An Exploration of Culture – June/July 2024

An Exploration of Culture – June/July 2024

Cadets from the Dominican Naval Academy, Vicealmirante César de Windt Lavandier

Recently, while underway aboard the USCGC EAGLE, I embarked on a voyage to the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. It marked my inaugural visit to these captivating lands—a dream I had long nurtured. Their vibrant cultures had always beckoned to me. And as I stepped ashore, the answer became clear. The sun-drenched shores of the Dominican Republic, the vibrant streets of Colombia, and the rich history of Puerto Rico – these seemingly disparate destinations became threads in a beautiful tapestry of Afro-Caribbean culture during my unforgettable visit. Each location offered a unique perspective on the profound influence of African traditions on music, dance, and even cuisine.

In the Dominican Republic, the herencia Africana, or African heritage, became evident in the percussion instruments – the resounding beats of the tambora drum resonated with a historical energy. Even the Dominican staple, mangú, a mashed plantain dish, whispered stories of Africa, with plantains being a staple food brought over by enslaved people. Meeting the cadets of the Dominican Naval Academy, the Academia Naval Vicealmirante César de Windt Lavandier, was like encountering living chapters of a shared narrative—a testament to resilience, culture, and the unbreakable bonds that span continents and generations.

Cartagena, Colombia

Colombia pulsated with a different kind of Afro-Caribbean energy. In Cartagena, the walled city resonated with the history of slavery. Here, we were greeted by the vibrant music of champeta, a genre born from the cultural gumbo of Colombian rhythms and African beats. The frenetic energy and the use of the llamador drum, a single-headed drum of West African origin, were undeniable testaments to this heritage. As I explored the bustling plazas, the sounds of salsa spilled out from cafes, a genre with deep roots in African musical traditions.

Puerto Rico, the island paradise, did not disappoint. The bomba y plena, a genre born from the struggles of enslaved Africans, filled the air with its powerful rhythms. The fast-paced drumming and the call-and-response vocals resonated with a raw emotion that transported me back to the roots of this culture. Even the vibrant colors of Puerto Rican cuisine – the sofrito base with its achiote and recaito spices – whispered stories of African influence on the island’s foodways.

I do not think it was a coincidence that I had this experience right before the NNOA and ANSO Joint Symposium. My exploration of the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Puerto Rico was a cultural immersion. Each place unveiled a unique chapter in the story of Afro-Caribbean culture, a testament to the enduring spirit and traditions brought over by enslaved Africans. This journey was a tapestry woven with the threads of resilience, joy, and the enduring human spirit.

An Exploration of Culture – June/July 2024

Rejection is an inevitable aspect of life that we all encounter. May 2024

“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;”

Psalm 118:22

Bob Marley – Cornerstone Story

I love me some Bob Marley. His music, his swag, his message…I love it all. May 11 marks 43 years since his passing, yet his legacy endures.

Bob Marley’s legacy continues to be influential despite his imperfections. He is almost revered as a deity. True fans understand the numerous challenges and hardships that shaped Bob Marley into the icon he became. His early life was marked by rejection and poverty. His mixed-race heritage made him feel like an outsider for most of his life. His father was largely absent from his life, with Bob only meeting him a few times. A pivotal moment occurred when Bob Marley sought assistance from his father’s family. Despite his striking resemblance to them, they denied knowing him, rejecting him outright. This rejection deeply wounded Marley and served as a transformative experience. He turned a painful moment into a source of inspiration, allegedly penning the song “Cornerstone” in response to this experience of rejection.

The cornerstone, a crucial element in construction, symbolizes unity and stability. It serves to establish the foundation, ensuring that the structure stands strong, and fostering unity by connecting two walls. Essentially, the cornerstone is the glue that holds everything together. Without this stone, the entire structure risks collapsing. In the same way, Bob Marley’s music served as a cornerstone, uniting people and providing stability in a world of chaos.

Bob Marley’s music was centered around unity and holding authorities accountable. He was a highly influential figure in Jamaica and the world during his lifetime. He is renowned for his efforts to reconcile two conflicting political parties at the One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica.

