The Church of the Advocate hosted “James Baldwin: God’s Revolutionary Voice,” a weekend of events honoring the teachings of James Baldwin, July 7 — 9. The effort was organized by the Saturday Free School, a free community class at the Advocate that studies African-American culture and history.
Organizers said the celebration was an effort to highlight Baldwin’s ideas about race and other social issues, and spark solutions.
“It comes out of the racial crisis we are facing in the United States and a crisis that does not appear to have a quick solution. This is a crisis that has been building for a number of years. It has to do with mass incarceration, mass impoverishment, police brutality, the rise of racist terror groups. It just did not start on Nov. 8. It has been brewing and accumulating for decades. Now we are at this moment of truth.” said Anthony Monteiro the Saturday Free School instructor. “Baldwin is a very important thinker for this time and no-one except DuBois addresses the problem of race and whiteness with such clarity and truthfulness as Baldwin does.”
The celebration opened with the “Call to Celebrate the Life of James Baldwin,” which featured music and poetry by different artists including Ursula Rukcer, Zumbi Soweto and drummers and jazz musicians Keir Neuringer and Mike Watson. Throughout the weekend, an estimated 600 people participated in the event — partaking in panel discussions; readings and discussions of Baldwin’s writings and artistic expressions honoring the writer’s legacy. Several screenings of films and documentaries on Baldwin were also shown, including the recent “I Am Not Your Negro.”
As Baldwin’ ideas were discussed, organizers encouraged people to think about his work not just as revolutionary but also spiritual.
“James Baldwin was that kind of prophetic voice, a voice that dared to speak the truth even before many had developed the ears to hear the prediction and the promise,” said the Rev. Renee McKenzie, pastor of Church of the Advocate, in a speech discussing Baldwin’s critique of the church. “The theology and practice of the American church transported across the globe was shaped by the need for white domination more than the need for or the embrace of the prophetic truth of Jesus Christ. Baldwin articulates this insightfully in the discussion of how the core Christian doctrine of salvation has been used to support the outcome of white supremacy and how the Black church is complicit in this if for no other reason than its failure to challenge blindness as a key church operating principle.”
McKenzie continued to issue a call to action for the church.
“[Baldwin] would probably agree that the Black church would be of greater benefit to the community if more of us would get off our knees praying for salvation tomorrow and start acting for our safety today. Fear must be faced. Or else we run the real risk of becoming people whose spirits have lost the ability to soar.”
Activist Elias Gonzalez, who also attends the Saturday Free School, said one of the major takeaways from the conference is people of color identifying white supremacy and removing it from how they live their lives.
“We allow white supremacy to define things that are occurring naturally in Black America [and] it distorts our perception of how we feel we need to perform aspects of ourselves because we are told how we should be,” said Gonzalez, adding that, Black people must “readjust religion so it serves us instead of us serving it.”