An Open Letter to the Church: Make May a Month of Black Girl Sermons

It took many of us days and weeks before we began to discuss what happened in Nigeria on April 14. We were too busy talking about the latest mega-church scandal and debating whether the Clippers should play in Game 4. The few news stories about the abductions that were shared on social media, at the time, didn’t catch our collective attention. While we were preparing for Easter, buying our new outfits and getting guest rooms ready for relatives, families on the other side of the world were turned upside down. We were too busy to notice that almost 300 girls were stolen, ripped away from everything familiar.

If we would be honest, we have been too busy for a while now. We have been too busy to notice that Black girls, globally, are suffering. We have been too busy to notice that Black girls are most likely to be trafficked. We have been too busy to notice that Black girls experience the most horrific forms of physical child abuse. We have been too busy to notice that Black girls are more likely than other children to be raped in their own homes before high school graduation. We have been too busy to notice the growing number of Black girls with eating disorders, as a result of their quest for video vixen bodies. We have been too busy to notice that Black girls are the fastest growing demographic in juvenile detention facilities. We have been too busy to notice that Black girls have become the latest target of the school-to-prison pipeline and their hopes and dreams are being dashed before they even get a chance to form. We have been too busy to notice.

But we can’t afford to be too busy anymore.

I do not know what, if anything, we could have done to prevent those precious angels from being taken against their will. Our efforts petitioning our government to act, using social media to bring awareness, standing in solidarity and praying for God to do what only God can do may seem insufficient. But they are all we have and they are necessary. Yet for the Black girls closest to us- those in our families, churches and communities, we can do more. On Friday May 2, I reached out to a several pastors I admire and hold dear, asking them to take the opportunity on the following Sunday morning to preach a “Black girl sermon.” The purpose of the sermon would be to lift the female voices that have been obscured in Scripture to bring awareness to the issues concerning Black girls in America and globally. A Black girl sermon would provide space for a corporate lament but also point towards a God who stands with Black girls and women.

Like “Hoodie Sunday,” May 4 was important. It was the first Sunday after the world could no longer ignore the plight in Nigeria. We needed to come together and tarry for our girls in a way we had not done before. And, in some churches, that happened. Sermons, litanies, prayers and special announcements were offered in dedication to 253 Nigerian girls still missing and the countless African-American girls who suffer daily. However, we must not be deceived and think that we have done enough. A Black girl’s problems are not seen as priority in our communities and in our churches. Perhaps, we do not know. It is possible that many of us are unaware of what is going on with our girls because those stories don’t make the news. And if that is true- if we lack knowledge concerning the state of Black girls, then the church must keep us from perishing.

And so, I ask that the pastors and leaders in our communities would dedicate the month of May to Black girls. I ask that they use this entire month to preach Black girl sermons and speak truth to power. Preaching Black girl sermons generates a space where girls- and women- can see themselves in God’s narrative and be told that, despite their pain and oppression, they are still adored by their creator and community. Preaching Black girl sermons is a clarion call that our communities must act on behalf of our daughters and sisters. Whether it is a sermon, a bible study, a special prayer call or a community forum, it is my sincere prayer that Black girls would be highlighted in our churches throughout this month. Congregations must be educated and empowered to become the allies that Black girls need. In a society that is intentional about devaluing Black girls, what better place to hear of their value and worth than the church?

We have a responsibility to protect our children, to teach them that they are loved and that they matter. In many ways, we have failed to show Black girls that they are vital and we need them. The church must begin to do the necessary work of reclaiming Black girls and allowing them the opportunity to dream again. Our girls deserve to know that we care, and the church must never again be too busy to show it.

For those interested in joining the conversation and movement, use the hashtag #BlackGirlSermons.

Candice Benbow is the host of Divine Dialogue, an iTunes podcast that discusses social and religious issues in the African-American Community. A writer, Candice is currently at work on her first book.