In October 1995 Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, organized an event called the Million Man March. The aim of the event was to encourage black men to be strong, self-sufficient leaders for the sake of a stronger and self-sufficient black community. I was in college at the time, and my desire to march surprised many of my friends who are not black. In fact, looking back, I still wish I did.
Of course I am quite familiar with everything wrong with the Nation of Islam. I am a biblically grounded Christian, so I recognize the Nation of Islam as a false and deceiving religion. However, what is difficult for some to understand, particularly for non-black Christians, was how much the idea of being with so many other black men appealed to me.
I wanted a sense of solidarity, a communal sense of belonging with others who were like me, understood me, and were behind me. Ultimately I realized that the Million Man March would not really give me what I was looking for. The demographic category of “black man” as defined by the prevailing culture was inadequate for fully defining my social reality. My blackness at that point was a mixture of Haitian influences from my family background, white influences from my junior high and high school background, and black influences from my elementary school setting and my time as a student athlete in college.
To be clear, the Million Man March setting would be far more comfortable than other situations, such as a Coldplay concert (no offense to Coldplay fans; I think that “Clocks” song is pretty good). Nonetheless it was a setting that was not and could not be sufficient to the task of providing the kind of deep community I desired.
My blackness reflects multiple communities and cultural influences. Some are more dominant in my racial identity than others. I consider myself mostly Haitian American and Black American, but that is not all that I am. At this point in my life, I am a lot more Hispanic American than before by virtue of marrying a Hispanic wife and living in Arizona alongside so many Mexican and Hispanic families.
I know there are many out there like me. It is why the category of race is increasingly ill-defined, with more flexible boundaries and a broader range than our culture currently realizes. Many of my black friends, indeed many of my friends in general, reflect a wide range of demographics. More and more of us are the sum of many parts.
This is why we need more multi-demographic churches. These are churches where the demographic makeup of the congregations is noticeably varied and broad. In truth, these churches simply reflect their surrounding area, because if we can believe recent U.S. Census reports, it is more the rule rather than the exception that our neighborhoods include multiple demographics.
Biblically speaking, no other institution in the world is poised like the church to bring together multiple demographics as one community. A full-orbed gospel builds the kind of community where you do not have to reject parts of your cultural background in order to fit in. Rather, the gospel refines and strengthens all these parts, redeeming them into “one new man” in Christ. A church like this is where I can feel at home and where many out there like me will also find their home.