STEPPING INTO THE FUTURE:
THE NEHEMIAH PROJECT
Revitalization and Restoration
The development of the Nehemiah Project was informed by both the history of Full Truth and the historic experiences of African Americans striving to remain faithful to the demands of spirituality that continue to remain alive at the core of our culture. Additionally, given the current oppressive political climate surrounding LGBTQ persons, hard won advancement are increasingly threatened; now is not the time to curl up and hide in hopelessness and despair. If ever there was a time to acknowledge and engage active partnerships with a Higher Power to guide and direct our spiritual lives that time is now.
Full Truth Fellowship of Christ Church (Full Truth) was started in 1989 as an intentional spiritual outreach to African American LGBTQ persons. Although being LGBTQ has become a bit trendy in recent years, LGBTQ persons continue to face severe social justice and spiritual challenges. Full Truth has had numerous victories over the years in terms of spiritual empowerment, care for persons living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, supporting and empowering African American LGBTQ persons, and confronting political oppression. One of the most significant accomplishments of Full Truth, however, was the purchase of its building. After meeting in community spaces and renting space in churches and in a commercial building, members and supporters came together to purchase a beautiful and spacious building at 4458 Joy Road. The building had been a funeral home, complete with two chapels, meeting rooms, office spaces and parking, ideal for the activities of a church. When the church bagel, HIV/AIDS was devastating communities throughout the world with a disproportionate impact on African Americans which continues to this day. In response, members of Full Truth started an additional organization, Healing Ourselves through Prevention Education and Services (HOPES, Inc.) to address the needs of African Americans infected with and affected by this disease. HOPES, Inc. was also housed in the newly acquired building.
The community bought and paid off a building that has fallen into severe disrepair. Financial and leadership challenges have greatly limited the direction and reach of the ministry as well. What should be a living testimony to God’s presence in our lives, has become a sad reflection of our stewardship of a wonderful gift. In the process, a painful vacuum has been created in the African American LGBTQ community where a historic and valued source of spiritual guidance once existed. Fortunately, others have accepted the call to fill that void and several churches that grew from Full Truth are doing incredibly positive and effective work. Nevertheless, there continues to be a need for the unique character of Full Truth. God has a purpose for keeping this church alive for 30 years!
Possibilities for the Next Thirty Years
The Nehemiah Project consists of three components reflecting some of the areas of possibilities for Full Truth which have surfaced, including a) creating a new model for ministry, b) re-purposing the building, and c) creating a system to collect information that will contribute to the existing body of LGBTQ history.
Full Truth was founded on principles of inclusion, the belief in the unconditional acceptance and affirmation of ALL persons. is the first component of the Nehemiah Project and addresses the need for rituals that reflect the rich diversity of spirituality among African American LGBTQ persons who are represented within all liturgical traditions. Some might be Baptist or Pentecostal or Roman Catholic or Muslim or participants in a wide variety of spiritual practices. In the past, worship and rituals at Full Truth have, primarily, represented the liturgical backgrounds of the leadership, thus falling sorely short of being inclusive. As we move forward and strive to both reflect and serve the wondrous diversity of our community, this is no longer acceptable. is for a new model for spiritual practices, i.e., rituals, educational programming, events etc., that make manifest the diversity that exists in the communities we strive to empower. Imagine, for example, attending a spirited evangelical style worship service one week and a Dharma talk the next and a Quaker service the next and an African inspired ritual the next and, and, and...Imagine still that these rituals are facilitated by LGBTQ persons and allies who are trained and credentialed professionals representing these traditions. This model will provide a safe and welcoming platform upon and through which the genuine variety of African American LGBTQ spiritualities can be celebrated. It will also provide a way to involve trained professionals who are themselves LGBTQ or who are allies and working in various mainline denominations or independent congregations or faith communities or seminarians and students of various spiritual practices. This model will enable them to provide spiritual guidance and support without having to leave their own affiliations. Imagine a faith community in which inclusion is an organic, dynamic, evolving and genuine representation of God in the world! Imagine the next 30 years of Full Truth!
CENTER FOR ARTS, CULTURE, AND HEALTH
The second component of the Nehemiah Project involves the creation of the Sankofa Center for Arts, Culture, and Health (SCACH).There is a great need for a place where young African American LGBTQ persons can go to learn about the individuals who fought and worked to create the kinds of social and political changes they enjoy today. Although the Affirmations LGBTQ Center and other similar facilities throughout the country provide needed programs, there is currently no such effort targeting African American LGBTQ culture. African American LGBTQ persons of all ages grapple to answer sever critical questions including What is our history and what have other African American LGBTQ persons accomplished in the past? How do our cultural experiences shape our lifestyles in unique and beautiful ways? Where do we find safe spaces to support one on other, to explore our lives, and to showcase out gifts and talents? Where can our allies, i.e., family members, friends, etc. find information about us or establish partnerships for building strong and healthy communities? How do we create effective networks to mobilize for social justice efforts that will impact the lives of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, sexual identity, race, or ethnicity? The SCACH will provide a vehicle through which some of these and other questions can be addressed. Imagine a place where the pictures are displayed of African American LGBTQ persons who have made positive contributions throughout history. Imagine what it might feel like for young persons to see the faces and learn about the accomplishments of famous African American LGBTQ persons such as Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Alvin Ailey, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Craig Harris, Pat Parker, Angela Bowen, and many, many others. Imagine being able to view and appreciate and even purchase art created by contemporary African American LGBTQ artists. Imagine attending events where the literary and musical creations and skills of African American LGBTQ persons are regularly showcased. Imagine having regular access to exercise and dance classes, health education workshops, health screening opportunities and support groups for any number of needs and concerns. Imagine the Sankofa Center for Arts, Culture and Health!
PRESERVING AND SHARING OUR STORIES
The third component, the Truth Be Told Project, will document and archive narratives of the spiritual journeys of African American LGBTQ persons especially targeting individuals living in or from the Detroit metropolitan area. Although most can recount some anecdotal information about the spiritual beliefs and experiences of African American LGBTQ persons, there is scant detailed, factual data about their spiritual journeys. For the most part, much of what passes for truth comes out of stories told by friends over time or from our actual experiences with organized religion. This needs to change.
It is extremely important for the African American community at-large and others to see and hear and touch and understand the history of God’s action among and relationships with African American LGBTQ persons in spite of messages of hate that were distributed for decades and painful experiences of rejection and ridicule. Scant factual information is available, however, about how spirituality is constructed and experienced for African American LGBTQ persons. Who has God or a “Higher Power” been in their lives and what kind of relationship, if any, existed? What has been their relationships with organized religious/faith groups over time? How did the realization of their sexual orientation or sexual identity impact those relationships? What impact has organized religion had on significant relationships such as those with families and friends? How did the existence of “out” churches, i.e., congregations that are primarily LGBTQ or that openly accept them, impact their beliefs about and responses to spiritual needs and practices? These and myriad other questions remain unanswered while many, many individuals yearn for the comfort and direction those answers can provide.
The Truth Be Told Project is designed to collect the narrative of African American LGBTQ persons in an effort to begin to answer critical questions that haunt so many of us.It will be spearheaded by Rev. Dr. Renee McCoy, a trained anthropologist and experienced ethnographer, who will be joined by gifted scholars and others tasked with gathering these data. As narratives are collected, they will be made available to the general public.