vanessa-whiteby C. Vanessa White

I’m gonna move when the Spirit say move
I’m gonna move when the Spirit say move
When the Spirit say move
I’m gonna move, O Lord
I’m gonna move when the Spirit say move.

-African American spiritual

Black people are a Spirit-filled people. This religious nature of black people has been, as theologian Gayraud Wilmore has written, “an essential thread in the fabric of black culture.” It transcends regional differences and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is our sense of this Spirit that has helped us to survive centuries of oppression, alienation, floggings, lynchings, discrimination, murder, and human devaluation.


To understand us, one must understand our spirituality, which has African roots. The ways of searching for God and experiencing God’s presence in our lives is not done within a vacuum but in a cultural context.

Black spirituality, the late Sister Thea Bowman said, is a response to and a reflection on black life and culture. It is rooted in our African heritage and is colored by our Middle Passage from Africa to America, slavery, our Caribbean and Latin experience, segregation, integration, and our ongoing struggle for liberation.

But how exactly is black spirituality defined and expressed? Here are five key characteristics…

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