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: Tiauna Boyd
City: Chicago, IL
TMWP: What does it mean to be a millennial woman of African descent in faith based social advocacy?
Tiauna Boyd: To be a millennial woman of African descent in faith-based social advocacy means that who I am and who I am called to serve are identifying titles that are uniquely interwoven. The social advocacy that I am called to is centered on human rights, international development, and mitigating gender based violence. To strive for human rights to be actualized in the lives of girls of African descent is a spiritual work that I inherit from our ancestors. To invest in international development in the global south is to honor mother Africa by tending to the repair of her wounds and the restoration of her resources and this is a spiritual work that I inherit from our ancestors. To engage in dismantling gender based violence in 2017 through education and advocacy, is to join hands with the mothers and grandmothers who have been doing this work for decades as they have created and recreated enclaves of protection through social safety nets that have been known to our ears as the “village”- and this is spiritual work that I inherit from our ancestors. To be a millennial woman of African descent in social faith based advocacy is to know that I have been called to partner with a community of elders and ancestors who have laid the foundation. To be a millennial woman of African descent in faith based social advocacy has meant for me that humility is the first response to the call (because I am not doing this work alone), and innovation is what I bring to the assignment (because the embodiment and employment of my unique gifts is all that is required).
TMWP: Tell us about your work. What inspired you to do this work?
Tiauna Boyd: I was baptized on Sunday October 28th in 2001, and 3 days later I was in a coma. I was a survivor of a deadly car accident. When I awoke from the coma and began to breathe on my own, the doctors took me off life support. After hours of surgery that replaced shattered vertebrae in my neck and my broken skull with pins, metal plates and bone, I began a year of various therapies to get acquainted with the tremors that now danced down the right side of my body. In many ways, I attribute my baptism and days immediately following as my entry points to this work- these events were the gateway that plugged me in to life.
Travel and experience abroad took center stage as I plugged in to life. Communities of faith adorned me with the title of “missionary”, and soon I found myself in seminary trying to unpack and rediscover a missionary’s role. I was consistently unsatisfied with the traditional, western, imperialist, slightly xenophobic read and application of the “Great Commission”. Specifically, alarming was how the traditional paradigm for mission adopted by African American continues to have the potential to breed neo-colonial practices- especially when carried out in places like Africa.
Opposed to the traditional paradigm for mission, I was privileged to study womanist approaches to epistemology, theology, missiology and Christology in Seminary. With guidance from the writings and work of of Dr. Linda Thomas, Dr. Mercy Amba Oduyoye, and Dr. Karen Baker Fletcher, womanists and African feminist theologians began informing the lens through which I processed
what I was seeing and feeling abroad in terms that fit me and inspired me. With these women guiding my redefinition exploration, I discovered an ethical foundation to build an alternative paradigm for global mission. Concentrating in Black Faith & Life, I specifically dedicated time during my seminary journey to think through creating an alternative paradigm for missions that was tailored to fit the needs of African Americans preparing to engage in missions in Africa.
After seminary, I desired to live out what I had been workshopping, thinking through and proposing. Peace Corps sent me to Ghana where I received flesh and breath to the bones of my alternative paradigm for mission. Spending time growing in community with Ghanaian women laid bare the lynchpin of my emerging theory for an alternative womanist approach to mission- liberation and development as a result of mission was dependent on authentic co-dependent relationships with African women.
After Peace Corps, I began studying International Development and African Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. At the University of Pittsburgh, I contributed to orientations for students preparing to participate in educational programs in African countries (Tanzania and Ethiopia), and my research focused on mitigating gender-based through the actualization of human rights pertaining to education. During my time in Pittsburgh, I was struck by the parallels between international development and global mission. My work now centers further engaging communities of faith and institutions of higher education in training and facilitation around a relationship-centered paradigm for global missions and international education experiences- highlighting the voices of African women.
TMWP:. How does your work expand traditional womanist epistemologies?
Tiauna Boyd: Womanist theologians privilege community and re-center the voices of African women as a guide in to our ways of knowing. My work builds upon the importance of community in understanding the role of a missionary/missions. Without authentic relationship with African women, there is no way to enter in to advocacy initiatives that actualize human rights, initiate development with dignity or to mitigate gender based violence. To that end, my work builds upon the importance of community because it situates African women as the key to informing and guiding African American missions.
This impulse comes from theory and lived experience-the Ghanaian women with whom I lived with in the village became my mothers, grandmothers and aunties. They watched over me and cared for me. They let me listen to and learn from them.
As I was absorbed into the kinship networks in the village through my relationships with the women, I began to understand what development with dignity felt like and looked like in real time. After building relationships, the women were transparent and vulnerable as they exposed the depth of their resilience and the root of their challenges. They trusted that I could hold glimpses of both- their greatest strengths and greatest struggles. Over time, as we continued to prepare and share meals together, fetch water together, visit newborns together and care for the children in our village together, the women then led in identifying palpable needs/concerns. As a result, together, the women and I were able to develop and create some significant projects in the village to lighten the burden that they carried- we created a Computer Lab, we renovated the clinic, did an anti-malaria bed-net campaign, created child rights programs to protect girls against rape and sexual abuse and we started to develop a library. Creating relationships with the women was the single
most important factor that led to being invited to pursue development- based mission activity with dignity. These women wanted to be known. They had stories, histories, and wisdom that I was able to receive through listening and positioning myself to assume that I was to there to learn something from them.
The Great Commission promotes tendencies of independence, fixing/saving and doing. Instead, through interdependence, stillness, and humility, I was able to enter in to the lives of African women and that entrance guided our work, together. The repositioning of the missionary (from doer to receiver, from teacher to learner) is what I hope to build on in womanist epistemologies.
TMWP: What can we expect from you within the next year?
Tiauna Boyd: Going forward, my work is to discern (in some instances), and curate (in others), the space to offer an alternative womanist approach to global mission. In 2018, I will institutionalize my framework on an alternative womanist paradigm for global missions. I desire to offer this paradigm to Women’s Groups and Mission ministries within African American communities of faith, as well as historically Black institutions of higher education. This means that a website is forthcoming. A book is forthcoming. A curriculum and a toolkit for framing international educational intensives and mission experiences as opportunities for relationship-based development with dignity is forthcoming. I am excited about what is to come!
TMWP: How can people support you work?
Tiauna Boyd: People can support my work through sharing knowledge and offering suggestions! I would be grateful to receive any information pertaining to others who are doing this work- reframing and redefining global missions for this present age. Specifically, I am interested in learning more about individuals, churches, study abroad programs and organizations that are employing relationship based mission/education experiences in Africa for African Americans.
TMWP: Where can we go for more information/updates?
Tiauna Boyd: For more information please follow my blog: Tiauna.wordpress.com. Feel free to subscribe and receive updates as my work continues to develop.
Facebook: Tiauna Boyd
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.
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