The Very Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’ words carried a palpable sense of purpose as she recognized current challenges but acknowledged that Christian faith fuels her hope for the future. During Tuesday’s Lowell Humanities Series webinar, Douglas discussed her latest book, Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter.
Amey Victoria Adkins-Jones, professor of theology and African and African Diaspora Studies at Boston College, introduced Douglas, the dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and professor of theology at Union College.
Douglas began her talk with a description of the ancient city of Corinth during biblical times, comparing the socioeconomic and religious divisions present in that age to those of the modern world. She referenced Paul the Apostle’s proclamation regarding the importance of faithfulness.
“Paul spoke these words to remind the Corinthian church that the power, if not veracity, of their Christian faith rested … on the fact that the one crucified was resurrected,” Douglas said.
The theologian then connected the crucifixion of Jesus to the racial violence that some Black Americans face today. She reflected on the effect of repeated injustice on her hope for the future.
Douglas discussed her 27-year-old son’s despair after learning about a 9-year-old Black child who was denied service at a restaurant for his casual dress, while a white child was served wearing similar clothes.
Thinking about her son’s and her own distress after the event, Douglas spoke about the Afro-pessimist perspective. Douglas defined Afro-pessimism as the belief that anti-Blackness is irreversibly embedded in American society.
“Afro-pessimism argues that anti-Blackness is so deeply ingrained not simply within systems and structures, but in the very psychic framework of the world, that the affirmation of Black humanity is impossible” Douglas said.
Douglas discussed how she once contemplated taking up the Afro-pessimist view but rejected the perspective following personal reflection.
Throughout her life, she said she found ways to believe in a better future through the example of her grandmother. Her grandmother worked as an elevator operator, standing in a windowless box for eight hours a day, but she still held tight to her dream of her children completing high school and remained grateful for what she had, Douglas said.
Despite her determination to fulfill the dreams that motivated her grandmother, Douglas said her faith has wavered. During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Douglas observed the offenses committed against Black Americans and said the assaults turned Black people into sacrifices that served American white supremacy.
Douglas said that this experience prompted her to question whether Jesus’ death on the cross legitimized Black crucifixion. Once again, Douglas rejected this view.
“The very fact that Black lives are victims of crucifying death is an affront to God’s very vision,” Douglas said. “The way to a new world where Black life will matter is not the way of Jesus’ death on the cross, but is the way of his resurrected life.”
Douglas concluded by emphasizing the importance of retaining faith. She said that Black people who were born into slavery would have thought of freedom as a distant impossibility, yet they still dreamt of freedom. This idea motivated her to remain hopeful through the ongoing racial injustices of today’s America, she said.
“Theirs is a resurrecting hope because when I think of them and their fight for freedom, I am resurrected,” Douglas said. “Because Christ was raised from the dead, my faith, my Black faith, and the promises of God [are] not in vain.”
Screenshot by Holly Branco / For The Heights