Written by Brad Harper Jul. 7, 2013 11:49 AM
Dressed in all white and carrying flowers symbolizing the sacrifices of their ancestors, a crowd gathered at dawn Sunday in Montgomery to mark the tragic impact of slavery and stress the importance of uniting for a better future.
It was the second time Theodore Lush has organized the annual event in Montgomery, and he apologized for the rain as the group gathered at a Court Square sign marking the site of the city’s slave market. Participant Corey Muhammad, who brought along two children, shrugged off the inconvenience.
“They don’t cancel football games,” Muhammad said, pointing out the importance of the event. He said he missed the inaugural event last year but doesn’t plan to miss any more.
The group walked from there to the Alabama River for a two-hour program of poetry, song, dance, affirmation and prayer, and Muhammad read a proclamation from Mayor Todd Strange designating Sunday as Maafa Day in Montgomery.
It was one of many Maafa (Ma-HA-fa) ceremonies across the nation. The word means “great calamity” in Key Swahili, and refers to what’s often called “the African Holocaust” during the period of Transatlantic slave trade. More than 10 million people died as a direct result of the Transatlantic slave trade, and its economic and social effects still ripple through the world.
People raise their hands together during the Maafa commemoration of the transatlantic slave trade on Sunday July 7, 2013 in downtown Montgomery, Ala. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh) Mickey Welsh / Advertiser
But the event also celebrates the resiliency and culture of African people, a legacy that Lush said is strengthened by the unity shown during Maafa events. He had just returned from a similar event in New Orleans and said he hopes organizers in different cities connect and broaden their reach through the years.
“We are one,” Lush told the crowd. “We come from one source.”
Muhammad represented the Nation of Islam at the event, while Debra Johns spoke on behalf of Montgomery’s Buddhist community.
Montgomery businessman Trey Lipscomb talked about the economic dangers the nation faces as the number of black farmers dwindle. Still, he marveled at the unity on display at the riverfront event.
“Just 10 years ago you wouldn’t have been able to get people of all different religions to come together like this, and that’s in any race,” Lipscomb said.
Other speakers touched on the recent surge in homicides in the Capital City and talked about the importance of faith, love and self-worth in facing the challenges ahead.
Three generations of women lit candles to symbolize the past, present and future, and each member of the group dropped their flowers into the river. The ceremony ended with blessings and optimism as they held hands in a circle.
“In today’s society, people don’t walk around thinking about world peace,” Johns said. “They don’t think that it’s possible. And it is.”