Blood on the Leaves – ‘Sunday Disservice’ at Howard University

This past Friday, word began to spread across Howard University’s homecoming: Kanye West is doing “Sunday Service” on the yard Saturday at 8am. The. Yard.

Pardon? Run that back one mo’ gin. Howard is trying to normalize Kanye? We drinking the koolaid too?? What? Why? How? And most importantly, who thought this was the move?

Coincidentally, the Howard University twitter account did NOT share Kanye’s 10 minute rant. *Insert Side-eye*. I digress.

Any graduate of a HBCU has sacred ground on their campus (if not the whole campus). A place that is  ground zero for your school’s history, identity, culture, and legacy. The Yard is Howard’s. It’s our centralized safe space and it bothered me that the Howard powers-that-be allowed the space to be violated. But as a proud alumni of Howard University, and a staunch critic of Kanye, I felt obligated to go. I needed to witness, first-hand, what Sunday Service is. I needed to see and feel how it was received. I also felt it necessary to protect my campus from his ignorance, if he decided he needed to talk his shit… which he did. More on that later.

Kanye’s “Sunday Service” began in January 2019, rooted in the ability to “communicate the message of love effectively”.

Just days earlier, Kanye’s twitter fingers got restless as he went on a Twitter tirade, reaffirming his support for President Pumpkin Spice, implying that black people were being controlled, professing his Christianity, as well as his “freethinking”. It was the peak of the “Kanye is cancelled (again) Party”.  The ultimate shit shows of shit shows. Even his biggest fans, those begging us to separate the music from the “genius” had grown weary. Keep in mind that three months before that, Kanye was in the oval office with a MAGA hat saying President Pumpkin Spice was like a father to him and six months before, Kanye stated “slavery is a choice”.

Then came Sunday Service, where Kanye activated his cheat code.

What started out as “communicating love” quickly transitioned into a praise and worship environment. Kanye has stated that he became saved throughout the process and that is shown within the evolution of ‘Sunday Service’. And while we were trying to figure out what “Sunday Service” was, Kanye dropped a hard J word: Jesus. It is a ‘dog whistle‘ for many Black Americans who, no matter how hard they try, can not avoid the desire to praise his name.

I’d like to quickly note: Though his delivery was wrong, and his words not thought out, Kanye’s comments about Black people’s blind allegiance to the Democratic party rings true. A broken clock is right twice a day so as a ‘No Party Preference’ voter, I was able to see his point through his bull shit. I am no longer attached to the Democrats who consistently take advantage of the majority of Black people who they know will vote for them, without preconditions. Black people are loyal to a fault. Kanye said “Blacks are 90% Democrats. That sounds like control to me.” And he is right. That is control. As is the 79% of Black people who identify as Christian. That sounds like control to me too.

*cracks knuckles.”

Black Americans are African descendants of slaves (ADOS). Our ancestors lost their names, identities, culture, and religion when they were stolen from Africa, force to acclimate into their oppressors way of life, including how and who they worshiped. I always like to ask Black Christians why they are Christian and what they think their religion would be if it weren’t for slavery. And while there are “pure” Christians in some African countries that pre-date slavery, the current brand of Christianity that Black Americans subscribe to was introduced during colonialism and is the same brand of Christianity used by white slaver-owners to control these “new slaves”. Exactly how this ‘new’ God to slaves, who keeps you in bondage, raped, beaten, starved, separated from your family, and even killed, can be the same God that also blesses ‘master’ who perpetuates these abuses escapes me.  This indoctrination is a generational curse, passed down to those born in to physical slavery, manifesting a new type of mental slavery. ADOS are conformed by Christian ideology that replaced our indigenous religions our ancestors followed.

Anyanwu (Igbo: Eye of the Sun) is an Igbo deity that is believed to dwell in the sun. Anyanwu was one of the principal spirits for the Igbo, often associated with Agbala, the holy spirit as they both dwelled in the sun. This deity was seen as the perfect image of what a human should be.

