Guest speaker focuses on spirituality in the Black Lives Matter movement

Madison Weaver & Annie Girton, Assistant News Editor & Contributing Writer

Nyle Fort presented a lecture on the black body and religion on March 8. The talk focused on the importance of spirituality in activism, including the Black Lives Matter movement. The lecture was hosted by the Griot Institute for Africana studies and co-hosted by the Department of Religious Studies as part of the Black Body (Re)Considered series.

Fort focused on the moral and spiritual sides of the Black Lives Matter movement, emphasizing “questions concerning the role of the Black Church, the politics of Black spirituality, and the sacredness of Black life,” as stated on the Black Body (Re)Considered webpage.

“We are not simply the sum of our oppression, we are more than that,” Fort said.

Fort, a minister, organizer, and scholar, is currently working toward a Ph.D. in religion and African-American studies at Princeton University. As an activist, Fort is known for advocating the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Miss. as well as creating programs to serve his community.

“I think there’s an idea that some of us younger activists have sort of rejected the church or rejected religion altogether, so I want to complicate some of that and sort of give a different understanding of what’s actually happening on the ground with some of us,” Fort said.

Fort described how his lectures on religion have been a learning experience for both his audience and for himself.

“I’m coming to have a good conversation…about what we can do in this moment and how religion can play into both how people are being oppressed and how people are resisting that oppression,” Fort said.

Fort’s studies focus on topics including black liberation theology, a tradition centered on understanding how faith and justice work in conjunction, as well as to evaluate how Christianity and other religions can fit into current activism. His goal is to not only determine how young activists critique Christianity, but also how they can benefit from it.

“What we want to do is push back against this narrative, against this story that these young activists… are somehow anti-religious,” Fort said. “I also want to talk about how young people are not just articulating different versions of religious experience but they’re critiquing the institution of the church and many of them are doing so from a place of faith, so they’re trying to call the church to be what they think it can become.”

Fort feels that religion can be a vital part of activism, providing an explanation to the stories he wants to address.

“A lot of the stories, which are really stereotypes, that we tell about these oppressed people are flat narratives, they’re narrow narratives. I want to talk about the complexity and the vitality, the dynamism of black life,” Fort said.

Fort also hopes to demonstrate the commonalities between different subsections of the African American community.

“Black people are not just Christian. Black people are Muslim, black people are atheist, black people are five-percenters, so we have a very complex religious expression. I try to talk about the gospel and the Christian faith in a way that shows that it’s actually central to our liberation struggle. It’s not something that’s antagonistic,” Fort said.

Fort echoed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., encouraging people to take action rather than spectate.

“Wherever you find yourself, I encourage people to organize. You don’t have to go to Ferguson, but you can, but you don’t have to. You can right in your community, right in your context, do organizing work with your talents and your gifts,” Fort said.

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