WILMINGTON — Juneteenth is more than a celebration. It is a reminder that the work for justice is not complete and a call to action for members of the community.
That was the message delivered June 21 during a celebration of the holiday at St. Joseph’s Church in downtown Wilmington. Sponsored by the Ministry for Black Catholics of the Diocese of Wilmington, the messenger was Therese Wilson Favors, a former director of African American Ministries for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Favors relayed the story of Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist who helped hundreds of slaves attain their freedom through the Underground Railroad. Tubman was born into slavery in Dorchester County, Md., and traveled through Delaware many times leading slaves along the railroad. A park named after Tubman is located several blocks from St. Joe’s.
The “Black Moses,” as Tubman is known, taught Favors a few things. One is that when we sit and listen to God, we “You have the ability to become the center of a miracle to come. Somebody say, ‘That’s me, y’all.’
“Can’t you hear Harriet Tubman say, ‘Get out of my way, I’m coming through,’” Favors said. It was a sentence she would repeat several times throughout her 30-minute talk.
Tubman had visions, and she understood that we are spiritual beings going through a temporary human experience, Favors said. When she encountered troubles along the way, Favors said it was possible to hear Tubman say, “Get out of my way, I’m coming through.”
“I always knew that she walked in the way of the Lord,” Favors said.
There are times when we realize that the situations we are in are greater than ourselves. God says to trust that he knows what he’s doing and to follow his lead.
Tubman’s story reveals that she “absorbed the blow” for more than 300 men, women and children she helped get to freedom. She literally “blocked the blow,” getting hit by a weight thrown by a slave master toward another slave when she was just a girl. We can “block the blows” by realizing we are involved in an atmosphere today that is greater than ourselves.
She asked the crowd if they have made a way for another to get through, to rise above inequality, to find justice, freedom and purpose. Tubman put her trust in God that he knew what he was doing, and she needed to be ready to follow his lead.
Favors urged the audience to use their gifts, talents and compassion to help others and address injustice. She said they should get involved in church, community and politics.
“Get the vote out to put some people out,” Favors said, referring to some incumbent politicians. “Injustice is lurking right outside our windows. Each one of us has the power to make a difference. Help somebody out.
“Each of us has the strength of the holy Eucharist to block the blows.”
Why would we have Jesus praying for us if we don’t work toward greater victories, she asked. There are many needs, including restoring markets in food deserts, and restoring quality education, and working for justice in the justice system, in healthcare and in housing, she continued.
Finally, Favors encouraged the crowd to “decline to recline.” Those behind us are reminded not to slow down when there’s so much to do, she said. There’s no room for maybe.
Tubman certainly did not slow down. In addition to leading slaves to freedom, she served as a spy for the Union army during the Civil War. She raised money for the North Star, an antislavery newspaper founded by Frederick Douglas. She recruited supporters for John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, an effort to initiate a slave revolt. And she opened a home in central New York for the elderly.
“She never stopped,” Favors said. “Again and again, she heard her God speaking to her. For God is always speaking somewhere. We must go to that place and listen.”
There is truth in the African proverb, “’The undecided person is the worst disaster in the village.’ There is no room for maybe. We must decline to recline,” Favors said. Work needs to be done to address racism, sexism and classism, she continued.
“Therefore, we must block the blow, and we must write a new Emancipation Proclamation.”
“We won’t be bought. We won’t be compromised. We won’t flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of an adversary. We will not negotiate at the table of the enemy,” she said.
While the group was celebrating Juneteenth, it needed to remember the societal ills that pollute the air, Favors said. It is important to keep our spirits high. Because we have God, she calls this a journey toward holiness.
“Because of this, I will block the blows that my people endured far too much, and I will decline to recline. Then, and only then, will you and me and us become the center of a miracle,” Favors said.
The event also featured music by the choir from the Church of the Holy Child in Wilmington and the Diocesan Gospel Choir, and a dinner was held after the ceremony in the church.
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