Wading in Troubled Waters: Music, Spirit, and Community in the African Diaspora

The “Negro Spirituals” grew out of a people’s determination to build beloved community and assert the divine spirit of their humanity under brutally dehumanizing conditions. In doing so, these people also breathed new life into a religious tradition that had been de-spiritualized by the debauchery and greed of their oppressors. These same enslaved Africans also launched a renaissance of arts and culture in the dominant society that still continues, centuries later. Similarly powerful assertions of music, spirit, and community can be observed throughout the worldwide African Diaspora, and traced to deep and ancient roots on the African continent. This Sankofa workshop looks back at such cross-generational movements of “grass-roots” social and spiritual change to retrieve time-tested conceptual frameworks for wading in the troubled waters of today, such as school-to-prison pipelines in communities of color, which seem to flow from sources similar to those addressed in the Spirituals.