By Dr. Bill Myers
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road… that goes down to Gaza from Jerusalem to Gaza,”… and on his way he met an Ethiopian…an important person (Acts 8:26-27)
We Ethiopians celebrate February as Black History month. History, what an important discipline, such a lofty part of life itself. Prominent among what we do during this month is to remember and celebrate people, most often very important people who helped change the world in which we live. The likes of Martin and Mandela. They tend to be names recorded in the annals of history. Other names are but a footnote or a fleeting memory, unknown but to a lesser few. Who knows the name Fred Shuttlesworth in Civil Rights history, but a select few.
Sometimes, however, God is standing on the sideline watching, perhaps even helping history along. Go south on this well traveled road between these two designated cities, says the divine, and the rest is history. Though interpreted in different ways, it remains history nonetheless. An Ethiopian and a Greek meet and history is made on a well traveled corridor.
So I went, at the whisper of the divine, south , to a desert place, a much smaller place, a less prominent place. After more than 30 years, and some years later I met Luke Keefer who loved history. Luke was passionate about history. Yet, not merely history because it was there, but because of what it could do. It could help to reshape the world in which we live in the now.
I found in this Greek someone quite different than myself, a sensitive, sympathetic, supporter of the issues most dear to my call–justice, fairness, equality, a voice for the least of these. Whenever I raised these concerns at the seminary, Luke Keefer engaged the struggle for justice. On issues of race, gender, class, peace and a host of others. His voice never remained silent on these matters. Martin once opined that, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
It wasn’t that I just went south and Luke came north via that same corridor to meet me. I asked him to come north not to teach church history to graduate students at the Cleveland Center, but diploma students in Black Church studies at the McCreary Center, who aspired one day to be graduate students. He not only agreed, but he did so with the same passion and commitment he did in graduate classes. He walked into history in those classrooms at the McCreary Center for more than a decade, and came alongside of Ethiopians, asking them if they understood what they were reading. How can we unless someone help us? And so he did, for more than a decade. He changed their lives, and they changed his. He told me that there were times when he loved teaching those students more than he did graduate students, because they were so eager, so thirsty to learn. They did not take the opportunity for granted. It made the journey from south to north so much shorter. He looked forward to it. He helped me to select those who would go on to graduate school. How often I remember him coming to me and saying, “we have to get these students into the seminary, they will be great students.”
History often records those who made history, but sometimes there are those whose names get left out. Yet, for those who met along the roads most or least traveled, they remain with us through the stories. So remains the historian, Luke Keefer. So then, during this Black History month I offer this memorial tribute to one though not an Ethiopian in ethnicity, yet a fierce co-laborer in the fight for justice for all. At the McCreary Center his spirit remains in our hallways and classrooms, on the lips of our students and staff, and on video for all future students to learn church history.
William H. Myers, PhD is Professor of New Testament and Black Church Studies. He also serves as Director of the Black Church Studies Program at Ashland Theological Seminary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 216-431-5468.
Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dr. Luke Keefer Jr. will take place on Oct. 2 and 3, 2015.