Symposium 2020: “Another Meaning of the World: Lessons from Afro-Atlantic Religions for Traumatic Times”

The idea was that Symposium would bring together all of our community… As long as we live in these bodies, as long as we are on this earth, as long as we do this work, we cannot live in separation, because we don’t live separated lives.”
–Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé

On January 11, 2020, the Starr King community gathered at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland for our 8th annual Symposium. This year’s keynote title was “Another Meaning of the World: Lessons from Afro-Atlantic Religions for Traumatic Times” and the day served as an urban retreat for learning, dialogue, food, music, and celebration.

This year we were thrilled to have Dr. Rachel Elizabeth Harding as our honored teacher!

Dr. Rachel Harding is a poet, historian and scholar of religions of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora. Associate Professor of Indigenous Spiritual Traditions in the Ethnic Studies department of the University of Colorado Denver, Dr. Harding writes about the conjunction of religion, creativity and social justice in the experience of communities of African descent in the US and Brazil. She is author of two books: A Refuge in Thunder, a history of the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomblé; and more recently, Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism and Mothering, co-written with her mother, Rosemarie Freeney Harding, on the role of compassion and mysticism in African American social justice organizing.

Rachel is an ebômi (ritual elder) in the Terreiro do Cobre Candomblé community in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. She also co-directs the Veterans of Hope Project – an interdisciplinary initiative on religion, grassroots democracy and healing, that was founded by her parents, Vincent and Rosemarie Freeney Harding.

After a continental breakfast where folks had a chance to mingle and catch up, Symposium began with an opening ritual featuring Baba Ruben and Daktari Dance Medicine Collective and words of welcome from President Rosemary Bray McNatt. Dr. Harding was then awarded the Sacrae Theologiae Doctor Honorary Degree by President McNatt and Trustee Charles Du Mond.

In her keynote lecture, scholar and poet Dr. Harding explores the shared histories and linked wisdoms of African Diasporic religions in the Americas.  Using a womanist frame, Harding’s work emphasizes concepts of Black indigeneity, ancestralidade, and mothering as sources (and resources) in the creation of alternative orientations to human community in the 21st century.

Watch the full keynote:

Watch the discussion & Q&A:

During the break for lunch, Dr. Harding had a special lunch with students of color. After lunch, the community gathered for a viewing of Yemanja: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil, narrated by Alice Walker, followed by a discussion with filmmaker Donna Roberts. Learn more about the film here:

After a short break, everyone broke into small groups for integrative reflection. The day ended with a beautiful and energetic closing ritual with Baba Ruben and Daktari Dance Medicine Collective.

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For additional photos of Symposium, check out our Facebook photo album.