WFU Akoni events celebrate the best of the black church

Wake Forest University Divinity School will celebrate Black History Month Feb. 16 and 17 with their annual Akoni (pronounced awkanee) events. This year’s events will feature Delman Coates, a Baptist minister and emerging national expert on black church issues.

Coates will present a lecture, “The Black Church in the 21st Century,” Feb 16 at 7 p.m. in Wingate Hall’s Lower Auditorium. His topic will focus on breaking down the barriers between “town and gown”—the black community and divinity schools. A question-and-answer session will follow the lecture.

On Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. in Wait Chapel, Coates will lead the Akoni service, “In Praise of Great African Ancestors,” in which congregants will thank God for their faith and for the faith of their “valiant ancestors.” (Akoni is a West African Yoruba term that means “valiant ancestors.”)

Both events are free and open to the public.

“When it comes to serious academic work and serious faith development,” said Brad Braxton, Wake Forest Divinity School’s Jessie Ball Dupont Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Biblical Studies, “some African American churches tend to emphasize one over the other. We want to reclaim the best of the black church in both areas—rigorous, in-depth theological training and warm, heartfelt, down-home religion. Delman is an up-and-coming expert who admirably bridges both. Both events are meant to be celebratory as well as educational. We invite the black church community to attend both events. Monday’s lecture will be invigorating, and Tuesday’s service will be warm and spirited and include the exuberant style of singing, preaching and worship style characteristic of black churches,” he said.

The Akoni service will feature the singing of familiar black hymns; call-and-response preaching; libations, a West African tradition of pouring a liquid offering; and a remembrance of the Maafa, which is a West African Kiswahili term for “disaster” or “terrible occurrence,” in which participants lament the more than 500 hundred years of suffering and hurt people of African descent experienced through slavery and exploitation.

Also highlighting the service will be a substantial roll call in which the names of “valiant ancestors,” those who have made significant contributions to American history, will be called out. These names will include Martin Luther King Jr., the great African physician Imhotep, civil rights activist Ida B. Wells as well as lesser known individuals who surrounded the well-known and were instrumental in their success.

Coates is a native of Richmond, Va., and holds an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and a master’s of theological study from Harvard Divinity School. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University.

The Akoni events are part of Wake Forest’s theme year, “Fostering Dialogue: Civil Discourse in an Academic Community,” which is dedicated to exploring how free people with passionate interests and beliefs can communicate openly without turning dialogue into discord. The events are sponsored by the Wake Forest Divinity School.

For more information about the Akoni events, call 336-758-3957.

NOTE TO THE EDITOR: To arrange coverage or an interview, contact Pam Barrett at the News Service at or 336-758-5237.

Categories: Events, School of Divinity, Speakers