Imani [ee MAH nee] is the seventh and final day of Kwanzaa. In the Nguzo Saba (seven principles), Imani means "FAITH:" to believe with all our hearts in our GOD, our people our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Anita Burson has embodied the principle of Faith throughout her entire life—a life she has dedicated to empowering disenfranchised citizens, improving her community and strengthening her church, Elpida Community Church of Christ-Baptist in Crown Heights, where she is reverend and head pastor.
It is said that faith is built upon the back of struggle, which Rev. Burson has experienced plenty of in her lifetime. But as Rev. Burson tends to look at life through a sharply focused lens of optimism, she sees the true source of faith as springing from hope.
“My faith is tied to my belief, and its foundation is hope,” said Rev. Burson. “Most people have faith but fail to believe they do. They think they must be in church, say a special chant, do something extravagant… But all that is required is just the size of a mustard seed. From what seems a small amount of faith grows something larger, firmer and stronger than we imagine!”
Born in North Carolina, the first child of Rev. Dr. O. B. J. Burson and Katie Leak Burson, an educator and engineer, Rev. Burson was a child of the civil rights struggle, during the turbulent last days of American segregation.
One of her strongest memories was the evening white supremacist terrorists fired bullets into her father’s church during a prayer rally and training sessions for voter registration. Those bullets remain lodged in the doors of that church sanctuary today.
“We see the rough side of the human condition, moment by moment-- inexplicable violence, dangerous life conditions for families, children and communities, “ she said. “Without an unyielding faith one will have difficulty navigating the daily life of our human condition. I’ve seen and I live what a strong personal walk of faith will, can and does in one’s life.”
Later, her family moved to Brooklyn, New York. During high school, she organized the first on-site voter registration campaign for 18-year-olds, and during her college career, she became the first Black woman to serve as an elected student officer at Finch/Marymount Manhattan College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology and Sociology.
Rev. Burson then went on to work for President Jimmy Carter and then served as a consultant to candidates for federal, statewide and municipal legislative offices and other positions, in which she is noted for her creative concepts and approaches to building sustainable relationships and enhancing networks between the public and private sector and religious organizations.
Rev. Burson is a trailblazer. A lifetime of ongoing struggle and challenges might harden any other person. But not Rev. Burson: She is as soft as she is firm and as generous as she is strong. She is that comfortable, anointed and reassuring blanket people turn to weekly to seek strength.
However, Rev. Burson’s faith was tested most recently in an enormous way when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The diagnosis nearly knocked the wind out of her. But, armed with a strong belief in God and decades of experience watching faith in action, she underwent series after series of chemotherapy and testifies that she did not one time become sick.
Today, Rev. Burson counts herself amongst the tens of thousands of ovarian cancer survivors!
“My firm faith in God rendered me cancer free! So not only am I alive, but I am filled with a God-given life opportunity full of hope for the very next moment,” said Rev. Burson with a warm smile.
“I am a living witness of what a little bit of faith does! My faith walk is grounded in a belief in the Triune God, without a shred of doubt, I stand firmly grounded, convicted and sure.
“Faith is not extravagant, it is humble. And the size of a mustard seed is all that is truly needed. “