By Liz S. Alexander,
A Black millennial woman in ministry in the 21st century is audacious and courageous. She is willful and responsible. She is serious1. I believe she must be in order for her to actualize her purpose, in what Black feminist scholar, Bell Hooks describes as an imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchal society. Similarly, she must be, in order to survive in what founding mother of womanist theology, Jacquelyn Grant describes as an oppressive (Black) Christian church culture, monopolized by men who conspires to keep Black women relegated to the background and “in their place.”2 In addition to this, millennial women are confronted with an extra burden of navigating pervasive ageism in both the church and society. Herein, like previous generations of Black women in ministry, millennial women are the embodiment of disruption, resistance and transformation. This is true for Black millennial women in the academy, in ecclesiastical ministry and in faith based social justice and advocacy work.
As a millennial woman of faith who is called to do advocacy and social justice work, I am invested in what Traci West, author of Wounds of The Spirit calls “Truth Work.” For West, truth work “commends the appropriation of Jesus Christ as truth” and uplifts a process of “knowing and doing.”3 The process of knowing and doing is about harnessing internal power to bring about practical efforts, in this case, to address urgent social and cultural ills. In a Christological context, knowing and doing is about the “incarnation and/or embodiment of justice.”4 It is about actualizing the mandate that Jesus established in Luke 4:18,”….the spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery and sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”5 Furthermore, it asks the question, As a Christian, with power given by God, what practical ways do you engaged in supporting human wholeness? For me, truth work guides my work as a Womanist Practitioner.
I am deliberate and unapologetic in naming myself as a womanist practitioner. For now, it is the most appropriate term to encapsulate my work as a womanist, social worker, religious leader and staunch advocate for Black women and girls, in general and incarcerated young women and girls, more specifically.
Black women and girls are the fastest growing populations to be incarcerated in the United States. And overwhelmingly, many of them are incarcerated as a result of their own victimization as survivors of trauma and violence. Through my advocacy work (ministry) She Dreams of Freedom (SDF), I am devoted to improving the outcomes of girls in the criminal and juvenile justice system between the ages of 13-24. Through SDF, I provide professional and program development to agencies, organizations and prisons that serve incarcerated young women and girls as well as young women and girls who are at risk of becoming incarcerated. In the tradition of womanist theology, as stated by Womanist Anthropologist, Linda Thomas, I also “engage the macro and micro-structural issues”6 that affect the lives of incarcerated young women and girls. I do this by serving on city and state advisory boards and committees that impact public policy, such as the expert advisory board to end the incarceration of girls in NYC, as well as engage in lobbying and grassroots efforts to reform and abolish the prison system for children.
Guided by the liberatory phenomenology of womanist theology, as a womanist practitioner, I am aligned with the efforts of womanists scholars such as Dr. Iva Carruthers, Dionne Boissiere, Emma Jordan Simpson and Aundreia Alexander, to name a few, to work towards creating practical solutions to dismantle systems of injustice, affecting Black people specifically, while also engaging in tangible solutions to promote the wholeness and redemptive self love of black women and girls.
As the co visionary of millennial womanism, our core concerns push womanist theology forward. From a justice standpoint, we ask the hard but necessary questions and call for accountability and transformative justice in both church and society; we move beyond the rhetoric of justice lingo that is pervasive in (Black) church culture and engage in practical ways to manifest womanist theology in the flesh; we recognize womanists in ecclesial ministry, in social justice and advocacy work, etc., as vital contributors to the overall sustainability and growth of womanist theology and de-center womanists in the academy as the standard of womanist scholarship. Similar to the human body, each organ plays a key role in its functionality and in the case of womanist theology, this can also be said for womanists in diverse forms of ministry.
I lift up the names of these women with intentionality and to highlight the power and critical importance of intergenerational bonding, mentoring and relationships.
My womanist journey has been one of great privilege. Womanist books such as If It Wasn’t for the Women: Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community by Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes and Unfinished Business: Black Women, the Black Church, and the Struggle to Thrive in America by Dr. Keri Day, to name a few, have informed my work as a womanist practitioner. I have also been taught by renowned womanist scholars and professors both as an undergraduate and graduate student including, Dr. Rosetta Ross at Spelman College and Dr. Joanne Terrell at the Chicago Theological Seminary School. Additionally, I have been fortunate to work with and be mentored by some of the most prolific womanists in the tradition. They include, Lisa Rhodes, Dean of Sisters Chapel and Founder of the Women In Spiritual Discernment of Ministry (WISDOM) center at Spelman College, Dr. Iva Carruthers, Co Founder and General Secretary of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Dr. Itihari Toure, Founder of the Sankofa Center For Strategic Planning and Evaluation and former Program Coordinator at the Office of Black women, Church & Society at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) and Dr Linda Thomas, Womanist Anthropologist and Professor of Theology and Anthropology at the Lutheran School of Theology (LSTC). I lift up the names of these women with intentionality and to highlight the power and critical importance of intergenerational bonding, mentoring and relationships. Furthermore, these women have left an indelible impact on my identity as a woman, womanist and leader. And for me, it is because of their impact, that the formation of millennial womanism is possible.
Black millennial women in ministry are the moral agents of the 21st century and millennial womanism is the theological praxis of this time. As we work towards the sustainability of millennial womanism, we do so with courage, affirmed in the fullness of our power and most importantly, rooted in love.
A womanist Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.7
1Alice Walker: In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1983), xi-xii
2Jacquelyn Grant, “Black Theology and The Black Woman” in Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought, ed Beverly Guy- Sheftall (New York: New Press, 1995), 326
3Traci C West, Wounds of the Spirit: Black Women, Violence and Resistance Ethics (New York: New York University Press,1999), 198
5Luke 4:18 (NRSV)
6Linda E Thomas, Womanist Theology, Epistemology, And A New Anthropological Paradigm, http://www.crosscurrents.org/thomas.htm
7Alice Walker: In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1983), xi-xii
LIZ S. ALEXANDER MA, MSW is a womanist practitioner, social justice advocate and change agent. Liz is the founder of She Dreams of Freedom, a national consulting firm that provides services to the private, public and government sector serving girls in the criminal and juvenile justice system between the ages of 13-24. SDF specializes in trauma, positive youth development and gender specific and responsive services. Liz is a member of the expert advisory committee to end the incarceration of girls in NYC as well as a member of the LGBTQI/GNC juvenile justice workgroup at the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) of New York City. In 2015, Liz was recognized as a 40 under 40 Young Woman Professional Leader by Demoiselle 2 Femme, a trailblazing organization serving girls on the South Side of Chicago, and in 2016, she was named as a “Woman of Influence” by the YWCA of New York City. In 2017 Liz received the Harambee Award from the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) for exemplary Social Work service. Liz is the Co-Curator of the #MillennialWomanism editorial forum alongside Melanie C. Jones hosted on the recently launched Black Theology Project (btpbase.org) site developed by Jamye Wooten of Kinetics. Liz received a Masters of Social Work with a focus in Trauma and Violence from the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration and a Masters of Religious Leadership with a concentration in Social Transformation from the Chicago Theological Seminary. Liz received her Bachelors of Arts degree from Spelman College where she majored in Sociology.
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