The conditioning is so deep that if you were to share various African religions, traditions, and rituals, such as Odinani, to Black American Christians, they would tell you they don’t fool with nothing but the lord. Black Christians will deny our ancestral roots to worship a white Jesus. They will put down our ancestral roots over respecting, engaging and/or learning about ancient African religions more closely connected to the diaspora.  They will shun our ancestral roots for practicing animal sacrifices but will gladly sit over the table and pray over a dead Thanksgiving turkey. Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like control to me.

Which is why Sunday Service is so problematic.  Not only has Kanye built his own church, which includes a pulpit, he has also created a cool kids club where people feel a since of honor or “blessed” to be able to attend. It’s a celebrity circle-jerk of exclusivity. It’s an act of desperation for validity. It is as seductive as it is manipulative. It plays on the heartstrings of the “black experience” as it pertains to our unhealthy relationship with the church.

Kanye West sharing why he started his “church” Sunday Service, at Howard University

Kanye has tapped into the blind allegiance of Black American Christians. Less than a month ago, after Botham Jean’s brother forgave and hugged Botham’s killer, as well as the Black judge, a conversation started around how black people are always expected to forgive. Black American’s are always expected to take the higher road. To forgive our oppressors because that is the Christian way. That religious conditioning of slaves transferred to free people. The civil rights movement was lead from a non-violent perspective, where fighting back was discouraged. Why we are supposed to take the abuse, turn the other cheek, and while doing so, hope that our oppressors will have a come-to-Jesus-moment (pun intended) and see the error in their ways. How Sway? How does that benefit anyone other than the oppressor when those who are oppressed are taught to take it and then forgive because the Bible says so?

Meeting of the KKK, probably in Portland, Ore., in the 1920s

To quote a friend who was discussing the senseless execution of Atatiana Jefferson in her home, “The unfortunate side of all circumstances is that black people have been conditioned to believe in the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. We continue to take our religious principles and apply them to the most man made things.” Sunday Service being one of them.

Kanye stated from his own mouth that Sunday Service is a church. In all reality, it feels more like a cult. A cult is defined as: a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. Cult leaders share various character traits:

Sound familiar? And most people in cults do not realize they are in one until it’s too late. This is “because some people are more willing to see the perceived benefits than they are the potential dangers.” Under the umbrella of “Sunday Service”, is Kanye West glamorizing the perceived benefits of his fellowships over the potential dangers of his words and actions. In the process, Kanye is absolved of his sins and praised simply for evoking the name of Jesus. These people who once cancelled him for being a reckless jackass all of a sudden find a silver lining through his newly founded Christianity. Sounds like control to me.

Which brings me back to Sunday Service at Howard University’s Homecoming. I watched a crowd of black people on our yard, young and old, who have booed and heckled some of the best of the best on campus for less, literally open their arms for Kanye. The mere mention of Jesus sent hands up. The “yes lord” and “won’t he do” filled the space and you could see the mood shifting from one of uncertainty to one of acceptance (Until he started talking about slave nets and the crowd became uneasy again). Kanye received a warm embrace, almost immediately. I could see and feel God being used to manipulate us into forgiving him, accepting him, supporting him, and advocating for him, despite not agreeing with what he says or does.
He knows now that he will no longer be held accountable because he found God, to which he thanked for saving him from being cancelled, proclaiming his being on our campus as proof of such. Kanye has found a way to be worshiped, using himself as the “vessel” to spread his word….not THE word. I don’t know about you but that sounds like control to me.

“I would admit that, originally, I came because I’m like, ‘Oh my God, Kanye West is going to be here,’” says Mia Andrews, a political science and journalism double major with a minor in African American studies. “But I realize that he was such a small part of it, and I kept realizing how happy I was, even if I couldn’t even see him.”

Andrews, who attended homecoming for the first time, says that while she isn’t technically Christian, she believes in “something more” and considers West’s Sunday Service to be a spiritual experience. “The music was a combination of gospel songs and contemporary music, or just his music, and it was so good,” she says. “The choir was so lively, and I had this moment where was like, ‘Wow, I feel so happy right now.’ And even if the event was controversial, I think that there’s value in that mindfulness moment of, ‘I am so happy right now.’

