Embracing Faith Through Inspiration: 5 Inspiring African American Faith Leaders

By Katie Beckmann and Joanna George


In this week's "Embracing Faith" article, we will focus on Embracing Faith through Inspiration.

Inspiration comes in many forms.


Whether it be a social media post, song, book, or pep talk from a family member or friend; all of us have been influenced in one way or another.


During Black History Month, people in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland reflect on the history and culture of African Americans and honor notable leaders in advocacy, faith, and the community.


Faith leaders have been especially effective due to their activism, passion, and determination to serve God.


Here are five inspiring African American faith leaders to learn about during Black History Month.


1. Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, was the first African American sister in the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and is currently being considered for sainthood. Considered a trailblazer, Sister Thea was known for her activism, as she was first African American woman to address the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Sister Thea also gave presentations all throughout the country that broke down racial and cultural barriers; it was her hope that she could help people understand other cultures and races. (1) (2)


2. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie is the first woman in over 200 years to achieve episcopal status. She is well known for spreading the word of God along with love and gender equality in her ministry all over the nation. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie inspires women in religious leadership through her ministry in over 200 African Methodist Episcopal churches. At an interview, Bishop McKenzie once said, “I live for the day. I live for the day. I’ve said over and over again, I live for the day when my gender and my race means nothing — means nothing — that my gifts, my skills, my character, my mental astuteness, these things qualify me to do the job. Period.(1) (2)


3. Dr. Howard Thurman was an African American civil rights leader and Dean of Chapels and Theology at Morehouse College and Boston University. Dr. Thurman was considered to be a role model because of his leadership at many nonviolent protests for black civil rights. He impacted the nation by starting the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples and inspired people with different cultural, class and religious backgrounds to unite in common worship and fellowship at the church. Dr. Thurman once said, “‘In him was life; and the life was the light of men.' Wherever His spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for He announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.” (1) (2) (3)


4. Sister Julian Griffin, VSC, was a founding mother of the National Black Sisters Conference and a member of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity at Mother Mary Mission in Alabama. She became the first African American member of her congregation in 1962. (1)


5. Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III is the President of State University of New York at Old Westbury and the pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church. He is a determined social activist that brings light on social issues like racism, education, sexism, and poverty. As the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, he used his influence on the church to create Abyssinian Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that builds home for the low income, raise money for better education, etc. Rev. Butts inspires many to come together as a community and fix complications in the community. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

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