My PurpleRev's Anti-Racist Origin Story
Tonight we begin a 4 week series where we will be reflecting on our racial/social justice origin stories. Each of the member of our collective will pick a scripture they feel most speaks to their journey toward this work and then take some time to reflect on a few of the most formative moments that led to them wanting to commit to doing the work of racial justice. I wanted to do this for a two specific reasons. One I started remembering funny moments from my childhood that made the me of today make a lot of sense.
But additionally, I recently went through a training with the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ called New and Right Spirit, which trained a small group of clergy and lay leaders from our conference to go out into the world and lead anti-racism trainings throughout the state of New York. At this training our facilitators Diane Schmidt and Cynthia McCleod began the training by introducing themselves and telling the story of what brought them to this work. They told stories from their childhood that created passion for this work. They advised us to do the same when we created our training. This was a way of introducing ourselves and a way of making out commitment clear to those who we would be leading in this work.
So I thought this would be a great practice for this forum. I have asked each of the regular participants to pick a scripture that reflects their their origin story and reflect on their journey.
I am going to start this week…
My text is Jeremiah 20:9 which says
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
Yesterday I at work I referred to someone as inappropriate. And that word brought be back the he second grade version of myself. I remembered going to my mother distraught because the assistant teacher Ms. Cannon, I think that was her name, kept calling me inappropriate. As a 7 or 8 year old I didn’t exactly know what that word meant but I knew it was bad. “Dominique, you’re being inappropriate.”
I say or do anything lood. I didn’t call her a slur. What I remember doing was standing up and giving speeches in the middle of class. Thirty years later I reflected and tried to remember what exactly my little speeches were about. And I realize that the content of those speeches were more than likely not very different from the content of the speeches or reflections or sermons or devotionals I give now.
It’s important that you understand the backdrop. My sisters who are 9 and 13 years older than me, when through gifted and talented programs and were in the first few contingents of Prep for Prep, which was a program for NYC public school students mostly of color to be fed into very prestigious Independent Prep Schools. My sisters went from prep to a very good prep school (I won’t mention their name because they’ll get me), to Ivy League colleges. And a decade later my mother decided she was going to by-pass the Prep and put me directly into that same nameless prep school in first grade.
The problem was, she gave birth to a baby prophet who could not function until EVERYTHING was just and equitable and fair. So there I was 7 years old, one of 2 black students, much taller than everyone else, already going through puberty, expected to be on my “politics of respectability” grind. And instead I would stand up and make speeches about all the injustice I witnessed and experienced.
The reason why I chose the Jeremiah text to accompany this is because as much as people thought I was or am intentionally being disruptive, I am actually a very shy person. I would prefer to hide in my apartment and watch Arrested Development or in that day it was probably something more like Thunder Cats or He-Man. But instead I found myself and find myself compelled by something as uncontrolled and uncontrollable as fire to speak out against injustice and inequity. I came to believe later in life that that fire was a God who the prophet Micah says REQUIRES of us among other things to do justice.
When I was 15, and in the same school, they had some sort of assembly in the cafeteria about racism. And I felt that same “Ms. Cannon’s class” fire shut up in my bones again. So I raised my hand and the teacher leading the session looked at me but didn’t call on me. I called out but the teacher silenced me and called on someone else. And one of the people this person called on said, “I don’t know why we are doing this because the truth is that minorities don’t want to work and they don’t want to be educated.”
And I sat there, the younger sister of two sisters who graduated from that school and went on to Ivy League schools. And I looked at my friend Kelly, who was black and who also had two older siblings graduate from the same school. And I looked at the black man who was sweeping the cafeteria and the Latinas working to serve the food in the kitchen. And I didn’t say anything that day. But I decided at that moment that I will never be silenced again. That my
That same fire that made me stand up in Ms. Cannon’s class and make that promise to myself is the fire that showed up a few months later that year in the form of a call, in the form of the Holy Spirit that said “this is what you are going to do.” And “the this” is this work, faith based justice work, helping people to see this God of justice we proclaim. The this is using my “inappropriateness” to help others do the same.