Lawmaker says she fought to say prayer in honor of Black History Month at State Capitol

Posted at 7:30 PM, Feb 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 19:30:44-05

LANSING, Michigan (WXYZ) — An effort to celebrate Black history led to controversy at the Michigan State Capitol. A local lawmaker says she had to fight to share an African prayer in House Chambers.

“So today, we pray not with words but with the universal sound of life,” said Rep. Leslie Love (D-10th District), as she began the prayer invocation on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

After a few words, she said, “Let us pray.”

The African prayer drummers began a meditative drumming that aimed to evoke unified emotion in all listening. It was the first time in history that the House heard an African Drum Prayer in chambers.

“When you are in the womb, we know that you exist because of your heartbeat," Love said as she explained the prayer. "So it was so important to me to share that in this chamber, to shake up and wake up the people about what it is like to be Black in America."

The lawmaker, who represented Redford Township and Detroit, says it was emotional because just as the prayer symbolizes a fight to preserve cultural traditions that slavery threatened, she had to fight to say this prayer. She says Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield questioned whether it was appropriate.

“He questioned having drums here and whether it fit the decorum of the chamber,” she said.

To get his needed permission, lawyers, pastors and Michgian Legislative Black Caucus got in the fight.

“It is always OK for us to learn other peoples traditions, but people sometimes reject our traditions and I am unapologetically black,” said Sen. Marshall Bullock, (D-District 4).

“This is something that is normal for us," said Rep. Jewell Jones, (D-District 11). "So why do we have to fight for normal?”

WXYZ Action News spoke to the speaker, asking for an interview. He refused but offered his communications director.

“They met yesterday. She explained her heart behind it and made a personal ask of the Speaker. He was happy to allow it today,” said Gideon D’Assandro, communications director for House GOP.

The drummers, Baba Shomari Rolland Matthews and his son Amari Matthews, say this isn’t a prayer of a certain religion, but of a blend of culture and spirituality.

“It touches everybody’s heart,” Amari said.

“I was happy we were able to break a barrier,” Baba Shomari Rolland added.