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Commentary: All should celebrate Black History Month

2/7/2002 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of the Rev. Sheron C. Patterson is available at http://umns.umc.org/photos/headshots.html. *Patterson is the senior pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas and the author of numerous books. Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. Sheron Patterson*

One of the best things about being a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church is the feeling of inclusiveness that I sense. There is an unabashed enthusiasm about recognizing racial diversity. Whether one is red, yellow, brown, black or white, everyone has a place at United Methodism's table. Each group comes to the table with its unique perspective and past, and all are honored, accepted and appreciated just as they are. This is one of our great denomination's undeniable strengths.

In light of our all-encompassing stance, I am excited about February being Black History Month because it provides another opportunity for us to shine together.

Historian Carter G. Woodson created "Black History Week" back in 1929. Known as the "father of black history," Woodson sought to spread the word about the accomplishments of African Americans.

This was a brave and bold move given his times. The early 1900s were a turbulent period in American history. The lynchings of African Americans were commonplace, and the mere suggestion of anything interracial was viewed as a threatening and subversive act.

Woodson hoped that "if people understood our contributions and accomplishments, they would respect African Americans." Through God's grace, America has achieved a degree of harmony, yet we still have a long way to go. Helping us get there is this annual opportunity to celebrate what God has done with and through African Americans, known as Black History Month. Other racial groups have similar calendar emphases that focus on their accomplishments as well.

Some people argue that a month-long emphasis on one race is not helpful or necessary in 2002. I suggest that the ability to share in the joy of a person of another race is one of the hallmarks of our faith. It's the Christian thing to bear one another's burdens in times of sorrow, as well as to join one another in times of happiness.

Others argue that a Black History Month celebration diminishes the accomplishments of other racial groups. I believe that being an advocate for one's own group does not mean being anti-anybody else. If individuals don't first possess confidence in themselves, who else will?

Black History Month is a positive time for us all. We should salute the greatness of Americans such as George Washington Carver, the inventor of peanut butter and numerous other peanut products. Mary McCloud Bethune, who founded United Methodism's Bethune-Cookman College in Florida on what we would consider pocket change today, deserves a collective standing ovation. These and other remarkable accomplishments have not always been taught in schools; therefore, we are in a catch-up mode together.

My attempt at helping us "catch up together" was writing African American History Month - A Calendar of Devotions, recently released by Abingdon Press. The book contains quotes from famous African Americans such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Maya Angelou. These quotes have encouraged and strengthened me personally over the years. I paired the quotes with biblical passages to create a devotional guide designed to uplift any spirit standing in the need of prayer. As I wrote, I envisioned no specific racial group as my audience. I was confident that the power of God radiated from the quotes and the Scriptures, and all who read would be blessed.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the late Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, who was president emeritus of Morehouse College in Atlanta. "It must be borne in mind that the tragedy in life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal," he once said. "The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach."

As United Methodists, we can reach the goal of eradicating hatred, bigotry and racism. Black History Month is one of our tools to accomplish this. Close-minded people thrive on the untruths and stereotypes that are born in ignorance.

During February, we can educate and inspire our nation. I thank God for Black History Month. It is a time for shining the light of knowledge on everyone, and it keeps us moving ahead.

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