art by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

My mother would tell me horror stories of her times where hatred was up close and chants were sung to terrorize. Fear would come over me because nothing had changed since then; we were still black. I lived my life with such awareness and yet I remember how the church was our sanctuary. When I was thirteen, I remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to our church in Los Angeles with the UCLA basketball team. The Black Panthers came to our church, the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Slauson Gang. There was a need in the 60s to be together. Church members helped other church members with gaining employment, sharing housing, and borrowing from each other to get cars, buy food, or pay for someone’s education or doctor bill. Southerners with nothing came and made something of their lives. The church grew us into ourselves despite the hatred against black people. It all happened in the house of God. So, sanctuary wasn’t only where religious teachings were espoused to ease the pain or about moral behavior, who was going to heaven or not, as much as it was about sustaining sanity in a world that threatened our lives. We wanted to remain the loving and non-violent people we knew ourselves to be. We protected each other as a tribe within our sanctuary.