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Putting the Pieces Together – Black History Month at Southwest 2024

This year’s Black History Month at Southwest was filled with joy, dancing, reflection, and community. Nine events were spread across February that occurred at Southwest as well as a walking tour of East Austin and Pauli Murray Scholarship Reception in Houston, Texas. 

“In the 29 days of Black History Month this year, the Southwest community ‘put the pieces together’ in worship, learning, and exploration of the Austin community,” said the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president. “Dr. Dominique Robinson led us with energy and creativity into an experience that was serious, joyful, and motivating.”

“It was an incredible honor to serve as the chair of the Black History Month committee this academic year,” said Rev. Dr. Dominique Robinson, John E. Hines Assistant Professor of Preaching. “We focused on the theme of ‘Putting the Pieces Together,’ recognizing that the work of a beloved community is ongoing and one that requires every single one of us, no matter our race, ethnicity, creed, denomination, gender, or sexuality.”

Dr. Awa Jangha and Micah Williams begin putting the pieces together on the Black History Month Southwest puzzle.

During Black History Month at Southwest, members of the Southwest community and beyond were invited to wear the different traditional colors of the pan-Africanist movement (red, green, black, and yellow). 

On February 1st, the beginning of Black History Month kicked-off with an Opening Worship in Christ Chapel. Rev. Dr. Pamela Rivera, Presiding Elder of the Austin Capital District AME, was invited to preside at the service. 

Rev. Dr. Dominique Robinson introduced and preached on the theme of Southwest’s Black History Month, “Putting the Pieces Together”. After the service, the community was invited to a fish fry in the dining hall. 

Rev. Dr. Pamela Rivera, the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, and Rev. Dr. Dominique Robinson at the Black History Month Kick-Off Celebration.

On February 2nd, Southwest hosted the Black History Month Jubilee Celebration. The Rev. Dr. James Wesley Dennis, III, Associate Program Director at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, was invited to preach. Additionally, the Praise Team from Grant AME Worship Center in Austin was invited to provide the music for the celebration. 

The Jubilee Celebration was one to remember with live music, preaching, prayer, and a special mime praise performance. After the service, the celebration continued in the dining all for jambalaya and an Afro Dance lesson from Diana Ventura, a Latinx Concentration Counseling student at Southwest. 

The Rev. Dr. James Wesley Dennis, III preaching at the Jubilee Celebration.

The Rev. Dr. James Wesley Dennis, III is an ordained Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, James has served congregations in South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as the connectional church. He graduated from Morehouse College, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Candler School of Theology (Emory University). The Rev. Dr. James Wesley Dennis’s sermon at the Jubilee Celebration can be viewed here.

On Tuesday, February 6th, Dr. Donyelle McCray visited Southwest as the Payne lecturer. Dr. McCray is the Associate Professor of Homiletics at Yale Divinity School, and her scholarship focuses on African American preaching, sermon genre, and medieval women’s spirituality. She is the author of The Censored Pulpit: Julian of Norwich as Preacher. Dr. McCray’s lecture presented the fruit of her archival research on the life and writing of Pauli Murray.

Dr. Donyelle McCray and Rev. Dr. Dominique Robinson during the Q&A of the Payne Lecture.

During the lecture, Dr. McCray highlighted Pauli Murray’s journey especially through her poetry, letters, and sermons. Dr. McCray read excerpts from Murray’s work and provided observations and connections to the influence Pauli Murray had on the Civil Rights Movement, The Episcopal Church, and gender equality. 

Dean Kittredge reflected, “Dr. Donyelle McCray’s evocation of Pauli Murray’s life and work was spellbinding. In embodying Pauli Murray, Dr. McCray shared both Pauli and herself.”

Left to right: Rev. Dr. Dominique Robinson, Dr. Donyelle McCray, and the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge.

The Payne Lecture is a lecture series held each February that is hosted by the Southwest Board of Trustees. The Payne Lecture focuses on mission, congregational leadership, evangelism, or congregational development, and is named in honor of the Right Reverend Claude Payne, former chair of the seminary’s board of trustees and Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Read more about the Payne Lecture here.

