By Angela Abbamonte
“Moses my servant is dead.”
The book of Joshua begins with a transition of leadership from the man who delivered Israel from Egypt to the man who would bring the nation to the Promised Land.
The transition goes across generations, and Renita Weems, vice president of academic affairs at American Baptist College and keynote speaker for Union’s fourth annual Black History Month program, believes this transition is symbolic for what is happening in our country today.
“It is a good thing to be reminded you will not live forever, and not only that you will not live forever but your ways, your preoccupations, your way of seeing things, your insistence that this is the right way and the only way will not always exist.” Weems said.
This year’s Black History Month program titled “Being the Change: African American Leaders from Civil War to Social Justice” highlighted the transition from Weems’ generation to the present one of students.
“A generation is going off the scene, and we all wonder: ‘Who will step up?’” Weems said. “It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said that every generation has a rendezvous with history. Every generation is handed a heritage and is responsible for leaving its own legacy.”
The transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua in the nation of Israel picked up where the old generation left off and let the new generation make its mark on the nation’s history.
“So I tell you as I look at my own generation: Moses’ generation is dead, but Joshua – your generation – will be the generation that will take the people into the Promised Land.” Weems said to students in the audience, “Your generation has the opportunity to change the world. Your generation has the opportunity to build on the best of Moses’ generation. Don’t bring Moses’ generation’s demons into the Promised Land.”
Weems does not look down on her generation and the generations that came before her, citing the accomplishments she achieved because of the work done by those in history.
She earned her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College, and moved on to earn master’s and Ph.D. degreesfrom Princeton Theological Seminary, making her the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Old Testament.
“Will they say (my generation) made a difference? Will they say we made the strides we say we made?” Weems said.
“As an African-American woman with a Ph.D. in Old Testament, I belong to some of the early pioneers in graduate and undergraduate halls where black women were an anomaly. I’m part of a generation that went to predominantly white schools not just as a result of the civil rights movement but because of it.”
Weems reminded the audience several times in the program, Moses is dead, and it is time for Joshua to step in.
Weems said she is aware of and ready to see who will move into leadership among the next generation, and has seen how the times have changed through her daughter’s interaction with friends.
Weems teenage daughter is living a life different than the one Weems went through growing up in Atlanta in the 1970s. Her daughter goes to school with people of different races, laughing at lunch with her friends without regard to the color of their skin.
The revelation of the new generation’s friendships came to center stage when Weems told her daughter to invite two friends with her on a trip
to Hawaii and the two friends chosen were white.
“When she chose two of her white friends, even I, the enlightened woman that I am, paused and said, ‘Now wait a minute,’” Weems said.
“It tested everything in this black, Southern, Protestant girl from Atlanta, Ga., because I thought that I was much further along than I really was. All I could see was danger because that was my generation.”
Despite her initial hesitation, Weems said she, her husband, her daughter and both of her daughter’s friends went on the trip together and had a fun time and were stretched by one another.
MOSAIC, the campus organization promoting community among different ethnicities, assisted with the program.
Weems said their service during the program and the MOSAIC Choir’s performance before her address showed her the next generation of leaders is already at work at Union.
Dr. David S. Dockery, university president, recognized the importance of events such as the Black History Month program and the efforts to reconcile race relations.
“This time together is a time in which we all can decide that we are going to take another step forward in the racial reconciliation project at Union University,” Dockery said.
Dockery compared the work toward racial reconciliation to an ecotone, a geographical phenomena when two unrelated things come together and seemingly clash and create tension in the environment, but he said the university is committed to continue in unification efforts.
“We are going to work together. We are going to eat together. We are going to learn together. We are going to worship together, and we are going to move forward together with God’s help,” Dockery said.
Weems and Dockery see the progress that has been made in the past and will be made in the future toward racial reconciliation.
In Weems’ eyes, the student’s generation must pick up where the previous generation left off.
Moses is dead. It is Joshua’s responsibility now.