You are not invisible to us. We are willing to learn.”  During this season of Lent, this means confessing that as white parents and as church leaders, consciously or unconsciously, we have not always taught that Black Lives Matter, that they are made in the image of God, that Black history and Black representation is essential. I am challenging you to do this, as a faith leader, but as a parent, I am begging.  I am begging you to help create a world where my daughter can grow up safe and celebrated, knowing that she matters to her neighbors because she matters to God.

It’s a task that must happen year-round, 24/7 for a lifetime, for generations.

But maybe we could start this February.


Elle Dowd is a candidate for ordination in the ELCA, planning to attend seminary this fall. She has been active in the Uprising in Ferguson, MO. To read more of Elle’s writing, check out her blog.

[1] To hear what adult transracial adoptees have to say about their experiences, read Simon’s “In Their Own Voices”.

[2] For an amazing article on why Colorblind Ideaology is harmful, full of tons of links, please see the article 7 Reasons Why ‘Colorblindness’ Contributes to Racism Instead of Solves It.

[3] In some ways I find this rhythm similar to how I work with the liturgical calendar. As Christians we are called to confession, repentance, and special care for the poor YEAR ROUND, yet during Lent we have a special time to be reminded and to really lean into it.  My daughter is Black year round and representation for her is always a top priority. But February is a time to lean into it, to be reminded.

MY “DO SOMETHING” JOURNEY by Ivy Adams, WTS spouse

Several weeks before Lent began, I started forming a plan in my mind that I would give up something for Lent. Every year I chat with my husband about this as I brainstorm and pray about what it is that I really want to sacrifice for these 40 days. His response is always the same, “You don’t have to give up anything.” That answer always surprises me because all my life growing up Catholic, in my home, and in our church, we all participated in this Lenten practice. To not think about what to give up and not to participate was unheard of. However, it always seemed that I could never withstand the entire 40 days, meaning I never made it to the “finish line,” so to speak. I always wondered why that was, and as an adult who is more confident in my faith and married to a seminarian, I am reminded that Christ’s love never ends, I am a sinner, and I am forgiven.

Rather than be miserable without the comforts of what I had given up, why not set out on a journey that would be enjoyable? This would be a journey that inspired me, along with family and friends, and members of my community. I decided that I would challenge myself and inspire others to live out a 40 day journey called “Do Something.”

“Do Something” became a blog that I write for everyday of Lent. Each blog post inspires the reader, believer, or non-believer to engage in activities that promote well-being, healthy eating and exercise, acts of service, caring for others, helping the needy, and encouraging them to become involved in their community or organization of their choice.

When I first began, I had no idea how I would encourage people for 40 days. Sure, for a week or two, but 40 days? How was I ever going to do this? We live in such a connected world through social networking, online blogs, video chatting, texting, twitter; the list goes on and on. I knew that I would have an audience, but could I really inspire people to think and do acts of kindness outside their comfort zone? Maybe.

I do know that I am held accountable for blogging every day during Lent, whether people are reading it or not. This is the Lenten journey that I chose, and while I don’t always have the opportunity to post the blog first thing in the morning, I do post it during that day sometime and who knows, maybe someone is up late, not able to sleep, and they stumble across my blog. They may become moved and inspired, ready to try something new, even if it’s one person out of so many in the online world.

If you wish to see the blog of my Lenten journey, and participate in “Doing Something,” visit punkrock2preacher.blogspot.com.

SACRED SPACE by Rita Augsburger, M.Div. senior

The Lord speaks to us in many and varied ways. At times this voice may be a thought or a quiet, persistent pulse that continues to oscillate in intensity until it is addressed in some concrete way. Sometimes the persistent voice calls to engage with others and something new is created. Barb Otten is a member of St John’s Lutheran Church in Sterling, IL., and a junior at WTS. She had completed a two year program of Spiritual Formation and was feeling the persistent pulse to share, with her congregation, what she had learned about spiritual practices.

When I came on internship at St. John’s in the late summer of 2010, Barb mentioned this desire to me. Within moments we had a plan and a schedule to run by the pastor. Sacred Spaces, a five week Lenten series on Spiritual practices —Mandella, Stretch-N-Pray, Praying in Color, Lutheran Prayer Beads, and the Labyrinth—became the concrete way of addressing the persistent pulse.

Evolving out of this series, and another community event, a group of congregation members felt the need to create a place for people to go to pray, read scripture, contemplate, and meditate. The East Room of St John’s, formerly just a pass through, was a perfect choice. This room has now become a Sacred Space for spiritual refreshment.

From one pulse to another to others, the work of the Spirit carries on.