Sunday Service disarming the crowd with its rendition of “Hallelujah”

And on the surface, Sunday Service is a moving and inspirational experience. The choir has, by far, some of the most powerful collection of voices I have ever heard. The arrangement of the songs are designed in a way to touch that “god” feeling that is buried deep in our bones. If I were religious, I may have testified too. But it’s deeper than that. No amount of gospel can make me ignore how Kanye chooses to use his pulpit.

Remember last year when all those Black pastors had a meeting with President Pumpkin Spice, and were praising him and all the ‘work’ he has done for Black people? I remember discussion after discussion with Black Christians stating how they could not stay in a church whose pastor is openly supportive of a divisive, racist, ignorant, small-handed, insecure, bully of a tyrant. And yet, these same Christians want to give Kanye the benefit of the doubt based how he makes them feel by channeling the ‘holy spirit’ through music. It’s hypocritical. But so is Christianity.

A group of Black pastors who met with President Trump on August 1, 2018 at the White House.

And yes, Sunday Service took time out to allow four black men, who were handed life sentences at the age of 16, to provide testimonies on how God, and Kim Kardashian (no bull shit), helped save them. You cannot ignore the positive influence this has on people. But at the same time, you also cannot ignore the irresponsible nature of its leader.

When the stage was set for Sunday Service, and as the choir and Kanye took their places, I swear I saw Howard’s president, Wayne A. I. Frederick walking with them. Oh so you are publicly complicit in this? Though Howard’s administration declined to comment on the organization of the performance, clearly he had to give his blessings, fully aware of the shitstorm that would follow. It sickened me and reminded me of when those HBCU presidents and leaders who met with Trump at the Oval Office in 2017 and most recently listened to President Pumpkin Spice speak at the National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference (hosted annually by the White House) in September 2019, sitting there quietly as this orange troll said that no other administration has done more for them that his.

The leaders of HBCUs came from all around the country—during Black History Month—to give Donald Trump the photo-op he wanted. – Feb 2017


President Donald Trump speaks at the 2019 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Week Conference, Sept. 10, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Their silence allows these ideologies to infect our spaces, unchecked and that is just as big of a problem. How can the president of Howard University stand there and do nothing as Kanye misquotes Harriet Tubman less than 100 feet away from the Harriet Tubman quadrangle dormitory.

The headlines should have read, “Howard University Shuts Down Kanye’s attempt To Have Sunday Service on Campus During Homecoming”. That is the Howard I know. That is the Howard I expect. The one where principle outweighs clout chasing.

And granted, the size of the crowd pales in compassion to the Yard’s capacity. But that doesn’t take away the fact that despite all that Kanye has said, all that Kanye is done, this new wave of Christianity is redeeming within the structure of Black culture. We are forgiving to a fault. We are still susceptible to being manipulated through the word of God. And that is not to say that Kanye isn’t being genuine in his new found faith (though it is up for debate). However, by activating the Christian cheat code, Kanye is allowed to operate in a danger space where he can say and do anything he pleases, regardless of how detrimental it is to the culture, and be accepted and forgiven because #WWJD?

We know why Kanye came to Howard for this moment. Howard University is called ‘The Mecca’ because is the pinnacle of HBCUs (Argue with yourself on that one). Kanye understood the significance of having this moment during one of Howard’s most celebrated and visible times of the year. Kanye performing Sunday Service on campus gave the perception that he is allowed to start receiving and accepting invitations to the cookout again. It gave the perception that all is well and manipulated those Black people who are still on the fence to give Kanye a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 10th chance because if Howard fucks with him then maybe I should too. It also put Howard Alumni on the defensive all weekend when folks were giving us side-eyes for allowing this to take place in the first place.

Blood on the leaves were left on the Yard of Howard University this weekend. The blood of our ancestors our school was founded for. The blood of those ancestors who walked the same yard Kanye was allowed to hijack. The blood of those ancestors who whose parents chose to remain slaves, according to Kanye. What was in it for Howard to host this? That sounds like control to me.

Howard will bounce back. It always has. It always will. But I guarantee you that, in hindsight, this moment will not age well.

H-U! You Know….better. Le sigh.