Bob Marley on stage with Edward Seaga of the Jamaican Labor Party and
Michael Manley of the People’s National Party. April 22, 1978

Rejection is an inevitable aspect of life that we all encounter. It can lead to bitterness and resentment or inspire us to continue spreading love and positivity. Bob Marley experienced rejection, but he used this pain as a catalyst to elevate his name beyond his family’s reputation. In essence, Bob became the cornerstone, the pivotal element in his own life’s structure.

We are all confronted with a choice. How do we handle our pain? How do we respond to rejection? Do we let it harden us and breed bitterness, or do we use it as a catalyst for transformation and greatness? Always remember the stone that the builders refused will always be the head cornerstone.

An Exploration of Culture – June/July 2024

Leave the Tomb – April 2024

“Why seek the living among the dead?”

Luke 24:5

About 1,991 years ago, a group of courageous women arrived at a tomb with a solemn purpose: to anoint the body of their crucified leader. But they were in for a huge surprise. When they arrived at the tomb, they saw that their leader’s tomb was open, and his body was missing. As the women are shocked, confused, and afraid, they notice men in dazzling clothing. These men ask the women a strange question: “Why do you look for the living amongst the dead?” What a peculiar question.

I have a recurring dream of being in my grandparents’ house. In this dream, I am alone. I don’t know how I got there, where my family is, or when they are returning. Also, I am afraid. Around this time last year, I visited my grandparents’ house. I had not set foot inside since my grandfather’s funeral 25 years prior. I walked through the house. The rooms that once held love and life now seemed smaller, memories etched in their walls. I wandered around the house, hoping to understand my recurring dream.

How often do we return to our own places of fear and pain? Like a recurring dream, we revisit the scenes of loss, betrayal, or heartache. Yet, we find that revisiting ground zero doesn’t always fulfill our longing. The past remains, but we are called to embrace the present.

Just as the women arrived at an empty tomb and felt fear, I found myself repeatedly drawn to an empty house, my heart echoing their trepidation. The parallel is uncanny. Like the empty tomb, the empty house symbolizes more than physical space. It holds memories, echoes of pain, and unanswered questions. We return to these places of pain, seeking hope, redemption, and closure. Yet, we often find ourselves staring at remnants—the linen, the walls—wondering where the answers lie.

Why do we return to these empty places?

“Why seek the living among the dead?”

The answer is not within the tomb or, in my case, the empty house. It is outside, among the living.

It’s time to walk out of those tombs. The sun is rising, casting light on a new horizon. Fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, jealousy—they no longer define us.

In the words of Nina Simone,

“It’s a new dawn.

It’s a new day.

It’s a new life for me.

And I’m feeling good.”

An Exploration of Culture – June/July 2024

Black history is integral to global history – Feb 2024

 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”

Hosea 4:6

 “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”

2 Timothy 4:2

My upbringing in the metropolitan region of Atlanta was characterized by an omnipresent aura of “Black Excellence.” This was mainly because my family lineage is steeped in the tradition of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), with my parents and siblings being proud alumni of the Atlanta University Center. The political landscape I was accustomed to was predominantly African American, with both male and female mayors and congressional members. Consequently, the Obamas were not an exception but rather a reaffirmation of the Black excellence that was a constant in my life.

Throughout my educational journey, from kindergarten to college, I was under the leadership of African American principals and presidents, both male and female. Many of my educators were products of the Atlanta University Center, which greatly influenced my decision to attend Spelman College. The representation of Spelman alumnae was compelling; these women exuded a level of acuity that I aspired to emulate. As a student, the essence of Black History was not confined to a single month but was an integral part of our curriculum throughout the year. This comprehensive exposure to my history fostered a robust sense of identity within me.

However, it was not until I ventured beyond the confines of Atlanta to pursue graduate studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, that I realized the uniqueness of my cultural upbringing. It was in this new environment that I encountered institutional racism, microaggressions, and distortions of our history for the first time. Faced with these challenges, I found myself compelled to contest the inaccuracies propagated by my professors despite the potential academic repercussions. The prospect of my history being misrepresented was unacceptable, and I was prepared to bear the consequences of defending the truth.

