Modeling Multireligious Community: Suzannah Omonuk, MDiv '23

November 4, 2021
Suzannah Omonuk
Suzannah Omonuk

Soon after Suzannah Omonuk (she/her) began studying at HDS, she came across an application for a student grant funded by Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery Initiative, which examines Harvard’s connections to slavery through ongoing discussions, programming, and research. Omonuk learned about slavery as a child growing up in Uganda, but these lessons did not fully explain the aftermath seen and felt in the US and beyond. She began writing a poem, “The Story of Venus,” both to give voice to an enslaved young woman who worked on Harvard’s campus in the 1700s and to process her own experience as a young African woman in the United States. “I thought, what better way to do it than place myself in the shoes of another young Black woman who came to this country and who walked the streets of Harvard under completely different circumstances?”

Though they are separated by centuries, Omonuk feels a strong kinship with Venus, and this kinship has grown stronger as she continues to reflect on the poem and the ways it has been received. At times she worried that her writing wasn’t enough and that she should be doing more to directly address the racial injustices in this country, but then she began to see the impact “The Story of Venus” had on those around her. When others shared how transformative and healing the poem was for them, Omonuk was humbled. “Seeing the response helped me realize that my art is in some ways separate from me,” she explains. “It’s bigger than me. And it connects me to a whole range of people who are also asking themselves, ‘What can I do?’”

“I see myself as a co-worker in God’s plan of redemption and beauty, and HDS is the best place for me to do this work.”  Suzannah Omonuk

Omonuk sees writing not only as a response to injustice but also as a mode of cultivating belonging and relationship. She believes that human beings have a unique gift to be able to bring into being that which isn’t. “We’re all born with an innate desire for goodness and beauty,” Omonuk maintains, “and when we give ourselves authentically and sacrificially to that cause, the effects can be mind-blowing.” This authentic, sacrificial giving is a fundamental piece of her work as a writer and as a Christian: she has come to see herself as a co-worker in God’s plan of redemption and beauty.

Being at HDS has provided Omonuk with the opportunity to carry out this work of beauty and redemption, in part through institutional support and in part through the relationships with peers and faculty she has built. “If there’s one thing that HDS does well,” Omonuk reflects, “it’s belonging.” She believes this is because people at HDS are invested in understanding each other, an aspect that is lacking in society at large: “In these times where ideological dissent has led to such widespread division, it’s inspiring to see HDS stand out as a model of what it could look like for people to exist in a pluralistic way and belong together.”

From “The Story of Venus”

Oh, daughters of the great green savannah,

Weep for me.

I have been uprooted from among you where I grew and have been carried into a diabolic land where ashes fall from a raging heaven


Weep for me, for I will never again dance on dewy grass on a moonlit night, surrounded by the song of a tribe.

No more shall I be burnt by the black desire of a warrior’s lust, and in a wild daze wonder to myself how a man whose very hands had torn apart bears and lions could yet hold me softer than an early morning rain.

Weep for me

For the way I shall slowly be forgotten, because little slave girls with sad eyes do not get invited into history

How shall you remember me?

By the men that made me an orphan

How shall you remember me?

By a tablet of stone that bears the name that I received in a baptism of chains

How shall you remember me?

Shall you remember me?

Listen to “The Story of Venus” in full.

—by Sarah Fleming