4 hymns and a mule
By Kaylin Moss
My family is a Southern pecan tree under the sun’s glaze, with roots ingrained in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. I grew up in South Carolina, the capital of the bible belt. My culture lives in stained glass windows and rigid pews. A traditional AME church service would not be complete until we sang at least four hymns, adorned with tambourines. As African-Americans, many of us do not know our ancestors’ names, religions or language — slavery stole our history. Music connects us to our predecessors; the songs we sing in church are akin to the spirituals our kin sang in cotton fields. My parents recount how I would dance in the aisles, with rhythm in my feet and the holy spirit in my hands.
What happened? I asked, why is God male? I asked, will children of other religions go to heaven? I did not understand how a holy book could be so dense, yet could not answer my equally thick curiosity. Senior year of high school, I stopped identifying as Christian. Wearing a permanent mask in front of my family was exhausting. Finally, I was free from intellectual conformity.
During high school, I continued to explore my identity. I attempted to fit my lack of religion into a category. Am I an atheist? Agnostic? I am still asking myself, and that is OK. Once I learned I do not need to fit into society’s mold, a burden was lifted. My courageous act extended into my leadership and academics. Being free from religion taught me the importance of asking questions with tough answers.
My parents feel like they have failed me because I no longer believe in God. The African-American community frequently ostracizes those who turn from religion. The secular community could better engage nonreligious students of color by offering us an outlet for inquisitiveness and expression. Without the support system offered by our religious communities, we are faced with loneliness. The secular community can counteract this adverse effect through secular celebrations and secular student organizations. Such communities can bolster freethinking students of color by encouraging different worldviews, offering mental health resources and reaching out to us for our input.
I continue to accompany my parents to AME church services for the sense of community and belonging I feel when I am with them. Taking off my disingenuous mask of religion has allowed me to rediscover my intellectual identity. The impact on my academic and leadership skills has been astronomical, due to my newfound inquisitiveness and courage. I do not criticize those who are religious. In fact, I love engaging in conversations with those who hold oppositional religious views. Discussions of philosophy and logical reasoning help satisfy my thirst for novel knowledge grounded in truth. In a perfect world, I envision classrooms which stimulate such discussions, as they would breed an extraordinary learning environment and support system for everyone, especially students of color.
Kaylin, 19, is from Mount Pleasant, S.C., and attends Marist College, majoring in computer science. She is involved with the Marist Computer Society, Marist Students Encouraging Environmental Dedication (Marist SEED) and Marist photography club.