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Graduate Theological Union - American Baptist Seminary of the West * Black Church-Africana Religious Studies * Women's Studies in Religion

WOMANIST SYMPOSIUM PROJECT

                                     “But Who Do They Say I am?”

Womanist Symposium Project

The womanist Symposium Project positions itself by opening the door within the community to include the voices of Black women that are missing in academia.  As members of the academy and the community, we share our perspectives and experiences under the rubric of womanist thought as contextual to the experiences related to Black women in general.  By engaging in meaningful dialogue with members of the black community as well as all interest persons to build a deeper understanding on critical unresolved issues.

In the Fall, 2011, a group of seminary trained clergy sisters, consisting of professors, pastors, students who are also mothers’ grandmothers, aunties and activists came together under the program.  The name “Womanist Symposium Project” identifies our work as an extension of the Black Church/Africana Religious Studies Certificate Program, James A. Noel, PhD, Director H. Eugene Farlough Chair at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.  The members of the Womanist Symposium Project are committed to hosting workshops, symposia, and conferences that reflect he theoretical framework that support theory with praxis on the subject of womanism in a Black Church setting.   This group of committed women brought our theological education and intellectual minds that includes PhD’s, PhD candidates, Doctor of Ministry Master of Divinity and Arts, Master of Public Administration to the “kitchen table” as a way of brainstorming how we could bridge the divide between the seminary and our Beloved black community where we serve, work, and live; the place where we call “home:, the place where we are nourished and loved.

We felt the best place to bridge the seminary and the Black Church contextually is in the setting of the Black Church.  Most importantly, collectively we felt a “calling” to engage in justice peace and faith that relate to a mutuality of trust.  Secondly, in choosing the Black Church as a location for holding the womanist symposiums, we were putting into “praxis”, the meaning of serving the church and the community.  Our understanding is that there are strong webs of connection to the academy and the community.  Thirdly, we wanted to focus on the intersectionality of experience culture and faith tradition as a way of situating the lived experiences of Black women into the Black community.  Fourthly, the history of the Black Church continues to be a place where issues of importance has come forth as it relates to the experiences of Black people.  Lastly, we wanted to serve as “healers”, and wisdom bearers by portraying the ambiguous and liberatory aspects of the lived experiences of Black women by taking into account the deep accumulated effects of class, race and gender.

We used the uttered words of Jesus Christ, the Great Liberator, who posed a critical question to his disciples:  “But who do they say I am?” [Matt 16:15 NRSV}.  This critical inquiry from Jesus came as a result of “identity confusion”.  In addition to being misunderstood, maligned and marginalized Jesus was crucified; that same question can be applied to African American women.  The Symposium is a one of a kind in the Bay Area.  All are welcome as we believe in holistic education with a focus on the theological and social relevance of Black women.In the short two years of its existence, The Womanist Symposium Project has served a critical mass of individuals exceeding over one hundred women in each respective symposium; symbolic of the interest others have on the subject of womanist theology. 

The first symposium featured the Honorable Congresswoman Barbara Lee as keynote speaker.  Lee provided insight on her continued “drum major justice” methodology of standing up when others sit down.  The most recent Symposium was held January 2013 consisting of two plenary sessions with over one hundred attendees.  The first plenary session through the encouraging scholarship of outstanding luminaries; Margaret Wilkerson and Joi Carr, PhD’s.  Both women enlightened the audience on the topic “Media Madness”.  The importance of this subject is that Black women are the only race of women that are continually maligned in the media.  The negative images include but are not limited to the media’s portrayal and betrayal of black women as Jezebel, Mammy, Welfare Queen and Angry Black Women or hypersexual.  The second plenary session entitled “My Mamma’s Shoes don’t Fit my Feet, discussed the complexity of the intergenerational divide whereas black youth/young adults are growing up in a society without the lived experiences of the struggles for equality.  Each generation has unique challenges that creates tension and misunderstanding.  The evidence of the substantial gathering of attendees confirms the need to promote and continue the Womanist Symposium Project as medium for the seminary and the Black Church. 

* Written by Rev. Martha C. Taylor, DMin, Full Article appeared in  SFTS Chimes Magazine 2013 

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