Bruce Banner is a business student at Andrews University, the son of Pastor Bruce and Lilliam Banner, and a member of the Jersey City Heights English Seventh-day Church in Jersey City. Along with Southern Adventist University student and Black Christian Union (BCU) president Mark Belfort, Banner created the #SDABlackout movement intended to serve as an act of solidarity across Adventist campuses ahead of the BCU vespers on the Southern campus. It started with blackout days on the Andrews and Southern campuses on February 14, and then morphed into a larger event that preceded a racist social media outburst at Southern.
On Thursday, February 25, Banner posted the following to his Facebook page:
In response to the ignorant and ongoing remarks that are taking place at Southern regarding Black History Month, I humbly ask of all students from every Adventist institution to have a day of solidarity tomorrow February 26, 2016, against these insensitive remarks and to bring attention to what is going on in our own community. I kindly request for all those participating to share this post and wear all black tomorrow posting a picture of their outfit with the hashtag [#SDABlackout]. Thank you
On Friday, Banner followed up on Facebook to provide more detail concerning that day’s SDABlackout event:
I'm sorry to everyone for not posting a reason earlier to as of why I asked of all of you to participate today with the #SDABlackout, but after having multiple conversations with intellectual individuals I would like to state the reason and dream to accomplish.
"The #SDABlackOut tag is a celebration. For decades upon centuries black skin has been ridiculed, criticized, demonized, and most recently relegated to satire.
Today, we celebrate.
In the face of ridicule, we celebrate.
In the face of criticism, we celebrate.
In the face of demonization, we celebrate.
In the face of hatred, disguised as "satire," we celebrate.
#SDABlackOut is an unapologetically Black movement, started by the Black Christian Union at Southern Adventist University, designed to celebrate the beauty that we call melanin. Whether you have black skin, brown skin, or white skin -- we give you an open invitation to join our celebration. If you do not, however, feel comfortable joining this celebration, we understand. We won't hold it against you. We simply ask that you do not try to diminish our celebration.
The #SDABlackOut initiative was started because we believe that Christians, specifically Adventists young adults, should unite to support all cultural organizations and heritage months. In short, this initiative was started to promote unity amongst our Adventist campuses.
We believe that this is a beautiful opportunity for everyone within the body of Christ to learn about, and to celebrate the rich, God-gifted culture and experience emanating from our skin.
We believe that there will come a glorious day when the wounds of racism will heal, when the lenses of discrimination will fall away, and together we will stand in unity. Until that day, this is a step in that Kingdom-living process. Together, we can start a movement towards learning to love and accept one another in our skin. Together, we can unite to show the world what Heaven will look like; different people, unified, celebrating each other's beauty and victory in Jesus."
Bruce (he goes by Alexander on Facebook) agreed to answer a few questions about the SDABlackout event.
You invited Adventists from all colleges and universities to participate in #SDABlackout as an act of solidarity. What's the backstory behind the event?
I would like to first state that I did not single-handedly plan this event, and would like to credit my longtime friend, Mark Belfort, the president of Black Christian Union (BCU), as the one that prompted this day of solidarity. I am part of the committee for the Black Student Christian Form (BSCF) at Andrews University and as a group we wanted to make Black History Month an eventful month for black students at Andrews to remember. We created Black Spirit Week, and one of those days we requested that all participants wear all black and sit at the front of the church for chapel. To promote Black Spirit Week we had a photoshoot done for sharing through social media, in order to reach out to all of the students at Andrews University. I would also like to emphasize that we invited all to join Black Spirit Week, no matter their race. Mark saw through my Facebook page what we were doing and liked the idea. He asked for Southern to have a blackout day as well.
A few days before the blackout day he called me and asked, "Did you hear what was going on down at Southern?" and sent me a screenshot from Instagram. Mark had expressed his discomfort with this post [a white student created a satirical response to #SAUBlackoutDay called #SUWhiteoutDay] and how that this was not the only "satirical" comment happening on Adventist campuses. We discussed afterwards our next step and came up with having a day solidarity against the racial comments expressed verbally and through social media down at Southern against Black History Month. After that day, we kept in constant communication with each other to create #SDABlackout day.
How did people participate, and what did you set out to accomplish?
I asked that everyone wear black, and my hope is to see a day where we all can congregate without having to think of whether there will be racial tension amongst us.
In the conversation of race and privilege, what do you feel people have a hard time understanding, or might be overlooking?
I once heard my father say, "All seeds are good, unfortunately through the evils of selfish humanity, some seeds are planted in poor soil and have difficulty thriving while other seeds are planted in enriched soil and therefore have much greater chance of thriving. We strive to have all seeds planted in the same soil."
Clearly the United States still struggles with issues of race and justice, and Adventism is not immune from the struggle. For you, what would be some concrete ways that things could/should improve within Adventism concerning race?
I would simply say that we are learning to make it heaven together.
How is social media making things better and making things worse?
As you can see social media has played a major role in joining those who were against or for the negative comments that have been spewed on a month meant for celebration. Social media can be used as a powerful tool to reach out to a larger audience in a matter of minutes to convey the message the individual would like to have spoken. It depends on the individuals--whether they use social media to uplift the name of God and His work or spread their negative thoughts to others.
What does Black History Month represent to you on a personal level, and how might the #SDABlackout event dovetail with that?
Black History Month is month of celebration. I would even dare to compare Black History Month to the Harlem Renaissance--a time of joy, creativity, and excellence. It is a time where blacks celebrated the works of those who sought out a higher education, developed new inventions, or created new genres of music. I believe Black History Month calls for me to stand up and embrace who God made me to be. To appreciate and celebrate the struggles but more so the victories of those who came before me. Giving their all in running their leg of the race to place our team in a good position. I see that they are trusting me and my generation to be the anchor leg of our relay team to continue to do so for the next generation to come. They have passed the baton to us to run our race to victory. #SDABlackout's main goal is to promote diversity and create unity amongst each other. We have more than 120 different nations represented in our church today and I hope to see us, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, celebrate what every race has contributed in to our church and let it be an inspiration to all to help one another live better lives as christians seeking eternal life with our Lord and Savior.
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