I believe this is our collective responsibility. We must ensure that our narratives are accurately represented, and that the truth of our identities is not compromised. We must resist attempts to erase or trivialize our history. We are not merely entertainers and athletes; we are inventors, scholars, scientists, theologians, world leaders, and so much more. Our contributions are vast and significant, and they deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

Persist in the narration of our history beyond the confines of February. Articulate the truth with unwavering conviction. Black history is integral to global history, and its significance should not be diminished. Continue to disseminate our narrative until it is recognized as the norm rather than the exception. Our history is not an anomaly; it is a standard that contributes to the rich tapestry of world history. Let us strive to ensure that it is acknowledged as such.

He is always with us.  December 2023

He is always with us. December 2023

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

On my last night as a hospital chaplain in seminary, I received a call around 3:00 am.  It had already been a hectic night.  It seemed like the pager would not stop going off.  The nurse told me that they had a baby in the pediatric intensive care unit on life support because of brain swelling from a car accident.  His mother had been driving and had been hit by a drunk driver.  Her mother was killed instantly, and now her son was on life-support.

I got myself together and walked over to the pediatric ICU to talk with the nurses and see the little man.  I had never seen a baby’s head swollen and banged up like that in my life.  While I was standing next to his bed, I noticed his name was Immanuel.  The nurses informed me that Immanuel was going to die. I prayed with little Immanuel and then visited with his mother.

When I walked into the waiting room, I immediately observed that she had a lot of support with her.  There were friends and family members all sitting with her and comforting her.  At hospitals, people tend to get scared when a chaplain enters the room because they either know or assume the chaplain brings or precedes terrible news.  Unfortunately, this was one of those times.  I informed everyone who I was and let her know I was there to support her in any way I could.

I sat and listened as the mother explained what happened that night and how she was upset because she watched her mother die because of someone else’s fault.  She then began talking about her fears for her son’s life and how she did not know what she would do if she lost him and her mother.  And then she said something I will never forget.  She said, “I named my son Immanuel, which means ‘God with us,’ so I know God is with me right now.”  It was painful to hear her say that, knowing what I knew yet, I could not tell her.  Her son was going to die.  I remained with her for the rest of the morning until she fell asleep.  I left my contact information with her friends in case she needed me later.

As I returned to my room, her words echoed, “I named my son Immanuel, which means ‘God with us,’ so I know God is with me right now.”  I began to wonder what “God with us means.”  Had God failed her in the death of her mother and son caused by the actions of an irresponsible individual?  Where is God in all of this?

God was there long before I arrived.  God was there when the accident took place.  God was there in the nurses and doctors, tending to her and her son.  God was there in the friends and family, comforting her.  God was there even in me coming there to comfort her in her time of need. And God is still there with her even now.  God is always there.  We may not always understand how God works, but we can rest assured God is with us, Immanuel.

An Exploration of Culture – June/July 2024

There is such power and freedom when we release our ego. – Nov 2023

“…in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Isaiah 30:15

Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to be quiet when you feel you have been wronged. It is human nature to defend our honor, especially when our reputation and credibility have been attacked. We don’t want these false accusations going out into the atmosphere. Lies are like millions of feathers in the wind. We cannot control their direction or recollect them.

In truth, our desire to defend ourselves is wrapped up in ego. We’re worried about how others perceive us. We don’t want people to think we’re weak or they can walk all over us. So, we immediately go to war when someone defames us because this cannot stand! This is a sign of weakness, and it gets exhausting after a while. We can’t fight everybody. And the truth is, the higher you go in leadership, the more it will happen. You become an easier target. No leader in history has walked this earth with an impeccable reputation. People are going to think what they want.

New level, new devil. Accept it. It’s not going to change.

So, what can we do?

Remain silent.

The ability to remain silent in the face of persecution shows immense strength. I did not understand the power of silence until my final year of grad school, when I had worn myself out from trying to fight and defend everything and everybody. I realized I was fighting a war I could not win. If people don’t like you, then they are not going to believe you. Conversely, those who like you are going to support you regardless. So why bother trying to defend yourself? People are going to believe whatever they want to believe.

There is such power and freedom when we release our ego. When we stop caring one way or another about the opinions of others and walk in our truth, we have freed ourselves from a self-imposed prison. Most of the situations we stress about end up working out for our good when we are in a calm and rational state of mind. When we are reactive, then we tend to make matters worse. When we are proactive, the solution comes more quickly, and we save ourselves much energy.

Free yourself.

Remain silent in the face of difficulty and trust that the truth will come out and you will be vindicated.