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By Maisha I. K. Handy
I wonder if she knew. As she spun “Respect” on repeat time and time again, living vicariously through your voice. Longing for the esteem for her humanity that you so powerfully demanded. I wonder if she knew the pain behind the melody. Through the unrelenting gazes and gropes you managed to rise like a phoenix to the top of troubled waters. You made space for my mother.
She lived as a single mother and educator on a single income in a world that, despite her undying love and commitment to Black children, incessantly invested in her silence and servitude. You made room for her and many others with voices and words that dislodged from fatigued throats as they sang along with your 45s. Rocking steady and holding on to precious memories. Raising children as mothers and other mothers and beyond. Contributing to the development of incredible children who became powerful revolutionaries, who built mighty institutions. Your voice and your witness helped produce those who would resist oppression in every form and God was your anchor.
Perhaps Jesus called you out of the boat upon his appearing, and you decided to walk on water. But you reached back and took a whole lot of folks with you, teaching them how to levitate to the sound of the waves and rock in the wind. Creating an underground railroad charted by discography, each song a refuge and a release. Freedom wrapped in struggle.
Your seemingly effortless and soulful soprano arias coupled with deeply meaningful messages stand as examples of the inextricable nature of spirit-mind-body-sacred. The Holy. Ebb and flow. Release and resistance. Beauty and the Blues. Because of your trailblazing ways, legends would come forth. Chaka Khan, Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Fantasia, and Jennifer Hudson stand flat-footed and transform the masses as they embody the true purpose of the aesthete.
We honor you for your surviving and your thriving. You are the Queen of Soul and the Queen of Courageous Living! Crowns are for those who live with valor and audacity while navigating a multitude of conflicts. Your gracious gifts to this world elevated genres and generations. Ancestors over there are joyful at your appearing. The choir just leveled up! Those taken from us far too soon and under far too grave circumstances are soothed by the sound of your coming. May your children find comfort and joy in knowing that the “great cloud of witnesses” is strengthened by your presence. We can hear you singing, “How I Got Over”! May you rest on in peace and power. Your blessed work is done.
Dr. Maisha I. Kariamu Handy: A native of Chicago Illinois, Dr. Maisha I. Kariamu Handy began her journey through higher education at Lincoln University (MO) receiving the Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology/Criminal Justice (1989). After relocating to Atlanta, Georgia, she received the Master of Divinity degree with honors from Candler School of Theology, Emory University (1994) and the PhD degree in Religion (Theology & Personality) from Emory University (2002). Dr. Handy currently serves as both the Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost and Associate Professor of Religion and Education at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta, Georgia where she has been employed for 18 years.
As administrator, professor, minister, and activist, Dr. Handy is committed to the struggle for justice and liberation as a womanist scholar/practitioner. During her tenure as faculty at the ITC, Dr. Handy served as the Black Women in Church and Society Womanist Scholar (2006-2007). She is the author of “Fighting the Matrix: Toward a Womanist Pedagogy for the Black Church” in The Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center and co-author of “Getting Real” in Keep It Real: Working with Today’s Black Youth. Dr. Handy founded the Holla If You Hear Me! hip hop forum, a series that engages the hip hop generation, the church, and the academy in community dialogue. Dr. Handy was appointed by the Association of Theological School’s (ATS) as the Historically Black Theological Schools Peer Group Reporter for the Educational Models and Practices initiative. She continues her work in higher education administration as a womanist committed to the unique HBCU experience of theological education found at the ITC.
Dr. Handy’s work is inextricably connected to her work as a pastor who is building a radically inclusive community that strives to live out the clarion call of liberation theologies. Known as “Pastor K,” Dr. Handy is a minister and theologian who is dedicated to pastoral mentoring and prophetic preaching. She currently serves as the pastor of Rize Community Church in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Handy was licensed (1991) and ordained (1994) to the gospel ministry at First Baptist Congregational Church of Chicago (Baptist/UCC) and ordained as a Ruling Elder in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta (2011). She is currently a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). After 5 years of serving as the pastor of Rize, the Rize Leadership Team continues to work together to develop a growing and thriving church community that strive to bringing healing and transformation to the world by the Holy Spirit and the liberating work of Jesus Christ and the Church.