Beginning Saturday, Sept. 16, the St. Paul Community Baptist Church (SPCBC) will be hosting its 29th annual presentation of “The MAAFA Suite…A Healing Journey.”
During an 8-day long series of events—from Sep. 16 to Sep. 24––SPCBC will present daily classes; Maafa museum walking tours; and free, dramatic presentations of “The MAAFA Suite” on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. and on Sept. 20-22 at 7 p.m.
“Our commemoration is our attempt to revisit the pain, the trauma, and the horror of the Middle Passage, which we call Maafa,” Rev. Dr. David Brawley, lead pastor of SPCBC, told the Amsterdam News. “Maafa is a Kiswahili word that comes to us from Dr. Marimba Ani, and that word means ‘great calamity’ or ‘catastrophe.’ We have evoked that language to create this commemoration of the Black holocaust.”
“The MAAFA Suite” originated under Rev. Brawley’s predecessor, SPCBC’s famed Bishop Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood, who believed that putting on a production that dealt with the pain of the Middle Passage and enslavement would give Black people a chance to grieve and deal with a major, painful episode from our past.
Rev. Brawley explained that, though this is a church-sponsored production, it is not geared exclusively toward Christian worshippers. “For us, this is far beyond just a church event. This is a conversation for the entire African diaspora, to bring us all to the table so that we can think collectively about strategies of healing, strategies of deepening relationships, and developing solutions for our people.”
The more than 20 speakers scheduled to take part in the event include Bro. Jamye Wooten, founder and CEO of CLLCTIVLY; Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and New York Times-bestselling author of the “The 1619 Project,” Nikole Hannah Jones; Dr. Wade Nobles, the co-founder and past executive director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture, Inc.; Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund; Clark Atlanta University Professor of African and African American Studies Dr. Daniel Black; as well as other lecturers from different faith traditions and cultural expressions.
“The idea here is communal healing. It is going to be, without a doubt, a transformational opportunity,” Rev. Brawley said.
While the SPCBC’s annual Maafa theatrical production is designed to educate audiences, it has also become a vehicle for helping the productions’ performers learn African diaspora history as well.
The church’s planning for the event begins as early as May, when SPCBC members begin reading and learning about Black enslavement in the Americas. Congregation members also take the time to learn about the cultural touchstones that point to Black historical memory. This past year they took trips to reinforce their education; some went to Charleston, South Carolina and to the Lowcountry region, while others went to Johannesburg, South Africa as part of a cultural immersion program. The SPCBC also coordinated study groups for its congregants, and one group recently finished reading Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “The 1619 Project.”
“This conversation is important this year,” Rev Brawley added. “It’s always important, but this year, we have to think about what’s happening in our world. Here you have, in our nation, there are elected officials and states in our country who are trying to whitewash the record of African-centric contributions to this nation, [and] trying to change the curriculums. What we’re doing this year is we’re centering our children in the conversations. We believe that there are three institutions that need to be brought together in one space and that’s the family, the church, and schools. And we believe the intersecting institution here is the church.
“The church has an opportunity to reach both. So, we’re going to use our platform to help inform families about our culture so that parents have the resources they need to help their children. But also, we’re inviting heads of schools [and] anyone that deals with our children in the academic spaces to be present, so that they can have an understanding of the resources that are available. That’s why we’ve curated such, I think, a robust schedule this year––so that we can help both families and schools.”
All of the events for “The MAAFA Suite…A Healing Journey” are free and open to the public. Opening night will be held at 859 Hendrix Street, Brooklyn, NY 11207, on Sunday, Sept. 17, at 6 p.m. The full schedule for the SPCBC’s “The MAAFA Suite” is available at www.spcbc.com/maafa23