Rev. Dr. James Henry Harris (Courtesy Photo)

Educator/Pastor gives a ‘call to consciousness’ in his new book ‘Black Suffering’

By Timothy Cox
Special to The AFRO

HANOVER, MD — A new book has pulled back the sheets and exposes how racism permeates American life to the detriment of Black people. 

Rev. Dr. James Henry Harris ─ an African American pastor and author of “The Forbidden Word” and many other books ─ has written “Black Suffering: Silent Pain, Hidden Hope,” released in October 2020. It explores many timely atrocities, such as the Memorial Day 2020 police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, and the plight of Black people amid the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. Nat Turner, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and even Job of the Bible are part of his call to consciousness.

Drawing on decades of personal experience as a pastor, theologian, and educator, Harris, gives voice to suffering’s practical impact on church leaders as they seek to forge a path forward to address this huge and troubling issue. The book “Black Suffering” identifies Black suffering while beginning a larger conversation about correcting the historical weight of suffering carried by Black people.

The book, his 10th,  combines elements of memoir, philosophy, historical analysis, literary criticism, sermonic discourse, and even creative nonfiction to present a “remix” of the suffering experienced daily by Black people.

Pastor Harris’ unique insight stems from his early experience as the fifth of 10 children, reared by his parents, Richard Harris and Carrie Anna Jones Harris. In his Central Virginia environs, the younger Harris learned to accept a life filled with outdoor toilets and segregated, unequal classrooms in what he describes as “backwater, rural” Richmond, Virginia. His father was a tobacco farmer who, uniquely enough – owned his own land and taught his children to become farmhands, eager for education.

Prior his call to the ministry, Pastor Harris graduated from the segregated George Washington Carver High School in 1970. Soonafter, he worked in several industries – including retail, as a college intern with the JC Penney company. Also while an undergrad business management major at Virginia State University, Pastor Harris worked as a tray-loader with the Brown & Williamson tobacco company – packing cigarettes. 

“Due to the corporate culture,” Pastor Harris said he and his co-workers were coerced into becoming smokers by the company.  “They gave us two packs of cigarettes at the start of a shift – to smoke during smoke breaks, then upon ending your shift – they gave you two packs to take home.” Needless to say Pastor Harris said he became addicted to nicotine while working on the “KOOL” brand, floor.

At age 67, Pastor Harris credits “God’s grace, a miracle and a young son’s plea,” for helping him escape the smoking train. “My son said something like, ‘you’re going to burn down the house’ and that triggered me to make an effort to stop, he said. He smoked from 1970 through 1984.

Pastor Harris and his wife Demetrius Harris, are parents to James Cory Alexander Harris and Cameron Christopher David Harris. Both sons are Hampton University graduates and have successful budding careers. The Harris’ were married in 1979.  She’s a graduate of Norfolk State University and a media library specialist with a masters in divinity from Virginia Union, as does her husband.

Though he’s earned a PhD from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, he purposely refrains from using the term “doctor” as his moniker. “It’s He says it’s more about the work you do, and then you let others bestowe the titles on you – if or when it’s warranted,” he said.

Pastor Harris also has masters degrees from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, Virginia Commonwealth University and doctorate of philosophy in Urban/Black Studies from Old Dominion University.

Academics aside, Pastor Harris, is a 30-year senior minister of Second Baptist Church (Westend) in Richmond, Virginia, where he continues to “preach” as a traditional fire and brimstone Baptist minister. During the Pandemic, he’s adapted his congregation to a virtual stance and currently offers live weekly discussions of his book on Facebook to ignite conversations about correcting the historical weight of Black suffering.

In the process of his Facebook presence, he hopes to encourage book clubs at houses of worship and elsewhere, using the book to spark national discussions. 

Pastor Harris is also is the Distinguished Professor and Chair of Homiletics and Practical Theology and Research Scholar in Religion at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University in Richmond.

Black Suffering, Silent Pain, Hidden Hope is published by Fortress Press, which has the book for sale on its website: www.fortresspress.com. It’s also available at Amazon.com.