Singing praise to God during Black Catholic History Month
A sense of joy and reverence filled the rooms of more than 500 students Tuesday, with guest speaker and noted scholar Kim Harris bringing to them the sounds of Black gospel music and knowledge of what it means to be Catholic and African American.
Harris, assistant professor of African American Thought and Practice in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, spoke and sang to students as they sat in their rooms across campus. The virtual presentation “Songs of Faith, Songs of Freedom” was organized by UD’s Gudorf Chair in Catholic Intellectual Traditions, associate professor Tim Gabrielli. The two were introduced to one another by associate professor of religious studies Cecilia Moore.
“Our champion on campus for Black Catholic History Month is Dr. Cecilia Moore,” said Gabrielli in the Zoom interview. “She’s been organizing events to celebrate Black Catholic History month for years, and she continues to do so.”
Gabrielli said Harris was a clear choice for guest speaker to celebrate of Black Catholic History Month on campus. Her research focuses on the life work of Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration who transcended racism and ministered to her fellow African Americans.
By incorporating her own experiences and discussing Bowman’s history, Harris opened the door for many students to become inquisitive about the past of the Catholic Church and just what this month is all about.
“She’s able to do that historical work, put together with singing and reference to music and study of music, and she presents it in a way that is inviting,” said Gabrielli.
Harris played for the students recordings of her vocal group, Black Catholic Voices United, and live performances of gospels such as “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind On Jesus” and a call-and-response section of “I’m On My Way.”
When discussing these Black sacred songs, Harris expressed how Bowman thought of gospels as personal expression and spiritualism.
“It’s not just about what the music says, but it’s also about what the music does,” said Harris.
By teaching the importance of Black Catholic history through song, Harris showed what music can do to enlighten and rouse the spirit of youth to make a change. Her presentation was also a way for UD to show its commitment to Black Catholic History month and the wider diversity initiatives on campus.
“President Spina has this initiative, that he rolled out over the summer, for our university to become even more of an anti-racist institution,” said Gabrielli, referring to a university that actively works to dismantle racism on campus and in the wider community. “The things that we’ve done, the things that we’ve failed to do or could do better, are all in the forefront of our minds.”
Among the other events scheduled for Black Catholic History Month is a lecture hosted by Sandra Yocum, University Professor of Faith and Culture. She will introduce Matthew Cressler of the College of Charleston, who will discuss Catholicism and racism at 7 p.m. Nov. 17.
“These are conversations we need to have in a way that makes these issues more easily approachable,” said Gabrielli.