2018 Consultation Reflections: Brazil Is Like the United States, Except…

Brazil Is Like the United States, Except…

by Shoshana A. Brown, LMSW

This summer I took on the exciting and edgy experience of traveling to Brazil with The Daughters of the African Atlantic Fund to attend their African and African Diasporan Women in Religion and Theology consultation. As a Black mixed-race Jewish femme, I certainly had my reservations of what the experience would be, particularly as I was attending alone and without any particularly special invitation. As a Tzovah in the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, I have been on a journey to discover the language that best describes my practice of Judaism that incorporates indigenous Senegalese spiritual practices. I looked forward to allowing this consultation to help me refine and root deeply in the language I was writing about. I also sought to learn about Brazil and Brazilian culture and history.

Learning from some amazing Brazilian Womxn scholars and Candomblé practitioners was exactly what I hoped. Brazil is much like the United States. Brazil has a similar history of slavery, though much larger and longer. This means that there are many Black folks in Brazil and the nature of the way people identify their race is also more nuanced. The rates of violence against women is similarly high, and yet the homicides of Black women (quoted as 51 percent of all attempted homicides) are not considered gender violence. This along with research showing that Black womxn in Brazil have higher rates of risky abortion (which is illegal there) demonstrates the lack of value placed on the bodies of Black womxn in Brazil. The same can be said for the United States as we witness the devastating murders from Eleanor Bumpers (1984) to Crystalline Barnes (2018) and notably #SandraBland in the surge of the #sayhername movement. It was evident throughout the panels, side conversations, and personal anecdotes that Black womxn in Brazil share similar experiences to Black womxn in the United States.

While there are lots of similarities between the institutionalization of racism and sexism in Brazil and the United States, there is one difference that stood out – indigenous practice. The practice of Candomblé in Brazil was shared through a number of panels as well as an immersion experience in a Candomblé house. We learned about the vulnerability of Candomblé right now resulting from escalating violence on Candomblé houses mostly by people who are Christians, Protestant or Catholic. Religious intolerance continues to be a major topic of debate in Brazil.

Here in the United States, earth-based spiritual practices are flourishing as more activists find some of the policies and traditions of the Black church oppressive towards queer folks or inconsistent with their personal politics. You can find Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Cullors discussing these tensions in the On Being podcast. While many folks feel pushed out of the church, they are finding roots and home in earth-based and embodied practices such as burning sage, crystal magic, meditation, and yoga. These practices are on the rise and are thriving. Many churches have begun to incorporate these spiritual aspects as a result.

So, while Brazil is very similar to the United States, the spiritual landscapes of the two countries are on an opposite trajectory. This consultation was affirming for my research, and I certainly obtained what I intended to. While I always expect to experience Christian hegemony as a Black Jew, I had hoped that at a consultation of African and African Diasporan Women there would be a bit more embodied practice and integration of spirituality actually infused throughout the experience. We must always remember that the absence of spirituality and religion does not actually create equality; rather it reinforces the dominant narrative – here it was Christianity.


The Daughters of the African Atlantic Remembers Katie Cannon

RICHMOND, Va. (August 9, 2018) – The Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary, first African-American woman ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and a foremost scholar of the womanist movement, died Wednesday after a brief illness. She was 68.

“Dr. Cannon was greatly admired and loved by the entire seminary community as a scholar, teacher, and friend,” said Brian K. Blount, president of Union Presbyterian Seminary. “This is a difficult moment; our resurrection faith sustains us.”

Cannon announced in June she had been diagnosed with acute leukemia, a medical condition that caused her to become transfusion dependent. Union responded by sponsoring a blood drive in which many faculty, staff, alumni, and students gave blood in recognition of her treatment.

The founder of the Center for Womanist Leadership, Cannon was a pioneer in the study and work of womanist theology and ethics. She lectured nationally and internationally on womanist theology and social ethics and is the author and editor of numerous articles and books.

In April, on the 44th anniversary of her ordination, she co-organized a womanist conference that critiqued the complex cultural locations and histories of today’s political domain. Fourteen African-American women scholars attended the conference, including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, activist, and author of “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker.

In March, Cannon told the seminary’s “Union matters!” podcast why the conference matters. She reflected on the conference’s purpose and agenda in the context of her own challenges growing up black in racially segregated Kannapolis, North Carolina, in the 1950s. “I knew I had to get out of North Carolina because I hated segregation,” she said. “I couldn’t go to the library, couldn’t go to the swimming pool, couldn’t go to the YWCA. Everything was forbidden, outlawed, and you didn’t want to risk doing it knowing somebody might get killed.”

Cannon was ordained April 24, 1974, in Shelby, North Carolina, by the Catawba Presbytery, in the Synod of Catawba. The United Presbyterian Church – predecessor of the PC(USA) – listed 154 white women as ordained clergy at that time, according to the Presbyterian Office of Information.

She received her Bachelor of Science from Barber-Scotia College, Master of Divinity from Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, and Master and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Cannon began teaching at Union in 2001 and received many awards for her work. She was the Lilly Distinguished Visiting Professor of Religion at Davidson College and the Sterling Brown Visiting Professor in Religion and African American Studies at Williams College. She received the distinguished professor award from Spelman College, the Lucy Craft Laney award at the Black Presbyterian Bicentennial Celebration, and was a Professor-Scholar honoree at the National Black Church Summit at Emory University. In 2011, she received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the American Academy of Religion. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference bestowed its Beautiful Are The Feet Award to her in February.

In June, Cannon received the Excellence in Theological Education award at the General Assembly of the PC(USA) in St. Louis in recognition of her many achievements. “Teaching is my ministry,” she said in a video played at the award ceremony. “I love teaching to empower, to equip, to set people free.”

Among Dr. Cannon’s many contributions was service as a founding director of The Daughters of the African Atlantic Fund. True to her form, Cannon was an enthusiastic supporter of The Daughters. She helped structure the organization’s 2014 launch, provided marketing souvenir pens, and commissioned a beautiful table banner for the event. Cannon completely underwrote The Daughters’ 2015 fund-raising breakfast, which featured Mercy Amba Oduyoye as speaker. In 2016, she helped envision and collaborated with the board to sponsor three directors’ travel for preliminary work in Brazil to develop the 2018 Consultation of African and African Diasporan Women in Religion and Theology. Dr. Cannon donated artwork for every consultation, including the initial meeting in 2012. She gave in many other ways. Finally, Cannon had an invaluable impact on The Daughters through wisdom and insight she shared during board meetings and behind the scenes.

Cannon is survived by her mother Corine L. Cannon; sisters and brothers Sara Cannon Fleming, Doris Cannon Love, Sylvia Moon, John Cannon, and Jerry Cannon; and 21 nieces and nephews, including actor Nick Cannon and musicians Joshua Cannon Fleming and Cedric T. Love. Contact: Mike Frontiero, Director of Communications, Union Presbyterian Seminary, [email protected].