Chief Diversity Officer
Song: The African American Spiritual: “Ain’t Got Time to Die”
W.E.B. Dubois called the Black church the greatest repository of African culture in the Americas. My identity as a Black woman has been shaped by my experience as a Christian believer raised in the Black church. Therefore, my song of choice comes from the heart of the Black worship experience — and it is one you can still hear sung at historically Black colleges today.
“Ain’t Got Time to Die” has touched my life in so many ways. It features in countless memories, and runs like a thread connecting events that often span decades of time. For instance, it was the hymn of invitation when I joined the church at the age of 7. Later, it was the soundtrack playing in my head when I answered my call to the ministry.
As a child, I remember watching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral on a black-and-white television and hearing Mahalia Jackson sing it with great fervor:
So won’t you get out of my way, let me praise my Jesus.
Get outta my way, let me praise my Lord.
If I don’t praise him, the rocks are gonna cry out:
Glory and honor, glory and honor, ain’t got time to die.
Tears streamed down my mother’s face as Ms. Mahalia ended the song. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Don’t ever forget it.” I promised her that I would not. And I didn’t.
As a graduate student, I used “Ain’t Got Time to Die” in the title of my master’s thesis. As a professor, I include its verse in the syllabus for my African American religion class.
The words remind me it is my vocation as a Black woman to serve my community with all of my time, talent, and treasure. They remind me that when I keep busy serving my community — serving my students, serving my people — what I am really doing is praising God. “Ain’t Got Time to Die” calls me to remember the African philosophy of ubuntu: “I am because we are. And since we are, therefore am I complete.”
For me, “Ain’t Got Time to Die” insists that I charge my community to go back and [reclaim important cultural knowledge] that they may have forgotten.