I recently attended the “Celebrating Our Soul" - A New Thought Conference by People of African Descent held at Unity Village, Kansas City, MO, August 11-14, 2022. The event's purpose was to celebrate the challenges that people of African descent have transcended, and to recognize and honor their contributions to the New Thought Movement. The conference was a ground-breaking and historic event that I was fortunate to not only attend, but to participate in as the opening keynote speaker.
As quiet as it's been kept, the New Thought Movement in general, and the Unity Movement in particular, has had its challenges incorporating and engaging people of color, as well as other marginalized groups like the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex) community. One would think that such intolerance would not be the case in a movement that promotes the philosophy that we are all the offspring of the One Presence of God, and all equal expressions of the Divine. However, since we are both human and divine, and part of collective consciousness, the shadow side of humanity inevitably shows up along the way.
As a ministerial student, a group of my classmates and I presented a sketch at Unity's International Convention titled "African-Americans in the Unity Movement." Among other things, we shared the stories of African American pioneers in the Unity Movement. One of those pioneers was the Reverend Dr. Johnnie Colemon who became a Unity Minister in the 1950s. Dr. Colemon would become one of the preeminent leaders in Unity and New Thought. However, she had to overcome many obstacles throughout her journey.
In 1953, Johnnie Colemon began studying for the ministry. She started her journey to become a Unity Minister after she healed from what the doctors told her was a terminal illness with only six months to live. Ms. Colemon’s healing came about when she applied Unity's spiritual healing principles. Alive and healthy, Johnnie, as she was affectionately known, decided to immerse herself in the teaching to help others heal and transform their lives.
However, when Ms. Colemon enrolled in seminary, she was told she was not permitted to live on campus. So for two years, Colemon drove 15 miles each way to a YWCA in Kansas City. Then one day, on the way to school, her car broke down during torrential rain. By the time she got to campus, frustrated, in tears, and at her wit's end, she found her white classmates in the restaurant and said to them, "I can't take it anymore. I'm finished. I won't be back."
Over the years, students of New Thought who are familiar with the story asked, "How is it possible for an organization that says it believes everyone is a divine child of God not to notice the disconnect between its teachings and the active discrimination against someone because of their race?" As one of my spiritual teachers used to say, "Wherever there are human beings, you will see human consciousness along the way." Unity reflected the racial attitudes of America and Missouri at the time, and evidently, those attitudes were unquestioned.
Fortunately, Johnnie Colemon’s classmates noticed and wouldn't accept what they saw. They signed a petition urging Unity to provide housing for Colemon, and the school did. The school offered Colemon a poorly maintained cottage on the far end of the campus where some of the workers lived. The school didn't expect her to accept it, but she said, “Fine. Take me to it."
That experience not only changed Johnnie Colemon, it set the seed for change at Unity. Subsequently, Johnnie Colemon went on to have spectacular success. She taught all people the soul-saving spiritual principles that enabled her to change the course of her life, endure indignities, and begin again.
"Celebrating Our Soul"- a New Thought Conference by People of African Descent occurred on the same Unity grounds where Johnnie Colemon as a ministerial student faced the indignity of being barred from in the 1950s. This year, the "Celebrating Our Soul" gathering at Unity Village was an opportunity to share principles of Truth accessible to anyone to manifest their dreams and live a more fulfilling life.
As more and more people embrace these aspirational teachings, our world will be better for everyone.
Peace and Blessings,