Imagine! Sparks Community Conversation at Union Church

By Evan J. Cutts

On a Tuesday evening in late November, while gathered at the historic Union United Methodist Church, a community took an important step in re-envisioning a more creative, courageous, and compassionate world.

“Imagine! is a vision born from my desire for our communities to imagine the world we want— the relationships, the economies, the cultures, the futures—and intentionally focus our energies into creating that world, in small and great ways,“ said Rev. Karlene Griffiths Sekou, curator, creative director, theologian, and community organizer of Imagine“To imagine is to bring revolution through the evolution of our individual and collective selves.”

In other words, to imagine is to see and feel the world as it ought to be and ask: what is my part in making this vision a reality? Who must I become? and What must I do? When the audience of roughly 250 settled in, we were encouraged to participate not just spectate, to speak openly. Rev. Karlene asked us a simple question: “What brings you here?”

Faith. Frustration. Love. Hope. Community. Resilience. Witness. Peace. Union.

Much of the program involved active audience participation. which Rev. Griffiths Sekou referred to as “the ‘ritual aesthetic’ seen in sacred spaces including social and community movements.” Under the energized guidance of Butana Molefe, a South African Applied Theatre practitioner, we participated in call and response, dancing, and drumming activities to create a wholesome and sacred community space. After welcoming the gathered community and setting the conceptual framework for deep connection, healing, curiosity, and embodied, principled actions, Rev. Griffiths Sekou introduced the guest collaborators: Poet and Arts educator Neiel Israel; Millennial Activists United for Ferguson (MAU) Co-founder Brittany Farrell; and Harvard Professor of Public Philosophy, Dr. Cornel West. Rev.Griffiths Sekou, also a Harvard Divinity School graduate, served both as a skillful curator and participant in the conversation.

The speakers spoke of the roles of art and imagination within social movements; effective methods for organizing one’s community; and preparing to “reject imperialism and supremacisms, fight for all Black Lives and humanity, and infuse cultural regeneration.”

“Who has influenced you most, and why?” Griffiths Sekou asked the speakers:

“I know that I am who I am, because of someone who loved me,” answered Dr. Cornell West. “And I am inspired daily, by Martin Luther King, Jr., John Coltrane, and Nina Simone, to name a few.”

“People who open their mouths and speak about love and goodness,” replied Neiel. “My mother in particular, [who], said to me over the holidays, ‘You know my prayers never expire?’ I didn’t know what to do with myself.” The influence of her mother’s goodness and faith was made clearer when Neiel took the stage to perform original poetry. Opening with a powerful piece, “Ain’t,” inspired questions and imaginings about the choices and influence a Black girl might have in moving through the world.

“Who said God ain’t in a Black girl’s mouth?” Neiel thundered to a standing ovation of a packed room shaken with big love. As we sat back down, Rev. Sekou took to the podium and stated: “To imagine is to actively participate in self-reflective work which leads to one’s embodiment of the values one claims. At every turn, one chooses not only what one will do, but also what kind of human being one will be.” 

By her definition, and in the context of community, to imagine requires that we stay in deep, critical, and honest conversation with each other. During the closing Q&A, speaker Brittany Ferrell posed a question for the entire audience to consider, one that remains with Rev. Griffiths Sekou and me today:

“Who do you want to inspire to move their feet? To do the good work?”

This is both a question and a journey. For some, the first answer may be oneself, for others a loved one. What matters is to actively participate in the work, to reimagine a brighter unified tomorrow.

Imagine! was an evening of art, spirit, dialogue, and inspiration sponsored by Black Lives Matter Boston, The Dignity Project International, The Union Church, Arlington Street Church, Veterans for Peace, Dorchester People for Peace, and First Parish Church in Brookline.

Imagine! Will be returning to the Arlington Street Church on January 21, 2018, at 3:00 PM! All are invited to join the art and critical conversation. 

Photo Credit: Katherine L Borrazzo