The Now-But-Not-Yet Vision of Febutufebe
by Gene Tibbs, CCO Campus Ministry Staff, Pittsburgh, PA
On the day of Dr. King’s death, I was five years old. But I remember it well.
I remember all the adults coming out into our street, Bentley Drive, and us kids following, seeing the dread on their faces, hearing the concern in their voices, even smelling the dense smoke in the air rising up from Centre Avenue three blocks away as we all milled about in consternation.
That day, I heard a horrifying new word expel from those adults' lips as if announcing the coming of Godzilla or some pestilence—the word riot.
I felt great horror at the sound of this word, thinking that a riot must, in fact, be a living, breathing, real-life monster (despite every denial of such from my parents) because only a monster could shake these hardened Black survivors. They had lived through true existential horrors in America's Black underclass, many during the Great Migration, having moved up North to Pittsburgh from Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and—like my own family—from Alabama, living now in the Terrace Village housing projects.
I'm amazed by the actual distance in time and also by how immediate it still seems, and the clarity of my memories of that day 52 years ago.
On Monday, December 5, 1955, just over ten years before the day we gathered to mourn his death, Dr. King gave an address at the Holt Street Baptist Church during the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He said this:
"If you protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, 'There lived a great people—a black people—who injected new meaning and dignity in the veins of civilization.' This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility."
I have for many years wondered, and still do, what this "new meaning" and "dignity" made vital for all of "civilization" (not just for Black people but for all peoples) would look like? What could be so relevant about Black people to be found by historians as so life-giving and which establishes dignity "when the history books are written"?
And since those books have yet to be written, Dr. King's vision is still a future aspiration, or at least, it is in the state of becoming—in other words, it's in the now but not yet. Over the years, I've allowed my sanctified imagination room to wander and conjure about that grand summation Dr. King envisioned.
I've come to call this vision Febutufebe.
I first introduced this vision, this concept, at Jubilee Africana 2004, where I spoke alongside Rev. Dr. Carl F. Ellis and Rev. Ron C. Potter and a theme emerged quite clearly, that of African American Destiny. The key questions became these: When we focus on the direction of African American history—the struggle, the achievements, our moral/ethical imperatives, and our stated aspirations—where does it all point to? And what is its potential impact on the world?
That weekend, I introduced an acronym-based schematic providing a redemptive perspective on the history-to-destiny sweep of African-American experience, particularly charting the shifts toward greater Black liberation and self-agency as well as showing its redemptive implications for human thriving throughout the world.
The schematic, for the sake of easy consumption, attempts to oversimplify an otherwise very complex set of historical conditions by which the preponderance of Black life is, on an ever-shifting scale, predominately affected, moving from white societal control progressively toward greater Black self-agency, thus weakening existential, idolatrous white supremacist structures and transforming civilization for the common good.
The flow goes like this:
F.T.B.T. = For Them By Them: in the past, white societal agency produced and controlled most everything affecting Black quality of life in America, almost all done by themselves for themselves at our expense, Blacks possessing very little power of self-agency and receiving whatever whites threw away, handed down or conceded.
F.T.B.U. = For Them By Us: Black agency and productivity, where applicable, was largely in service of white interests and almost solely controlled by white society; Blacks possessing largely what whites and they themselves produced in order to simply maintain Black servility to white interests.
F.U.B.T. = For Us By Them
Largely from the post-Abolitionist through post-Civil Rights Movement-era, as Blacks entered legal citizenship and advanced in the workforce, especially now as employed consumers, white society targeted production for Black consumption while maintaining almost total control, limiting Black employment and quality of life by preventing Black representation, participation, ownership, and production.
F.U.B.U. = For Us By Us
With Black employment, higher education and professional skills on the rise, Blacks increasingly gain access to the bounty of God's life-sustaining resources, thus becoming the producers of their own self-serving institutions, industries, products, jobs, especially filling in the gaps of F.U.B.T.; on an international level, gaining control of their own countries.
F.E.B.U. = For Everybody By Us
As an indication of unprecedented progress in freedom, justice, dignity and equality, Black capacity for an appropriate, non-self-reducing social empathy for others, especially for other marginalized peoples—that along with education and skills qualified for national leadership—Blacks step into full self-agency in every sphere of national and global society, leveraging their influence, providing inspiration and assistance to all other marginalized people groups for their own respective narratives of ascent, liberation, and empowerment—spiritually, economically, politically, culturally, and so on; theoretically, those other marginalized peoples will be on similar trajectories toward self-agency, providing inspiration and assistance to Blacks as well.
F.E.B.E. = For Everybody By Everybody
Ultimately, aspirationally, there will eventually be no overlap with past conditions of human exploitation and marginalization, no systemic injustices such as racism, no pervasive idolatrous faith commitments such as white supremacy—there will be a world, ideally, where (to borrow a quote from myself) "Where the bounty of God's creation is truly...and where the richness of all humanity is made available for everybody, by everybody." There will no longer be the psychic presence, the belief in, the practice of nor the structural, systemic, and institutional powers of idolatrous and unjust social hierarchies, no more social exploitation and marginalization.
It should be apparent to anyone reading that at least the last two conditions of Black American civilization, F.E.B.U. and F.E.B.E., haven't quite happened yet. One could also argue that a few of the previous conditions, F.T.B.U. and F.U.B.T., haven't quite been exhausted and that F.U.B.U. has really only just begun, historically speaking.
This schematic reminds us that we live in the now but not yet of redemption history. It also points toward the telos of history.
I believe that the eschatological vision of the biblical narrative points not to an ethereal, otherworldly finale but to a New Heavens and a New Earth filled with all that embodies the earthly realm—culture, distinct human morphologies and phenotypes, therefore, ethnicities or "nations," yet free of sin, Death and all of its effects.
I therefore fully expect that the African-American ethnic people group, like all other nations, creationally intended by God from before the Fall, will continue walking through the redemptive-historical process—a process that happens in the temporal, material, bodily, ordinal realities of earthly history—experiencing and contributing to the kairotic restoration of all things to a place of full thriving.
The fullness of human thriving, void of the sin of racism, white supremacy, and racial/economic/political imperialism, within this eschatological vision, inevitably, will result in all people-groups being equally free, equally empowered, and full contributors to the bounty of world civilization.
In Dr. King’s speech from April 3, 1968—the night before his assassination—he proclaimed, "we as a people will get to the Promised Land." I'm persuaded that the vision of this biblical telos inspired his prophetic challenge to the African-American people back in 1955.
This vision of the restoration of all things essentially narrates my schematic, reassuring us that F.E.B.U. will inevitably lead to F.E.B.E. Febutufebe. Both in the now but not yet, in this life and in the life to come.
Perhaps, at this time, the history books which Dr. King referenced will finally be written.