Sometimes Seeing is Believing: Reflections on Faith and the Black Family Because of the Obamas
byThe Reverend Bro. Jonathan C. Augustine, J.D., M.Div.*
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”—Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
“[B]ecause thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet they have believed.”—John 20:29 (KJV)
I grew up in a Black family, during the 1970s and 80s, in inner-city New Orleans. Like so many Black children brought up in the Deep South at that time, I was repeatedly taught about the importance of faith. Indeed, the popular passage from Hebrews that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” was drilled into my mind and subconscious.
To be perfectly candid, because of what can only be termed as dysfunction in my childhood home, and because of the types of homes in which my first cousins grew-up, I did not have a personal familiarity with the “traditional” Black family. Please understand that my intended use of the term traditional contains absolutely no misogynistic or sexist undertones. My own mother worked as an educator and sacrificed to provide for me and my sister, notwithstanding the fact I grew-up in a two-parent home. Instead, my use of the term traditional is intended to describe a Black family where the husband and wife work collaboratively at raising children, while simultaneously pursuing common goals that are in the best interest of the family. Regrettably, based on my intended use of the term, my adolescent exposure to a traditional Black family was limited to the Huxtables, a two-parent family with whom I shared many special movements, courtesy of NBC, over the course of eight years. Now, as an adult, living in a blended family—arguably the new definition of traditional—my wife, Michelle, and I have faith that not only what our two children see in us, but also in the Obama Family, will influence their personal notions of what a traditional Black family is supposed to be.
In playing on Hebrews’ popular passage about faith, as I reflect on the Black America I knew as a child, I could only have faith that traditional Black families actually existed, considering they were not something I had personally seen. In reflecting on today, however, notwithstanding my children’s personal familiarity with my definition of “traditional,” I am delighted by the blessing of what they have seen for the last eight years—the vast majority of their young lives—in how special a traditional Black family can be. This overwhelmingly positive influence, in the form of a faith that has come to fruition, has redefined expectations not only for me, but for an entire generation. This has only been possible because of President Barack Obama and the overwhelmingly positive influence resulting from his “traditional” First Family.
In John 20, as Jesus appears to his disciples sometime after the resurrection, Thomas becomes overwhelmed with amazement and only after seeing Jesus, professes his belief. In many regards, I am much like Doubting Thomas. Because I have now seen the positive influences of a traditional Black Family—where both mother and father are attentive to their children and collaboratively work to better their children’s lives—I now believe. Because I have also seen mutual support, encouragement and a familial pursuit of excellence, I now believe. Because I have seen a Black man who is secure enough in his masculinity to be openly affectionate with his family, while simultaneously being tough enough to take out international terrorists who threatened his family’s safety, I now believe. Indeed, I am quite a bit like Doubting Thomas because I had never before seen a Black family so loving, but at the same time so driven for personal and professional excellence, that I can now believe traditional is in fact possible. In many regards, therefore, I am proud to be like Doubting Thomas. Because I have now seen, I also have new standards on what should be normal and “traditional” in Black America. More importantly, my children can also believe because of everything they have seen.
I give special thanks to the Obamas for not only bringing my childhood faith to fruition, but more importantly, for showing my children, and an entire generation, what a “traditional” Black family should be.
The Reverend Bro. Jonathan C. Augustine [Beta ‘91] is the 46th Senior Pastor of Historic St. James AME Church in New Orleans, National Chaplain of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and a member of the Fraternity’s Sigma Lambda Chapter. Bro. Augustine may be reached via Twitter at @jayaugustine9 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.