Catalytic Converters

Whoever said activists lack a sense of humor hasn't met Bernice Johnson Reagon. The unforgettable alto for the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock and a former member of the civil rights-era Freedom Singers, Reagon is living proof that working for justice and living with laughter are mutually compatible.

"The first time I ran into the term 'religion,' people were asking whether you had any. You know, some people had religion and some people didn't have religion. It wasn't a good thing if you didn't have it. If you didn't have it, you needed to go find it," Reagon recounts with a chuckle to an audience at Iliff School of Theology. Her childhood recollections and her memories of the African-American freedom movement are documented in "The Singing Warrior," a video interview conducted by the Veterans of Hope project in Denver.

Created by Vincent and Rosemarie Freeney Harding and produced with the help of Rachel Harding and Sudarshan Kapur, the Veterans video series aims to preserve and pass on what Vincent calls the "sacred history" of older activists to younger generations. Five videos have been produced; 50 more are in the works. Each offers a 40-to-50 minute interview-conversation with a "veteran" of human rights or social justice struggles, including those who struggled for civil rights within the United States and those who worked for human rights in Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, and across the globe. And each video pays particular attention to accounts of spiritual formation—from Reagon's early years in the black church to environmental activist Valdina Pinto's work as a Candomble priestess to activist-scholar Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons' embrace of Sufi mysticism.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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