‘Black August’ reminds us our collective power is insurmountable

Inspired by the Montgomery Riverfront Uprising, Revs. Alisha Lola Jones and Calvin Taylor Skinner explore Black August's transformative themes of radical unity, faith, and collective action.

“Notes on faith” is theGrio’s inspirationalinterdenominational series featuring Black thought leaders across faiths.

Family, we are well into August, and the sociopolitical climate is beyond! The headlines have been ablaze, from incendiary policies from the Florida governor to the mounting indictments against a former president to the Black angels who descended upon what some have termed the “Montgomery Riverfront Uprising.” 

Honestly, we don’t typically distribute violent videos in our household, but bae-bae, the “Alabama Brawl” was a literal and metaphoric study for the ages as we watched a whole community rise to shut it down for one Black man. From an Alabama city that was one of the seats of slavery in the South, the echoes of a contemporary racially charged assault reverberated through the global Black community. Similarly, the collective intervention on behalf of a brother in need became a love revolution and rallying cry as it streamed across social media.

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The entrance to the Alabama riverfront in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, where the riverboat The Harriott docks. Several people have been charged in the large fight on the dock captured on video by numerous spectators. (Photo by Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

The timeliness of the Montgomery Riverfront Uprising occurring during the month often referred to as “Black August” serves as a poignant reminder of the legacy of freedom fighters who’ve valiantly sacrificed their lives and personal liberty in the pursuit of Black liberation and Black Power. Black Power, a potent sociopolitical movement rooted in the ideas of self-determination and communal upliftment, emerges as a beacon of inspiration. This narrative of resilience, woven into the fabric of Black history, beckons us to channel our energies toward building a society where we stand up for one another with unwavering resolve.

During this commemorative month that emerged from the 1970s struggle for Black liberation, we honor our ancestors and elders, fallen freedom fighters and political prisoners, who had the courage to stand strong and firm in the face of immense danger. We are inspired by Marcus Garvey, Assata Shakur, and Huey P. Newton, who exemplified extraordinary resilience in sociopolitical mobilization. As conscious Black public theologians rooted in the Black prophetic tradition, we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and Medgar Evers, to name a few, who embraced activism and faith — particularly with a focus in the South.  

Rooted in the spirit of resistance and resilience, Black August uplifts. We keep hope, and we keep pressing. Do we have a choice other than hope, family? 

This Black August, let’s imagine a world where the instinctive response to one person’s or community’s suffering is to immediately halt and form a united front against an injustice — by any means necessary. This notion challenges us to transcend individual interests or comfort to rally around those in desperate need. In a society plagued by prejudice and discrimination, the power of a community’s united front can be a transformative force. Our radical love and unapologetic unity is our salvation.

This salvation isn’t new. We’ve known this kind of radical power, rooted in deep love and respect for our people because our ancestors and elders taught us, showed us, and made us. 

As we commemorate Black August and process what some have termed “the Montgomery Riverboat Uprising,” the themes of faith and support found in Psalm 3:1-4 & 6 resonate deeply. 

“LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain…I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”

Reflecting on it all, we were inspired to reinterpret the text: “Oh, my God, there are so many of them coming out of nowhere, surrounding me, saying, ‘We’ve got you right where we want you.’ But you, God, working through your people, have my back, shielding me, coming stronger and harder than I could have imagined. May I fear no evil, knowing You are with me, even if thousands of enemies surround me.” 

This biblical reference exemplifies how through our legacy of faith and solidarity, we both are and are sheltered by pillars of support. Within our heritage, there is an imperative to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the face of adversity. Our power together is insurmountable, and at the end of the day:

We. Are. All. We. Got. 

We know it is hard out here. Sometimes it seems as if lasting change is far off. Let’s not lose hope, Family. Let us stand as a community and channel our collective energy toward ensuring no one stands alone. As we commit ourselves to the values that embrace love and respect towards each other, let us be confident that when we come together to champion a just cause, the impact is profound, far-reaching and lasting. 

There is something beautiful about being confident that we’ve got each other’s backs. The hard truth is that these Divided States of America may refuse to confront injustices. However, this recent event underscores the significance of rallying around each other. Let us reimagine a society where a just society knows no bounds and embodies the change we wish to see. Heeding the call to shield the distressed, calling upon the spirit of courage connected to Black August, and drawing from the lessons taught by decolonized history, there is a blueprint for a just and compassionate society. Let us press forward to the “Bright Hope for Tomorrow” with the reminder that we are our ancestors — who, in turn, are mighty and courageous. Go with this reminder: We are built not just to survive but to thrive as a community. 

Creator, help us see each other when we are under attack, whether it is one or many of us.

Help us notice the signs and pleas for help.

Empower us to respond quickly.

Teach us our power in numbers.

Show us days of great overcoming.

Make us one.

Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones is a faith leader helping people to find their groove in a fast-paced world, as a consultant for various arts and faith organizations and professor of music in contemporary societies at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. She is an award-winning author of Flaming? The Peculiar Theopolitics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance (Oxford University Press). For more information, please visit DrAlisha.com.

Rev. Calvin Taylor Skinner is dedicated to empowering frontline communities in Knoxville, Tenn. and the United Kingdom. He uses Faith and Policy to address energy justice, criminal justice reform, voter education/mobilization, electoral politics, and global affairs. Along with his wife, Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones, they lead InSight Initiative, a consulting firm focusing on capacity building and live events production.

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