The Millennial Womanism Project (TMWP) Presents “Millennial Womanists To Watch”
A monthly profile highlighting emerging voices doing incredible work in ministry, the academy and in social justice work.
Name: Onleilove Chika Alston, M.Div., MSW
City: Harlem, New York
TMWP: What does it mean to be a millennial woman of African descent in ministry?
Onleilove Chika Alston: To me to be a millennial woman of African descent in ministry means continuing to express the faith once delivered to our ancestors. It means knowing that the Biblical faith spread from East to West and South to North and was in Africa long before Europe. It means making my theology plain and accessible to believers from the projects of New York City to congregations in Accra, Ghana and Igboland, Nigeria. It means not just parroting what other theologians say about The Most High but preaching about my personal encounter with Yahweh because like Hagar I, too, was seen in my oppression. It also means making sure that my preaching, teaching and writing is accessible to the majority of our people through utilizing social media and connecting scripture to modern social justice issues. It means owning my Biblical heritage and owning my testimony.
TMWP: Tell us about your work.
Onleilove Chika Alston: For ten years, I worked professionally as a faith-based community organizer and advocate in New York City and nationally. In 2018, I launched HerWisdom Consulting to utilize what I learned from organizing faith communities and doing women’s leadership development in service to non-profits, congregations and businesses.
I am a preacher, teacher and writer. My first book Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering the Black Biblical Destiny will be released in November 2018 where I profile 15 African tribes and ethnic groups that descend from the Biblical Hebrews while telling the hidden story of African-American Hebrew/Jewish communities. My book sprung from my teaching ministry, Prophetic Whirlwind, which came from the invitation of Roberta Todd and Roz Hall of the Union of Black Episcopalians to teach two sessions on the Black roots of the Bible for Trinity Wall Street during Black History month 2014. I had no organization, no website, no social media, but because these two elder Mothers called me out Prophetic Whirlwind was established. The name Prophetic Whirlwind was influenced by the Marcus Garvey speech “Look for Me in The Whirlwind” where he speaks boldly about the collective African spiritual legacy and our redemption. Today, I have been invited to teach about the African roots of the scriptures and the Blackness of the Biblical Hebrews across the United States, Africa, and the Middle East.
I will always give credit to the two Black church mothers who identified my call and invited me to step into it because to me this is womanism in action. I started to teach on social media because I saw many Black millennials struggling with questions about the scriptures. Sadly, when we begin African-American religious history during slavery, we are not equipped to answer the questions of younger generations. Yes, African-Americans developed a spirituality during slavery, but this was not African people’s first encounters with the Biblical faith. Moreover, Hagar, though important, is not the only Black woman in the Bible.
I am a womanist and a Pan-Africanist. For me, the primary goal of Blacks of faith should not just be reconciliation with whites, but also reconciliation between diaspora Africans and continental Africans. How can we reconcile with others without first reconciling with ourselves? From my work with Hebrew/Jewish congregations in Africa, I have co-founded with the ministry Hebrew Nation Building #OperationJoseph a foundation for African Americans to financially support these communities and help preserve their significant spiritual history and cultural traditions. To date, we have donated to 40 Synagogues, congregations, orphanages, leaders and community organizing groups in five African countries. I serve as the Ambassador of The Organization of Igbo Hebrew Heritage Cultural Heritage International’s Joseph Project to forge a connection between African-Americans and the Igbos of Nigeria.
I love African fashion and, in 2017, launched Chika’s Closet—an African traditional clothing company that brings the experience of African tailored clothing home to women in the diaspora. I have a team of four Nigerian and Ghanaian women of faith tailors and we work with African vendors to help promote economic empowerment and cooperation. This is another way I am putting womanist ethics in action while honoring my creativity.
I am also a part of the God Box Foundation, a Pan African interfaith dialogue organization that is the interfaith arm of PanaFest the government-sponsored Ghanaian festival for the diaspora. Again, how can we as African-American ministers have interfaith dialogue with White Jews, Arab Muslims or Hindus but never have interfaith dialogue with Black Jews, Black Muslims or African traditional religion practitioners? As a womanist, I have learned to put my own community central to my theology and from this centrality my engagement with others can emerge.
