If you have never experienced this moving tribute expressed annually in our sanctuary through renowned teaching and drama, its core goal is to take not only our community, but the world at large, on a walk down memory lane to get a clear understanding of:
Who the African in America is.
Why he/she are who they are.
How we can reverse the thought patterns that have been ingrained in our psyches, in some cases paralyzing some of us, from generations foregone and still remain present in us today.
In 1995, St. Paul Community Baptist Church (SPCBC) of East New York, Brooklyn, led by the vision of its 6th Pastor, Rev. Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood, initiated its first Commemoration of The MAAFA. Prior to the Commemoration, Rev. Youngblood began a dialogue with his staff and church leadership about the need for African –Americans to grapple with the ravages and vestiges of slavery. The catalyst for this dialogue was the age-old question, "What’s wrong with Black people?" Dr. Youngblood’s prophetic response was, "We have yet to mourn the loss of our ancestors."
Dr. Youngblood’s conversations were followed by years of presentations and lectures brought to the church and community by a cadre of renowned scholars such as Dr. Marimba Ani, Erriel Roberson, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Na’im Akbar, Attorney Alton Maddox, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, Dr. Edwin Nichols, Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary, Dr. Cornel West, Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Randall Robinson, Jane Elliot, Noel Ignatiev, The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond and a host of others. By way of new knowledge and truths shared in these sessions the congregation was forced to see the historic struggle and survival of people of African ancestry in an unparalleled and empowering light.
For years, issues and discussions about slavery and racism were, and still remain, taboo in the African-American community, in particular, and the American psyche in general. Our forbearers had so divorced themselves from the pain of remembering, that selective amnesia became second nature. This absence of conscious memory is a major missing link our individual and collective healing. Thus, resultant of a dire need to address the residual effects of Post-Traumatic Slavery Disorder, The MAAFA Suite… A Healing Journey™ evolved.
The MAAFA Suite…A Healing Journey™, the centerpiece of the church’s annual commemorative program, is appropriately described as transformative theatre or sacred psychodrama and is historical theatre at its best. It brings to the forefront of the American public, a story that places the history of this nation in its truest perspective and offers an opportunity for all people to understand the nature of the oppression inflicted upon generations of Africans in America.
Since 2009, St. Paul’s 7th and current Senior Pastor Rev. David K. Brawley, picked up the mantle and has advanced the work of The MAAFA in a mighty way. The theatrical production embraced a new energy, moving to a followable story format which marked a departure from the vignette scenes of earlier years. He structured a small groups model to keep the production cast together past commemoration season which called they meet monthly to discuss ways The MAAFA could continue to grow and reach new audiences in profound ways. Through Rev. Brawley’s reach across the country, the speaker series has brought some of the most powerful voices in the area of social justice to East Brooklyn including, but not limited to: Congressman John Lewis, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Rev. Dr. H. Beecher Hicks, Sonia Sanchez, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, the late Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby, Rev. Dr. Jawanza Colvin, Karen Hunter, Dr. Eboni Marshall-Turman and Glenn E. Martin (Founder of JustLeadershipUSA). He has also added to the long list of churches who have been inspired by the trailblazing work of St. Paul (over the years, The MAAFA Suite….A Healing Journey™ has been presented by SPCBC in Atlanta, GA; Bridgeport, CT; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Gulfport, MS; Seattle, WA and is now said to be commemorated in more than fifty locations including St. Croix, USVI) and has stirred the creative energies of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church (Cleveland), Trinity United Church of Christ (Chicago) and Mt. Ennon Baptist Church (Maryland) – who have all created their own theatrical presentations. And in 2019, a delegation of thirteen led by Pastor Brawley traveled to Ghana, West Africa for the Year of Return Pan African Historical Festival sponsored by the PANAFEST Foundation where commitments were made to bring The MAAFA Suite…A Healing Journey™ to the motherland in the near future.
The Commemoration at SPCBC, however, was not limited to The MAAFA Suite…A Healing Journey™ presentation, but has included MAAFA Museum Tours, intensive workshops on undoing racism, visits to the African Burial Ground, seaside ceremonies, and the co-sponsoring of the Amistad slave ship during its 1999 pilgrimage to New York. To date, The Commemoration of The MAAFA has been experienced by more than 200,000 people. What a mighty and rich legacy!
The term MAAFA (pronounced Mah- AH-fah) is a Kiswahili word which gives definition to the catastrophic event experienced by millions of African people during the middle passage journey from Africa bound for enslavement in the Americas. The word MAAFA is the concept of Dr. Marimba Ani, African-American scholar and author, and has been adopted
in contemporary scholarship.
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