I am sure you have heard the song Kum Ba Yah countless times. In fact, you probably may have heard people make reference to the phrase “We will get together and sing some Kum Ba Yah” as a moment of peace, tranquility, agreement, or some compromise over some conflict or disagreement. Kum Ba Yah is meant to be that moment when we turn our swords into ploughshares. It wasn’t until a few days ago that I actually learned something new about the song.
Kum Ba Yah is a Negro Spiritual, and the actual words are “Come By Here.” So, Kum Ba Yah is a corrupted form of "Come By Here." That was the Negro’s cry while laboring at America’s plantations of cotton, corn, potatoes, sugarcane, and tobacco. It was the Negro’s cry during the stark and brutal challenges of Slavery and Jim Crow.
Kum Ba Yah was the Negro’s cry whilst they cleaned, washed, cooked, bathed, and did all sorts of menial jobs to keep their master’s life comfortable and secure, and to make their master as much money as possible.
Kum Ba Yah was the cry of the freed Slave who was denied opportunities and denigrated to the point of being second class citizens - yes, they paid taxes like everyone else, but they couldn’t even vote.
Kum Ba Yah was the cry of the educated Negro who, in spite of all their achievement, had to struggle for dignity and self-worth because the upward mobility promised by their success appeared to be a mirage. They simply couldn’t fit into the world created and dominated by the master, nor could they fit into the world they left behind.
Kum Ba Yah was the Negro’s cry because he couldn’t buy a home where they wanted to buy a home, educate their children where they wanted to educate them, sit on any seat on any bus, drink from any water fountain, eat from any restaurant they wanted to eat at, or spend the night at any hotel where they wanted to spend the night.
Kum Ba Yah was the cry of the Negro who lived at the edge of life, on the margins of American society.
Kum Ba Yah was the invitation of the Negro, that God may "Come By Here" not only to see how the modern-day 'Egyptians' are treating the modern-day 'Israelites,' but to deliver them from the bondage of slavery and Jim Crow.
The good news, for me, is that within the religio-cultural context from which the Negro was captured and transported into Slavery was an inbuilt consciousness of the Divine. It, therefore, isn’t surprising that the Negro always trusted in God to "Come By Here," and so day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and century after century, the Lord eventually showed up.
“Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning,” the Psalmist constantly assures the Negro.
One of the ways in which the Lord showed up was through Jim Rouse. I heard a lot about Jim Rouse when I was interviewing to be Rector, and when I finally accepted the call and relocated to Columbia. Jim Rouse had a vision, a liberated vision to create a community where people of all races, genders, socio-economic backgrounds, and faiths could live together, raise families together, worship together, and thrive together. A laudable vision, if you believe in Kum Ba Yah.
However, much like the story of the people of Israel, where there arose a Pharaoh who didn’t know about the stories of old, and so turned the people of Israel into slaves, some of us do not know or remember the vision of Jim Rouse, or simply do not buy into it at all. I recently read a story in the Baltimore Banner Report - Columbia, Maryland experiencing ‘creeping segregation,' report says - The Baltimore Banner
It isn’t the case that we are unaware of this distressing issue. I am very much aware of it, and it simply breaks my heart that this model city is losing a vital and important part of its story. It breaks my heart that the very people with whom we are meant to live together, raise our children together, thrive together, and even die together, cannot afford to live in Columbia because they are being priced out. More than that, the very problem for which this city was designed to solve is creeping back - segregation is returning.
You and I must resist this emerging trend. You and I must sing Kum Ba Yah - not only with an eye towards wholeness but as a reminder to always cry to the Lord to "Come By Here" - to heal our brokenness, renew our communities, refresh our fallen spirits, mend our wounds, and restore our souls with the balm of Gilead.
Come By Here, Lord. We need you.