This Far By Faith

“We’ve come this far by faith…”

These are the first words of one of the great Negro spirituals that has been passed down through the African-American tradition. It is one of the songs that guided my predecessors through the tumultuous Civil Rights era. It harkens back to the deep darkness of American slavery and reminds us of the motivating force by which we overcame that unthinkable, global tragedy…faith.

Throughout this journey there hasn’t always been strict uniformity around strategy. There were aggressively progressive abolitionists in the time of slavery and those who thought that isolating slavery in the South would eventually cause it to die out. Some post-slavery reconstructionists sought full and immediate citizenship for freed slaves while others viewed slow integration or migration back to African settlements as a better approach. The Civil Rights-era saw pacifist leaders who believed in non-violent protests and more militant types who sought equal treatment under the law by any means necessary. 

All of these leaders worked to advance the strategy that they espoused, but all were driven by a common belief in a better future. They all believed that not only could the African-American community move forward and achieve greatness, but by the power of faith and determination, we would.

I think it is high time that a new generation of African American leaders invoke the power of this song…”we’ve come this far by faith.”

This is particularly true as it relates to one of the great civil rights issues of our time: education.

As we struggle to achieve the high goal of equal access to high quality education for all children regardless of race or economic status, we must remember how we’ve always won: by faith. In a new world that is so full of information, it is easy to lose sight of the faith that has been the vanguard of our people through the years. But, it would be a huge mistake to do so.

Time and time again, our people have overcome what seemed to be insurmountable difficulty and oppression by the power of a faith that carved out highways of hope in the midst of vast wastelands of despair. We overcame because we believed that we could.

This Black History Month, we should all let this place of faith be our jumping off point. Regardless of the “how” we endorse as the way forward in education, we must once and for all close the belief gap. We must all understand, embrace and preach to others that every child—especially our children—can learn, thrive, and succeed. 

It may not always seem likely, but faith is a powerful thing. As a people, we have come this far not by the data or by a policy agenda, or by a particular methodology. We’ve come this far by faith. And in faith we must carry on.

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.