By Kim Kirkley, Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant®
As Black History Month comes to a close I am struck by 2 things: we celebrate the power of love and the resilience of African Americans during the same month. I used to feel both celebrations were trite. Valentine’s Day? Simply an opportunity for greeting card companies to cash in. Black History Month? the shortest month of the year, a chance to pretend Black History started with enslavement and inequalities ended for the most part with slavery’s abolition.
After years of feeling unworthy and unloved, I had a stress breakdown that became a breakthrough. Finally, I learned the grace of genuine love. Now, when Valentine’s Day rolls around I am glad there is a day for people to be reminded that love is the only thing that really matters. Professionally, I became swept up in the power of sharing transformational love stories through ceremony. Every wedding or funeral ceremony I perform is a reminder that we each have love in our lives whether it be the love between partners, amongst friends, or between a parent and a child and even between a human and a pet. Love is the pulsating power of life, well-lived.
But what of Black History Month? The stories we tell of these human beings of denigrated heritage who do extraordinary things are reminders to the transformational power of love. Every Black History Month we hear stories of Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman. We are reminded of MLK’s inspirational quote: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” But this quote is rarely mentioned, “The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’” This one tends to be ignored too: “Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Viet Nam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.” This is love too. This is real love the kind of love in action that merits reflection and discipline. The kind of love that calls each of us to give of ourselves. We think we know Dr. King just like we think we know Harriet Tubman.
Tubman was a woman so committed to the power of love and taking action for something better that there is no word to describe her achievements. The title “A Conductor on the Underground Railroad” is cute but what about her tactical achievements on the battlefield. Do you know that she guided a Union Colonel in the Combahee River Raid during the Civil War? In spite of a debilitating brain injury, her legendary accomplishments were sparked because of the power of her love for her first husband, John Tubman. She left her freedom in Philadelphia to go back south to rescue him. That is love: Tubman Love!
Tubman Love is not that weak helpless, self-effacing, connection that too many of us grew up reading about. It is real love. It is a commitment to an overarching sense of good and equality! The kind of love we all need. Love that makes us stronger, wiser, braver. That’s why it is so apt to celebrate love and black history during the same month: Love is our superpower. Those heroes who have gone before us and those who are making history now will often tell us that they were able to accomplish what they will because of the prospering power of love. As Black History Month comes to a close, in these troubling times, let us let love rule us. Let us invite love to strengthen us, undergird us, propel us to live lives like our heroes with more love for all and less love for none.
Here’s a mini ritual to Celebrate Black History Month and invite more King Love and Tubman Love into your family’s life. By the way, you and your family do not need to be of African heritage to celebrate Black History month or this ritual. Have all the members of your household hold hands as you stand in a circle. First, give thanks to your immediate ancestors by saying thank you and their names. Ideally, each person will say at least one person’s name. Then everyone states the name of a person of African heritage they admire and why. Finally, the eldest person in the circle repeats these admirable qualities and gives thanks they have been shared and looks forward to seeing the ways these values are lived in their family. Hugs and feasting follow!