Tilling the Soil: An Introduction to Millennial Womanism


Tilling the Soil: An Introduction to Millennial Womanism

By Liz S. Alexander and Melanie C. Jones


In the process of tilling,
weeds and undesirable roots are removed.
And the soil is broken
into finer bits
so new seeds can be planted.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center released a study entitled The Religious Landscape, which reported that a large majority of millennials, people born between 1980-2000, identified as non- religious. Conducted between June and September 2014, the study indicated that 35 % of Millennials identified as “nones” which categorized them as atheists or agnostics, or having little emphasis on a religious identity. And millennials who were raised unaffiliated with a faith tradition, were found to be less likely affiliated with a faith tradition as an adult.

Overall, the study concluded that Millennials were the largest generational faction that did not identify with a religious group. For Black millennials, 18% were found to be unaffiliated with a religious group in comparison to 24% of their white counterparts. The Black religious sphere has used this 18% of unaffiliated Black millennials to perpetuate a dominant narrative that Black millennials are leaving the church or organized religion because, as a generation, we are disinterested with matters of faith.

As Black millennial women of faith, we seek to offer a counter narrative that tells the under told story of Black millennials who are deeply concerned about faith and justice. We reimagine sacred spaces and refuse to support and sustain ecclesial and faith-based institutions that share concerns of justice in word, but not in deed. We host bible studies at Brunch over Mimosas and read devotionals on apps and not in pamphlets. We go “all the way IN” off iTunes playlists and engage in unconventional liturgical expressions. We protest on the frontlines of our causes and use our bodies to block highways thereby disrupting social normalcy and demanding America to see us. We encounter the divine during hikes, on yoga mats, and through African-centered rituals. We are old souls with love for church hymns, but also new schoolers who appreciate the meaning-making music of Beyoncé, Lil Chano from 79th (Chance the Rapper) and FUTURE. We do not mind being #churchy because we luh God (and Oludumare, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Orishas, Ancestors, Kali, Sophia, and EVERYTHING HOLY). We express unapologetically the fullness of our humanity. We not only create movements, but we recognize we are the movement!

When and where we enter, as moral agents of the 21st century, Black millennial women answer the call to dispel every threat that seeks to impede our wholeness. For many of us, womanism is our birthing ground toward truth-telling, justice-seeking and wisdom-bearing witness that centers ourselves and our communities.

Black millennial women have come to till the soil!

Drawing from the Black idiomatic expression “you actin’ womanish,” novelist Alice Walker in her collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983) framed the term “womanist” in efforts to name the distinctive political aims of Black women that existed outside of the white feminist scope in the 1980’s. For the last 30 years, womanism in religious studies maintains a critical approach that takes seriously the lived experiences of struggle and survival of Black women against multiple forces of oppression in the academy, Church, and world. The gift of the womanist paradigm is the ability to name ourselves and plow uncharted terrain.

Do not despise the soil! Till the soil to grow a garden of new possibilities.

In the name of millennial womanism, Black millennial women are calling for accountability, liberation and justice in Black faith and the broader society. We seek to draw upon a unique womanist epistemological and methodological framework that centers the voices of Black women of faith and justice born between the years of 1980-2000. Millennial womanism offers a contemporary framework that makes space intentionally for doing womanist work in the age of social media, black lives matter and say her name movements, trap music, mass incarceration, Afrofuturism, religious pluralism, a kaleidoscope of gender and sexual identities, and multi- dimensional realities of oppression (i.e. at the crossways of race, gender, sexuality, class, abilities, religion, etc.), to name a few.

With intent to grow the garden of our BELOVED womanist foremothers, the core concerns of millennial womanism include:

  • Seeks the freedom and flourishing of Black women and girls as a non-negotiable
  • Advocates for radical expansiveness (not simply inclusivity) that values community
  • Moves beyond respectability politics with an intentional call for recognition and reciprocity
  •  Unapologetically strives for healing and wholeness of mind, body, spirit, and soul
  • Embraces all things divine within and outside of traditional ecclesial communities and religious traditions
  • Demands transformative justice (dismantling multi-dimensional systems of oppression + calling for restorative justice)
  • Invests in cross sector collaboration that gathers diverse voices, skills, talents and abilities in social justice advocacy and prophetic ministry
  • Fosters intergenerational bonds to transfer and translate sacred wisdom with elders and younger generations
  • Recognizes social media as a methodological resource for womanist work and witness
  • Creates sacred platforms to do ministry and advocacy without waiting for traditional institutions to receive us

Over the next two weeks from June 5-June 16, 2017, in partnership with the recently launched Black Theology Project site (.base), we invite you to journey with us as we engage a series of articles that take up the promise of millennial womanism for a contemporary world. The aim of this forum is to feature Black millennial women whose being-thinking-doing illuminate the millennial womanist agenda. Our contributors represent an expansive cadre of emerging voices, particularly, seminary and non-seminary trained, queer and hetero, cis and genderfluid, published authors and popular bloggers, scholars and activists, preachers with traditional platforms in pulpit ministry and practitioners with non-traditional platforms in the public square. To affirm the solidarity of millennial womanism, the forum also highlights womanist collaborators who resource womanist theological and pastoral methodologies in their work and witness as Black millennial men. Most significantly, the forum closes with a response from seasoned womanists who seek to share intergenerational wisdom and insight for millennial womanism and the enduring journey ahead.

The soil is fertile and new seeds are ready to be planted.

We invite you to meet us in the garden.

[1] “A Religious Portrait of African-Americans.” Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. January 29, 2009. Accessed April 15, 2015.

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. base is an online searchable knowledge base system; a curator and repository of research, litanies, articles, multimedia resources and more. Curating Theological Resources for Black Lives.

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