Few people know this but the Reformed African American Network almost had a different name. I don’t know what it would have become, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have had “RAAN” as a convenient acronym. Of the many conversations I had with various people about the name, one stands out.
RAAN co-founder, Phillip Holmes, and I were on our first trip to the Legacy Conference in 2012. We were between sessions during a break, and we got into an hour long debate with several young men about whether the words “African American” should be in the title. Well, we know which side of the debate won that night. For better or worse, we’ve got the name, but the Legacy Conference continues to be a significant event in the life of the RAANetwork.
This year marks the third year in a row that Phillip and I journeyed to Chicago for the annual urban discipleship conference. The theme of the conference was “The Imago Dei” or “image of God”. It basically addresses the questions of, “Who am I?” and, “Why am I here?” What was unique about this year’s conference is that we weren’t just attendees or exhibitors, we were workshop presenters. We were able to teach an entire track entitled “The Imago Dei and the Minority Experience”. We divided each of the four workshops among me, Phillip, Trillia Newbell, and Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. Each of us took one session as we followed the biblical narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. I’ll be unpacking my experience from Legacy for quite a while, but here are some initial reflections.
1) I Am Humbled.
I am humbled by the generosity of conference organizer, Brian Dye, and his team for allowing a relatively new ministry like RAAN to host an entire workshop track featuring four presentations of two hours each over the course of two days. This gave us the opportunity to introduce the ministry to countless conference attendees and dozens of people who actually attended the workshops. We’ve come a long way from questions like, “RAAN? What is that?” to “RAAN! Oh yeah, I love the website. You guys keep doing what you’re doing.” I stand humbled at the way God chooses to use this small endeavor for His much larger purposes.
2) I See Diversity.
Although the Legacy Conference doesn’t “wave the Reformed banner”, it is biblically faithful in content and features Reformed speakers like John Piper and HB Charles, Jr. for its plenary sessions. But this event is more racially and ethically diverse than any other Reformed conference I’ve attended. I didn’t do a statistical analysis, but from visuals alone it seems like a majority of attendees are black or brown skinned. They are urban and they are young. I think this is largely due to the fact that the conference is in Chicago which is a diverse place in itself. Also, the fact that Christian Hip Hop and the arts feature prominently through spoken word cafes, freestyle rap competitions, and concerts by well known artists makes this a sure draw for America’s multi-hued “generation next”. For this reason, I recommend this conference for many high school youth groups, especially those that are struggling to find a more multi-ethnic and urban cultural setting.
3) It’s a Great Place to Meet People.
What struck me about the Legacy Conference from the very first moment I attended is how much access the average attendee has to presenters. Whether workshop facilitators or speakers at the main session, you can easily run into someone who you’ve seen at the front of a room and engage them in conversation. I’ve had the pleasure to meet many of my favorite Christian Hip Hop artists including KB and Shai Linne there. I’ve shaken hands with Matt Chandler and had lunch with HB Charles, Jr. In addition, I’ve made many more connections with other workshop presenters who are doing amazing things on behalf of the Kingdom. I simply marvel at how approachable everyone seems, even the “biggest names” in these circles, and that approachability begins with proximity and access.
4) It is God-Centered.
Because conference attendees are sporting various shades of beige, black, and brown skin or wearing camos, or rocking fitted caps twisted backwards, many people on the street would be tempted to write them off as “trouble-makers” or worse. But if you listened in on the conversations taking place in breakout sessions, in hallways, and around the lunch tables you would hear copious references to God, fighting sin, discipleship, and other topics related to the Christian life. The main session speakers do an excellent job of giving God-centered, biblical expositions of the conference theme, and this sets the tone for the rest of the event. Anyone who is open to the Spirit’s leading and willing to learn can end these few days knowing more than when they arrived. The best aspect of Legacy is that it points you to God and gives you a bigger picture of His glory.
I Recommend It.
I suppose the highest praise I can give for any conference is to recommend it to others, especially those with whom I am close. I have done so with the Legacy Conference. I grew up not too far from Chicago so my family and old friends are still there. I have told them all about it, and I’ve recommended they attend as often as possible. I thank God for the way He has used Legacy to let folks know about RAAN. I thank Him for those who labor to organize it, and make it such a blessing to so many. And I thank God that He is still building His kingdom. Even through creation, fall, and redemption, we have the sure promise of consummation in which the image of God will be restored in every believer and we will be with Him forever. Come, Lord Jesus. And, in the meantime, keep blessing the Legacy Conference.