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Monday, September 20, 2021

Rahiel Tesfamariam speaks about church, black millennials at UW-Madison

Rahiel Tesfamariam, UW-Madison’s Black History Month keynote speaker, spoke Thursday night about the intersection between black millennials and the black church.

The University Gospel Choir sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before Tesfamariam began her speech.

Tesfamariam, who holds degrees from Stanford University and Yale University, referenced recent events where black people were further marginalized to show that the United States is currently undergoing a period of transformation.

She said that while she was growing up, she wished she could have been a leader during the 1960s civil rights movements. Tesfamariam said she thinks people decades from now will have the same thought about this time period.

“There will be a time when a generation looks back on this moment and will be mad that they are not living through this,” Tesfamariam said

The black church was also a main point throughout the speech. She connected her theology with how Tupac Shakur said he saw God when he rapped “Is there a Heaven for a G?” Tesfamariam said that millennials need to find themselves in a God that was not presented as black at all, like Shakur did.

“Would [Shakur] have had to ask that question if Jesus was a prophet instead of a priest? He would have found himself in that Jesus, he would have seen himself in that Jesus. He never would have had to ask those questions,” Tesfamariam said. “In the same way that millennials wouldn’t have to make their way to church to find Jesus, they would find Jesus in themselves. One of the most liberating things I ever did was to find God in me—black, working class, coming from nothing.”

Tesfamariam concluded her speech with a short question and answer session where she answered several personal questions about her faith and how she has stayed grounded.

UW-Madison Ph.D. candidate Kevin Hicks provided closing remarks, which detailed the university’s remaining events for Black History Month. 

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