America is yet again at a crossroads. Faith in Florida, a multicultural coalition of faith communities, is among those fighting against the erasure and devaluation of Black communities. White supremacists have always sought to prevent people of African descent from learning so as not to spark progress. That effort continues, and Florida lawmakers are leading the way.
Gov. Ron DeSantis codified his assault on public school education and social justice when he signed the Stop W.O.K.E Act into law in 2022. This essentially made it a crime to teach Black history in public schools and state colleges. To add more injury, lawmakers have banned from schools and libraries books about the Black experience. By denying honest history, they are doing a disservice to everyone–children and adults of all races and backgrounds. Supporters of this campaign had already invoked rage by labeling any teaching of systemic racism and its legacy as critical race theory.
While educators and corporations across the country found it necessary to share the truth of our shared histories and work toward a healed, equitable and inclusive society, the white supremacist structure saw it as a threat. And they are acting on that threat.
So, as executive director of Faith in Florida, I did what Black faith leaders have always done: I got to work. I helped develop a digital toolkit that guides faith communities in teaching a complete retelling of Black history in their own way, in their own spaces. We understand how crucial Black history is to education. After all, Black history is American history.
Faith in Florida and educators across the state have tried to persuade the state’s Board of Education not to follow this path of erasure, to no avail. The only thing left to do was to ensure this history is taught in our communities by any means; and to take control of the teaching of history.
So far, more than 500 congregations, including white churches and Muslim communities, have pledged to teach the truth about Black history using the toolkit. In the spirit of solidarity and truth-seeking, supporters from more than 22 states have joined the movement. We feature in the toolkit book recommendations, documentaries, articles, and reports. From resistance to racial terrorism, the resources encompass the full breadth of the Black experience in the United States. This bank of information helps steer people to further study, with links to additional learning resources and the names of museums and libraries where people can dig a little deeper.
Any community member can adapt the Black history toolkit –it’s not just for children or a congregation. We all must learn where we come from, honor our heritage and use this information to create a safer, more just world for future generations. In these spaces, we are free to learn with accuracy and without threats of fascism.
To truly build a Beloved Community that values truth and justice, church leaders must root this work in the religious doctrines we hold dear. This isn’t new. I follow the same path as faith leaders before me. Since the establishment of Black churches in the United States, our religious communities have served as a vessel for education, support and resources often denied to Black people.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. evoked scripture and challenged Americans to live up to their moral obligations during the Civil Rights Movement. He reminded the Church to “become increasingly active in social action outside itself.” He viewed unjust laws and racism as systems incongruent to equality, freedom and prosperity–and a departure from God. That tradition of courageous faith leaders must continue with the same zeal. So much power lies within us. We must do what God called us to do.
DeSantis calls Florida the “freest state in America,” but that so-called freedom comes at the expense of Black people. This mentality is why Faith in Florida cannot sit idly by. We began this movement with prayer and hope. We didn’t expect the groundswell of support, but we are grateful, nonetheless. We’re excited that people are mobilizing around this important initiative. That lets us know we’re on the right track and doing God’s work.
My ministry has significantly grown since I started working with Faith in Florida as a fellow in 2012 when we covered four counties in the state. Today, we cover 41 counties.
This advocacy is part of my 30-year ministry experience–meeting people where they are and getting in the struggle with them. That’s what Jesus did. Through my leadership, I aim to inspire faith- and justice-focused people, especially Black women, to realize their power. Now is our season to exercise the power we’ve always had.
And we can all do amazing things when we know the truth of who we are. The quest for knowledge and freedom has never been easy, but God created us to be resilient. He is our power source; we mustn’t second-guess that.
Rev. Rhonda Thomas is the executive director of Faith in Florida and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative.