As a Diversity Professional, February was always an incredibly busy month. So much so that when I transitioned out of positions where programming for this month was included in my job description, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was refreshing to not worry about creating educational programming for other people. It was beginning to feel like a repetitive, white-washed chore that was designed to PROVE to majority culture that black people contributed to American history. EXHAUSTING!!
These days I intentionally seek to educate myself about the history of the people who originated from Africa and “settled” (please notice the subtext in using that term) in these United States. There are so MANY amazing stories of people whose lives and gifts have impacted our world. This February I want to highlight a few of those stories. Every Thursday, I’ll feature stories of black “living legends” who have personally influenced me. We begin with a man who at 87 has just released his final manifesto on race, faith, and reconciliation: Dr. John M. Perkins.
Dr. Perkins and I on the grounds of the Perkins Foundation in Jackson, MS
I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Perkins on multiple occasions. The most memorable was when I led a group of students on a week-long cultural immersion trip to Jackson, MS. We had daily Bible studies and discussions around issues of community building and development, faith, race, and reconciliation. There was required reading and homework. We sat at his dinner table and played with his grandchildren. We walked the neighborhood and community where he has invested so much of his time and energy. But, most importantly we listened. With humble conviction and remarkable wisdom, 10 college students and I listened to the stories of a man who embodies radical reconciliation. It was a life-changing trip!
Dr. Perkins grew up in a Mississippi sharecropping family. His stories of being jailed, beaten, spat upon, and degraded will break your heart. His stories of resilient faith in the face of blatant and brutal oppression are almost unbelievable. Most importantly his strong conviction to LOVE NO MATTER WHAT inspire me to do better. This Black History Month, I encourage you to delve into the life of Dr. Perkins. If you have time, I’d highly recommend volunteering at The John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, MS.
From the back cover:
Dr. John M. Perkins is the founder and president emeritus of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation and co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He has served in advisory roles under five U.S. presidents, is one of the leading evangelical voices to come out of the American civil rights movement, and is an author and international speaker on issues of reconciliation, leadership, and community development. For his tireless work, he has received 14 honorary doctorates. One Blood, along with Dr. Perkins other books, provides an enduring legacy for a man who continues to leave his mark on American culture.