For most people, when someone mentions Black History Month, their minds reflectively go to the great black icons of American history such as: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Harriett Tubman. Dr. King definitely deserves his place in history because of his commitment to the civil rights cause. For me, I am most inspired not just by his cause, but how he carried it out. His commitment to non-violence was as courageous as his stand against inequality.
Who I call a hero
For me, when I think of Black History Month, the great reverend Elliot Brown Sr. comes to mind. What, you haven’t heard of him? No, you won’t read his biography in history books or even hear about him in a black history museum. However, if you want to know about him, all you have to do is ask one of his three sons, of which I am the second born.
My dad is my black history hero because he demonstrated to me the power of hard work and commitment to God’s calling. My father was born in the fifties in a poor neighborhood on the south side of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At 19, he married my mother. At times early on in his marriage, he worked two jobs to support my mother as she pursued college degrees and eventually a Master’s Degree in Education. After working for 35 years at Louisiana State University, he retired and went to Bible college. He graduated Magna Cum Laude, and now he pastors a small church in the inner city full time, while serving as a bishop and overseeing several small churches.
What inspires me about my dad is his faithfulness. He is not great because of his great achievements. He is great to me because he has been married to my mother for 47 years, raised and mentored his three sons to know and love God, and he committed himself to the calling God has placed on his life. For him, he always saw his family as his primary calling. He wasn’t perfect, as no father is, but he worked hard to create better opportunities for me and my two brothers.
By God’s grace, my brothers and I have been able to go further and accomplish more because we had a better start and foundation, thanks to our parents.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3|13-13 NIV
A lot of people tend to approach race issues from a perspective of looking backward at all the inequities, injustices, and mistreatment. I get that perspective, and I understand it. But for me, a Black American and Christ-follower, I feel compelled to live my life learning from the past while at the same time looking forward.
If my dad’s example has taught me anything, it is that you are not a victim of where you start from and that each of us are only required to do our part by being faithful to go where God has called us. As I write this, I am reminded of a scene from the movie Remember the Titans. Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington) has been selected as head football coach of this government-mandated interracial school. All the black people in the community show up at his house, celebrating his appointment and expecting him to be their moral crusader and voice. His response is, “Hey, everybody, slow down. I am not your Messiah, the Easter bunny, or anything all that special. I am just a football coach.”
This is how I have felt at times when I have reached positions of significant influence. I have often felt like other minorities expect me to be a voice for every major social issue, but internally I have felt like my internal response is, “I am just a pastor.” To me, this is a high calling. I can’t fix every social issue in the world, but what I can do is follow my father’s example to be faithful to do what God has called me to do. I believe if I do that then I will have made a difference in society.
To my core, I believe the way we, as a society, get better is by each of us choosing to do better every day in our context. The call of Jesus for everyone is to, “die to ourselves daily.” (Matthew 16|24) The power of the gospel is a very personal decision. It’s easy to point at other people or our culture and say, “Aha! I found the problem.” But Jesus is asking me to look into my own heart, first and foremost. That’s where His power is promised. Therefore, my daily goal is to learn from history but do my part by creating a better history for my kids as my father did for me.