“Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul…Lean toward the whispers of your own heart…Release the need to hate, to harbor division and the enticement of revenge…But when it is your time, don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”—John Lewis
Remember the song that told you to “sing out loud, sing out strong?” Then you were told to “let the world sing along,” “sing of love there could be” and “sing for you and for me.” As GNJ delves into a new plan to work toward ending the sin of racism, GNJers are boldly singing out loud.
On April 30, Boonton UMC hosted the opening night of its new HOPE Film Festival, a project designed to call attention to GNJ’s A Journey of Hope by offering featured films and documentaries about America through the experiences, perspectives and artistry of Black Americans.
“The HOPE Film Series is a step in the much larger fight against racism. We recognize that every step is a crucial step, but we also recognize that racism is a really heavy piece of concrete to kick,” said Boonton UMC’s Director of Music Stephanie Lindley who initiated and is leading this project.
On that opening night, local NJ musician ROSTAFA opened up the event, followed by the movie, “Black Panther.”
Lindley said she is hoping that the new film series educates and enlightens, that it attracts people who would not normally go to events like this.
“I hope it makes them think about things a little differently and prompt them to get involved in the movement on their own,” she added.
Although Lindley said she felt lucky to have acted in many plays led by her father in an African American high school in Salem County, Lindley openly admits that her white privileged childhood growing up in southern New Jersey had given her an idealistic view of racial harmony.
But her eyes were opened when she spent 30 years of her adult life in Greensboro, NC where Blacks, which make up about 50 percent of the population, made a powerful impression on her.
Returning to New Jersey to her mother after her father died in 2017, Lindley said she was shocked by what she saw in her childhood home state.
“In the summer of 2017, the Sussex Airport was vandalized with Nazi graffiti. I couldn’t believe it. I was truly horrified.”
Lindley quickly found work doing what she did in North Carolina–musically directing theater, teaching music as an adjunct professor in Paterson and directing music for two different churches. But as existing racial tensions and divisiveness became more apparent in many communities throughout New Jersey and in the nation, Lindley said she realized much more needed to be done.
She wanted to do something that could make a lasting impact on the communities she was immersed in, something that could be used as a model and inspiration for others wanting to do similar work.
It was in the summer of 2020, after a number of horrific incidents Lindley witnessed, that she had a conversation with Pastor Chris Bruesehoff at her family’s church in Vernon. Pastor Chris pointed to a book on his desk, Dear Church. In this book, Lutheran Pastor Lenny Duncan strongly asserts that all 21st century Christians are called to destroy white supremacy. A few days later, she spoke with Rev. Donald Kirschner, pastor of the Boonton UMC who told her about A Journey of Hope.
While leading a small Zoom-based book group on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winning book that addresses America’s racist history, The Underground Railroad, Lindley presented Kirschner with her idea, which would be a vehicle to promote GNJ’s A Journey of Hope.
Lindley has become all too aware of the racism that exists in her communities, a problem that is exacerbated by the distance of minds and hearts that segregation brings.
“But there’s art. Art transcends geography, religion and boundaries,” said Lindley.
Along with her son, who is a graduate of University of Connecticut, she began creating a database of films that focus on Black Americans and Black American concerns, history, artistry and joys. They also collected books by W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi and others.
The Hope Film Series and Library was born.
With a new movie being shown each Friday, the team is working hard to stock a library at the church and create a special website that will organize, advertise and be a resource related to all this. Study guides are also provided at each showing.
Most recently, “The Underground Railroad” was shown on May 23 with additional performances of the Amazon series scheduled to be on June 13, June 27 and into July.
When the Boonton UMC was established in 1857, tensions were rising over the issue of slavery. The state had a strong abolitionist community, having long been a primary route on the Underground Railroad for hiding and protecting fugitive slaves who escaped from the South.
In an attempt to strengthen the position of those seeking to keep New Jersey from joining the Southern cause, Lincoln stopped in New Jersey on the way to his inauguration in Washington. He was greeted by a crowd estimated at 25,000 to 75,000 in Newark, along with large turnouts in Jersey City and Elizabeth, followed by a raucous reception by students in Princeton of the College of New Jersey.
Several Morris County history books mention the Underground Railroad that traveled from Boonton to Newfoundland to Stockholm to Canistear. (It should be noted that then Stockholm was located in Passaic County at the intersection of Route 23 and Canistear Road). From there the route traveled to Warwick and to Chester, NY. The Presbyterian Parsonage in Chester served as the safe house. Incidentally, the one pastor involved in the Underground Railroad at that point was Rev. James W. Wood who had served as the first pastor of the Sussex Presbyterian Church from October 1839-October 1845.
And this church happens to be the church that Rev. Kirschner’s wife, Katherine, serves now!
“I’m working on this every day,” said Lindley who has invited everyone to share their ideas and thoughts about this important and exciting program that will likely continue for the remainder of the year if there is enough interest surrounding these first seven films.
“This is about empathy. This is about community. This is LOVE in action,” she said.
For more details, including a list of the movies, visit www.boontonumc.com/journey-of-hope/hope-film-series/.