National “Voices Tour” Visits Chowan University
MURFREESBORO, NC – On February 13th, students, faculty, and staff gathered to experience the Voices Tour at Chowan University. The Voices Project brings together African American leaders from all over the country who influence the church, education, art, entertainment, politics, and business to facilitate important conversations about the current challenges and triumphs of the Black Community and the rule of leaders and influencers in today’s culture. The gathering serves to encourage and support black Christian leaders, reconnect history across generations, share ideas, build bridges, and strengthen hope. Although Chowan University is not an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), it was chosen as one of the many stops on the “Black Leaders tour of HBCU’s.” Other stops include Tennessee State University, and Dillard University.
The itinerary incorporated two break-out sessions: Arts and Culture and the Church, and Community Involvement and Change, followed by dinner and the two-hour Voices Tour. The tour included guest speakers LeRoy Barber (Executive Director of the Voices Project and Holla Mentors), and Lisa Sharon Harper (Chief Church Engagement Officer at Sojourners) both recently arrested for protesting on the Capital Steps about the death penalty. Chowan student Goluia “Gigi” Johnson, who interned with Urban Doxology, a ministerial band that writes the soundtrack of reconciliation in the racially diverse and gentrifying neighborhood of Church Hill, Richmond, Virginia, participated. Pastah J (Jonathan Brooks), who presented the Religious Heritage Lecture at Chowan University in 2016 and currently serves as the Senior Pastor at Canaan Community Church in West Englewood, and Amena Brown, who will headline the University’s religious Heritage Lectures in 2017 and is currently a poet, author and speaker, were among the guest speakers at the event.
Amena Brown and David Bailey, co-founder of Urban Doxology, hosted the Arts and Culture and the Church session, an intimate gathering held in Vaugh Auditorium in Robert Marks Hall. The two speakers shared dialogue about the importance of using creative avenues to make your voice heard. Bailey referenced Urban Doxology and said, “Instead of writing papers, we write songs,” about religion and praise. The two hosts led a round-table discussion, providing advice for young artists. Brown encouraged the students to “take the time to discover your voice.” At the end of the discussion, the floor was opened up to the students to ask questions.
Pastah J led the Community Involvement and Change session in the Synago Room, where he spoke about the role of religion in social change. “Religion is only irrelevant when Christians become irrelevant,” Pastah J shared. He posed the question to the audience, “What do you need to do to make religion relevant at Chowan?” The session encouraged individuals to lead by example and love the unlovable.
Following the two sessions, a dinner was hosted for the distinguished guests. Student campus ministry leaders were provided the opportunity to have personal conversations with the speakers and visitors. After dinner, the Voices Tour opened with DJ OPDiggy. Evelyn Walker, Junior Chowan University student shared a poem she wrote about a time she talked to God and he talked back. A video of Pastah J’s work in Southside Chicago was shared, followed by an introduction by Leroy Barber. Pastah J served as the emcee of the evening. Amena Brown shared her original spoken word poetry as well as a poem by Langston Hughes. Urban Doxology led several worship songs and Chowan University Instruments of Praise Gospel Choir performed. Attendees stood up, swayed with the music, and clapped along to the beat. The passion in the room was so strong the floors vibrated with the rhythm of joyful feet.
The night ended with a panel discussion designed to equip leaders and examine how justice and faith intercept. Panel members included Lisa Sharon Harper, Pastah J, David Bailey, and Marie Teilhard, Director of Academic Services at Kilns College. Amena Brown served as the moderator. A Voices Tour Sponsor shared a video, and Lisa Sharon Harper provided a call to action.
At the conclusion of the tour students gathered in the lobby of McDowell Columns Hall to exchange contact information with the members of the Voices Tour. Chowan University and Campus Ministry leaders express thanks to all who participated and attended.