On Monday, February 12th, Southwest celebrated the life of Absalom Jones (1746-1818), the first black priest in America. The celebration took place during Monday Eucharist in Christ Chapel. The Rev. Canon Simón Bautista from Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, Texas preached at the service. Watch his sermon here.

Each Thursday after noonday prayer in Christ Chapel, Southwest hosts Chapel Talk, a space for students to ask questions about the service. On February 15th, Dr. Gloria Harrison Quinlan joined Southwest for a special Black History Month Chapel Talk entitled, Gospel Sing-a-long. Dr. Quinlan is a Houston native and received the Bachelor of Music Education degree in Voice from Texas Southern University, the Master of Music in Voice from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Voice from The University of Texas at Austin. She is a successful performer and choral conductor. She lives in Austin and so graciously came to Southwest to share her gifts with students. Dr. Quinlan led students in two gospel songs and delivered a short lecture on the history of gospel music and performance. 

First stop on the Celebrate Black Austin Walking Tour in East Austin.

On Saturday, February 24th, the Counselors for Social Justice at Southwest organized the Celebrate Black Austin Walking Tour through East Austin. This is the second annual walking tour that is fully organized and led by Southwest students.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with how the tour went. It was a beautiful day and the attendees were all in good spirits,” shares Jane Obi, President of the Counselors for Social Justice at Southwest. “Celebrating Austin’s Black history matters because it highlights the incredible impact of African Americans on the city’s growth and culture. From influential leaders and entrepreneurs to the soulful beats of Black musicians, Austin’s story is incomplete without acknowledging these contributions. It’s about highlighting resilience, honoring struggles, and celebrating triumphs that have shaped Austin into the diverse and vibrant city it is. By embracing this history, we promote understanding, equality, and unity, ensuring that everyone feels valued and represented in our shared narrative. It’s about keeping the legacy alive and inspiring future generations to keep pushing for positive change.”

The initial one tour time planned for Saturday quickly filled up with over 100 people interested and a second tour time was added to account for the large interest. The walking tour was open to the local community to attend and many Austinites attended who were not connected to Southwest, some even joining in on the tour midway through. Some of the informational stops along the tour included Wesley United Methodist Church, George Washington Carver Museum and Library, and the Voyage of Soulsville Mural. 

Counselors for Social Justice partnered with several Black-owned businesses in East Austin for this tour including food trucks, Kenny Dorham’s Backyard, and a Black Makers Market. Additionally, commemorative shirts were sold to raise funds for continued opportunities by Counselors for Social Justice at Southwest. View the tour’s E-Guide for more information. 

Dr. Renita Weems delivering the Black History Month Keynote Address.

On Monday, February 26th, Dr. Renita Weems delivered the Black History Month keynote address. She is the visiting professor for the Spring 2024 semester at Southwest and focused her lecture on Huldah, a woman prophet that appears in 2 Kings in the Bible. Dr. Weems shared with Southwest her vast knowledge of hermeneutics, and womanist and feminist scholarship. Many members of the Southwest and local Austin community members attended the lecture. View Dr. Weems’s lecture here.

On Thursday, February 29th, Southwest celebrated the end of Black History Month with a closing worship honoring the Feast of Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (1858-1964). Anna was an Episcopal educator and author from Raleigh, North Carolina. She was one of the most prominent African-American scholars in U.S. history and is often referred to as the “Mother of Black Feminism”.

Attendees of the Keynote Address during the Q&A.

In line with Southwest’s 2024 Black History Month theme – “Putting the Pieces Together” – a puzzle was designed for the community to complete throughout the month. During the closing worship, the remaining pieces were placed in the puzzle during a special prayers for the people honoring Black History Month. One puzzle piece remained missing to represent the work that is still left to do. 

“I hoped to expand what I’ve seen done in my tenure at Southwest to make sure that the history, accomplishments, contributions, and hardships of those of African ancestry globally were celebrated during February,” said Dr. Robinson. “And I’m appreciative of the tremendous teamwork that every student, staff person, faculty, and administrator embodied and represented to make it a successful impactful time together.”

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