Dr. Rolanda L. Ward, left, with the lamentation project participants in Washington, D.C., October 2022.

For many Christians, lamentation is a way to express sorrow, pain, and confusion, and can help them to process their grief. Members of the Jefferson Avenue community and those who responded to the Tops shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., offered their lamentations as part of a community trauma and lamentations event intended to help in the healing process for those grieving the May 14 massacre. It also highlighted the value of lamentation for dismantling systemic structures of oppression and creating spaces of justice and freedom.

The event, held at the Buffalo History Museum on March 24, 2023, was part of a project funded by a $50,000 grant from the Association of Theological Schools’ Council on Theological Scholarship and Research to examine ways that lamentation can foster conversations within a community and provide healing for those who have suffered racial violence. The grant was awarded to Dr. Rolanda L. Ward, associate professor of social work at Niagara University and endowed faculty director of the Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity, and Mission, in collaboration with Dr. Danjuma Gibson, professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, and Dr. Stephanie Clintonia Boddie, assistant professor of church and community ministries at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. They received the grant for their pilot project, “Lamentation as Pedagogy: A 12-month Immersion Experience,” which was one of five selected by the ATS.

Lamentation “focuses on the notion that before we can get to social justice, we have to hear the collective trauma of people who experienced racial violence in this country,” said Ward.

The project intends to familiarize participants with the concept of lamentation and the ways it has been practiced in the black church tradition so that they can develop processes to practice lament.

As part of the immersion experience, participants visited sites that commemorate atrocities committed against black life. Their first experience in Washington, D.C., took place Oct. 27-30, 2022, and included a service at Faith Tabernacle United Holy Church. From March 23-26, 2023, the participants were in Western New York. In addition to the lamentation event, they also visited True Bethel Baptist church, participated in a racial healing circle at Bethany Baptist Church, and visited Word of Life ministries.

Niagara University’s cohort included Kaylyn Townsend-Kinsinger, Ostapenko project director, students Rachel Pinti and Tayonna Cunningham-Chiles, and the Rev. Raymond Allen, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Niagara Falls. NU senior Ilan Jenkins also offered a video lamentation at the Friday event.

As part of the project, Ward and her colleagues plan to create a documentary with a resource guide to prepare future seminarians, practitioners, scholars, and community leaders for lamentation.

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