Harambee, an organization for students of African descent at Harvard Divinity School, hosted the sixth annual Black Religion, Spirituality, and Culture Conference last week.
The two-day event included four virtual panels on topics, such as spirituality, physical wellness, and mental health. The conference's theme was “Rooted” and centered around African, Black, and indigeneous conceptions of health.
Ebony J. Johnson, the president of Harambee and a student at the Divinity School, introduced the conference as an effort to increase awareness of wellness among people of African descent.
“This conference serves to build a bridge between spirituality [and] mental health within the African diaspora,” Johnson said. “We are reframing, reshaping the narrative of Black mental health and wellness and combating against the negative stigma.”
During his opening remarks, Dean of the Divinity School David N. Hempton reaffirmed the importance of the conference in tackling social inequities and announced a five-year renewal of the conference’s funding.
“Two years ago, I made the decision to place this conference on a solid financial footing by guaranteeing its funding for three years, including this year and next year,” Hempton said. “This morning, I'm delighted to announce that this funding will be guaranteed for another five years after that. This conference fully deserves to have a permanent place in our educational landscape.”
Hempton said the Divinity School has been trying to promote diversity and inclusivity among its scholars and students.
“Here at the Divinity School, we’re trying to face up to our own responsibility to create a more diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist Divinity School,” Hempton said. “Later this semester, we hope to announce three exciting new appointments to our faculty on African Diasporic and African American Religious Studies.”
“We are taking seriously our vision of building a restorative, anti-racist and anti-oppressive Harvard Divinity School,” Hempton added.
The conference concluded with the presentation of the Sankofa Award, which recognizes Divinity School affiliates of African descent who “embody the importance of passing on wisdom, care, and commitment to the generations to come,” according to the conference’s website.
This year, the Sankofa Award was given to Jean Appolon, a Haitian dancer, choreographer, and co-founder of the dance company Jean Appolon Expressions.
Appolon said the award represents generations of work.
“The Sankofa Award doesn’t only mean Black excellence to me,” Appolon said. “It’s also described the ancestral work that we’ve been doing as artists, as Black folks, as scholars, and the way we are inspired to just continue to be healers, priests and priestesses, and many things more.”