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Our Chains Fell Off
Sunday, May 23 @ 10:30 am - 11:30 am
How do we reckon with a history of racial injustice in a way that invites us to imagine a more hopeful, just and equitable future? This question sparked a personal journey for Khari Wendell McClelland as he traced his great, great, great grandmother Kizzy’s escape from slavery from Detroit, Michigan to Vancouver, Canada in the 1800s. Music served as his soulful guide for courage and resilience as Khari researched the fugitive slave songs that Kizzy and others carried with them following the Underground Railroad.
Khari Wendell McClelland is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative facilitator with a nonprofit called Partners for Youth Empowerment (PYE Global). Khari is gifted in bringing communities together through experiential and arts-based activities, often utilizing storytelling and music in order to ignite people’s commitment towards social change. As a musician, Khari’s Freedom Singer album is a true celebration of Black History. This album is a collection of rare and forgotten songs by fugitive slaves that Khari interprets through many styles and genres. Using folk, gospel, country, hip hop and soul, Khari’s songs joyfully invoke the spirit of his ancestors who straddled the US/Canadian borders in an effort to escape slavery and discrimination. With his Freedom Singer album, Khari has built a bridge from the 1800s to the present day. He is also a band member of Vancouver-based gospel group, The Sojourners.
how to attend
• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078, passcode: chalice.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.
For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.
Religious Education for children and youth begins at 9:30 a.m. in the same room! Learn more here.
If you don’t have a chalice, but want to light one, check out our Making a Chalice at Home page.
Service is followed by Coffee Hour.
Our Chains Fell Off
When I think about my great, great, great grandmother Kizzy, I think about courage, determination and her sense of self worth. I was in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and woman named Karolyn Smardz Frost handed me a book called, “I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land.” It paralleled the story of my great, great, great grandmother Kizzy’s journey out of slavey in the southern United States into southern Ontario in the 1850s.
When I read the book, it set me on a journey to try to find the songs that might have accompanied her as she made her journey towards freedom. It’s a riveting work that helped me to reflect on my own family’s journey. Following this discovery I found people and the resources to be able to travel across Canada to find black communities that had similar journeys to Kizzy and those who fled American Slavery. Along my journey I researched archives and met people who shared stories and songs that helped me connect to Kizzy’s journey.
One thing I realized through my research was that often the harder moments aren’t always reflected in the popular songs that are retained from this period. The ones that are a little harder to deal with have been left behind. But I think it’s important when we think about our history not just to remember the things we are proud of, but to also remember the things that we’re not so proud of so that we can be different.”
There’s this funny thing about doing something different that may cause others to feel uncomfortable. Even when you make positive changes in your own life, sometimes people around you are used to you being a certain way and they don’t like it. Sometimes when there are larger problems, like larger injustices in the world and we try to do a thing that’s different, it actually causes a lot of people to feel uncomfortable.
So like when women wanted to vote, men were like, “I don’t know about this. That feels uncomfortable for me.” When different people wanted the right to vote, when black people wanted the right to vote, when indigenous people wanted the right to vote, there were white people who said, “I don’t know about this. This doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.” It made people uncomfortable, and that is the thing that people have to do is to make the rest of the world recognize that they deserve their rights — even if this makes other people feel uncomfortable. And sometimes we are those people. Sometimes we’re the ones who are uncomfortable because we have to shift ourselves. We get into a groove. It’s working for us. But then we have to do something different. We’ve got to strengthen a new muscle or gain some flexibility. It can be hard.
But to know also that whatever side of that coin you’re on, there is this need, this movement toward us treating each other better. Treating each other more like full human beings. So all of us are part of this struggle to treat our neighbors better. To recognize how to treat ourselves even better. To ask for what we deserve.
This story reminded me of Kizzy, my great, great, great grandmother. There are many people, maybe in this room, but definitely in this city who don’t have a safe place to be, to live, to thrive, to survive. And more and more as we are having natural disasters, more and more as there is war and people needing to flee to find safety, this theme or this idea of finding a place where they can be safe, be safe with their family. Kizzie made her journey when she was 15 years old. It took a lot of courage to stand up to a world that was trying to tell her that she counted for not. To stand up in that way is really brave. She endured a lot of hardship. Later in life, Kizzy lost her legs to frostbite due to poor housing and less-than-receptive attitudes towards African-Americans escaping slavery. There are so many people in the world who need a safe harbor.
On the count of three, I am going to ask you to say out loud the name of my great, great, great grandmother Kizzy. Ready? “Kizzy.” I ask you to say that because in ways that I can and cannot explain, it helps me to feel like I know who I am. Feels like it helps me to walk with my head high. When I have moments where I feel challenged or despondent, I feel like when I hear her name or I think upon her and her life, it helps me to feel strong.
I want you to recognize that there is probably somewhere in your own life, maybe there’s a person, a place, maybe there’s something that represents what courage looks like for you. Some people find that in religion, some people find that in philosophy, some people have that as a living embodiment in a parent or a grandparent. It’s good to have those reference points because life gets challenging sometimes. Sometimes we need to call on something to help us.
It also helps to know that we have community and that we have friends. I invite us to reflect on what it means to be in service to something larger than yourself. What does it mean to be in service to others? Realizing that we have a limited time offer on this thing, this life, the vitality we have in this moment, because we will never have this moment again with all of us gathered together. So there is something special about it. When we understand that, we treat it like it is precious. We treat the people around us like they’re precious.
Thank you for your time and witness.
Freedom Singer concert celebrating Black History Month at the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta HERE
Support for new musical release, “Feels Real Good” https://khariwendellmcclelland.bandcamp.com/track/feels-real-good