TMWP: What inspired you to do this work?
Onleilove Chika Alston: My work is inspired by my testimony of experiencing homelessness and foster care by the age of 7 and at 10 years old being prompted by the spirit to read the Bible and pray morning, noon and night. At age 14, I had a life-changing encounter with Yahshua that saved not only my soul but my spirit, soul and body from the impact of oppression on my life.
I am also inspired by African Hebrew communities that have held on the scriptural faith that they possessed before slavery and colonialism. These communities’ indigenous cultures have preserved the words of Torah in a way that no other communities have done. Communities such as the Ga-Adangme of Ghana, The Igbo of Nigeria, the Kikuyu of Kenya and more continue to thrive in spite of a false narrative that attempts to make African people consumers of faith instead of the creators of spiritual systems that have blessed the world.
Countless faith leaders who utilize social media to spread a theology from the ground as opposed to waiting for the academy to bless their theology embolden me. Though I am inspired by African and African-American theologians who changed the theological discourse from within the ivory tower, theologies that reach the average person inspire me as a faith-rooted community organizer. I think as people of African ancestry we need to know that our preaching, teaching and singing informs the faith of those across the world and we need to own our anointed role.
My travels to West Africa inspire me deeply and staying connected to my family, faith community and friends keeps me grounded. Seeing communities and legislation changed by grassroots organizing and utilizing my testimony to raise awareness about issues related to foster care, housing and family separation also gives me a great deal of inspiration.
TMWP: How does your work expand traditional womanist epistemologies?
Onleilove Chika Alston: My work expands traditional womanist epistemologies by connecting womanism to not just the African-American experience, but also to the Pan African experience. Most of my womanist preaching happens in African congregations. We should note that women from Africa have served as womanist scholars and founded movements and theologies such as Mothering, a West African form of womanism. From the perspective of a Black Hebrew, how does womanism change when we realize that historically if Hagar and Sarah existed (which I believe they did) both would be seen as Black women today? I deeply respect the work of womanists who came before me. I also want us to ground our work in the reality that the Bible is a collection of stories scribed by people who would be deemed Black today. As a Black woman from the ranks of the poor, my womanist ethic states that poor Black women and their theologies are necessary for the integrity of womanism. For womanism to have an impact in this generation, it will need to include poor Black women, immigrant Black women, knowledge of the blackness of the scriptures and engagement on social media and in the public square. There are many who identify as womanist whose work includes all of the aforementioned, but I still desire more voices. For me, any theology I ascribe to has to impact the average people of African descent.
TMWP: What can we expect from you within the next year?
Onleilove Chika Alston: In the Spring of 2019, I have been invited as a guest professor at the Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary. In November 2018, my book Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering the Black Biblical Destiny will be released and I will conduct a United States and Africa book tour. A documentary on African Hebrews that I am featured in entitled “Reclaim the Throne” will drop in 2019. In July 2019, I will help to lead the Panafest 2019 Interfaith Spiritual Pilgrimage to Ghana organized by The God Box Foundation where we are inviting Black faith leaders from the diaspora and the continent to come to Ghana to reconcile, heal and answer these questions: What does the 400-year anniversary of the slave trade mean for Africans across the world? How can we heal as diaspora and continental Africans? How can we plan actions toward greater justice and respect for African people across the world?
TMWP: How can people support your work?
Onleilove Chika Alston: People can support my work through prayer, by spreading the word about my forthcoming book and donating to #OperationJoseph (all proceeds go directly to African leaders).
TMWP: Where can they go for more information and updates?
Onleilove Chika Alston: People can visit www.PropheticWhirlwind.com for updates and if you join my email list you will receive a free PDF with resources on the African roots of the Bible.
Millennial Womanism is an emerging concept developed by Liz S Alexander and Melanie C Jones that seeks to draw upon a unique womanist epistemological and methodological framework utilizing a millennial lens.