Monifa Edwards

A Devotional on Finishing the Job

NPR’s Code Switch podcast recently featured a powerful two part series from School Colors, a podcast about how race, class and power shape American cities and schools. Featured on the podcast was 64 year-old Monifa Edwards. She was asked to read aloud, for only the second time in her life, the speech she gave at age fourteen. This speech was delivered when she graduated as valedictorian of Junior High School 271 in Brooklyn, NY. Here is an excerpt:

[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#5283ff” text=”#ffffff” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=”Our ancestors were brutally forced to an unknown land to be enslaved and looked down upon as animals by the white man. They were separated from their tribes and unable to speak to their own people because of language barriers. Forced to speak the language of their oppressors, they have since that time been struggling from what was considered the lowest of worldly creatures, slaves in bondage, to achieve a respected place in the world. Today, black people are still technically in bondage…We students have a responsibility to our people. We are the might and the strength of our race. We of young blood set the pace. We are the hopes, the dreams, the future that must be fulfilled.” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]

The community that gave birth to such a gifted young lady is a story well worth learning. However, it is the final sentences of her speech and her reflection on it 50 years later that I believe calls to us all. She writes,

[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#4379f2″ text=”#ffffff” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=”Black and Puerto Rican students must go on to high school and finish, go to college and finish and come back to our communities and finish the job that has been left unfinished for over 400 years. Be black, be beautiful, be brilliant and be yourself.” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]

When the podcast interviewer asked her how she felt reading her speech 50 years later, she replied, “It feels very odd. I hear a lot of this being said again today. It’s like certain things were not resolved in all these years. As I read it now, it seems youthful, naive, optimistic. And I thought that by now, that work would be done…” Fourteen year-old Monifa told her classmates they must “finish the job.” 64 year-old Monifa thought “that the work would be done.” 

Nehemiah Finished the Job

Nehemiah had a similar concern. While he was in Persia serving as the King’s cupbearer, Nehemiah learned that his people, who had survived years of exile, were in Jerusalem living in the physical and psychological destruction their oppressors created. It weighed so heavily on him that King Artexeres noticed and discerned that Nehemiah was suffering from “sorrow of the heart.” When asked what was wrong, Nehemiah replied, “…How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 2:3). Bravely, Nehemiah asks and receives permission and provision from the King to return to Jerusalem to attend to his people and repair what was broken. Nehemiah finished the job amidst threats and attempts of sabotage by those who were displeased that “someone had come to seek the welfare of the Israelites” (Nehemiah 2:10). 

Barriers to Finishing the Job

Many of us know his experience all too well. There are those who are displeased that we seek out the welfare of our own people. The blatant opposition of those from outside of our community is alive and well, yet so many of us continue working unashamedly on behalf of our people! Sadly, at the same time, there is even reluctance from among us to intervene and advocate for rebuilding our ruins. The truth is, there are many reasons why people fail to get involved civically (i.e. voting), interpersonally (i.e. mentoring), or socially (i.e. strategic advocacy) on behalf of their own people (too many reasons to outline, but many of them rooted in religious legalism, colonized mindsets and internalized racism). But there is something that should bring us hope and assure us that the job will be finished. This hope is rooted in what I call The Mordecai Theory. 

The Mordecai Theory

The book of Esther tells of how Haman influenced King Ahasuerus to authorize the genocide of the Jews living under his rule. When Queen Esther, a Jew herself, was asked by her cousin Mordecai to plead with the king on their behalf, her response was one of reluctance because there was a chance she could be killed for approaching the king uninvited – for challenging the status quo, for speaking truth to power. After she expressed her reluctance, Mordecai gave Esther a blunt response (Esther 4:12-14), which she took to heart and which offers relevant commentary for us today. 

The Mordecai Theory is as such: 

1) You are not the exception. You are not exempt from oppression, no matter your status. 

2) Your reluctance to be involved in the cause will not stop the cause from succeeding. 

3) Your wellbeing is connected to the wellbeing of the community. 

4) You are called to a specific work and the community needs you to carry it out.

Whether you are resolved like Nehemiah or reluctant like Esther, you are still called to finish the job that our people began. Not just the job of demanding the righting of the wrongs against us, but also the job of living fully in your God given purpose through whatever passion, giftedness, and skill He has given to you. Study Micah 6:8, Ephesians 2:10, Isaiah 58 and pray for guidance. When Yeshua Ha Mashiach returns, may he greet you with “Well Done”  for finishing your part of the job.




Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

A Devotional on Being Seen

She has probably, unbeknownst to us, always been one of the “adored ones.” On special assignment in the United States Congress, she exudes the graceful and tactical fighting skills of the famed Dora Milaje warriors by serving as 1/4th of The Squad, maintaining a consistent, progressive voting record, and putting forward the The People’s Justice Guarantee. This initiative is “a comprehensive, resolution devoted to dismantling the injustices within the criminal legal system so that it is smaller, safer, less punitive, and more humane.” And now, her aesthetic resembles that of the famed, female guards: bald and beautiful. But while the Dora Milaje of Wakanda wear a bald cut by choice, she has embraced hers because of alopecia

Ayanna Pressley is the first African American woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress, and her recent courage in revealing her diagnoses with alopecia adds to the growing list of reasons she is living black history, black power, black excellence and black girl magic.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley 

Many of us have only seen Congresswoman Pressley with Senegalese twists, a kinky curly wig or now, a smooth bald head. But imagine with me this same woman with hair straightened, still maintaining its luscious fullness, cropped just above her shoulders and feathered with bangs sweeping to the right. This is a picture of her before her Congresswoman days when she served as Boston City Councilor At-large making her the first woman of color to serve in the role in the 100 year history of the Boston City Council.

While delivering a riveting talk at TEDxRoxburyWomen, she told the story of growing up in church where the saints would share their testimonies “seeking comfort and strength from their church family.” Then, she inserted a poignant revelation about the act of testifying saying, “But as an adult, in hindsight, something greater than that was at work. They were exerting themselves in their testimonies saying ‘See me! Hear me!’ Acknowledge not just my struggle, but my very existence…To testify is to bear witness to, to proclaim oneself as an intrinsic part of the world. In their testimony they were saying ‘I am here.’” Think for a moment. How familiar and personal is the cry of “See me! Hear me! I am here!” I imagine it is a very familiar sentiment to many of us individually and as a people.

The God Who Sees

There was a woman in the Bible for whom this exclamation was also very personal. In Genesis 16, Hagar became pregnant by Abram at his wife Sarai’s suggestion. This suggestion soon became the cause of strife between the two women. Hagar, pregnant outside of her own choice began feeling privileged above Sarai, and Sarai began feeling belittled by Hagar’s pregnancy and started to mistreat her.

Hagar subsequently left the household and while journeying through the wilderness was met by an angel of the Lord who asked her where she came from and where she was headed. She replied that she was running away from her mistress. In response, the angel said that the Lord had heard of her misery and told her what the future of her son would be. At this moment, “She gave this name [El Roi] to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me'” (Genesis 16:13).

Strength in Being Seen

Perhaps Hagar felt uplifted because in the midst of her struggle her existence was validated. She knew she was more than her current struggle, that her cares were complex and valid and that her response was the best she could muster up at the time. But it didn’t seem like anyone else in Abram’s household could see that. Yet, out there in the desert God saw her as more than current situation. He saw her as the woman who gave birth to not just a son, but a great nation. Ishamel literally testifies that “God hears.” After this encounter, Hagar is strong enough to return to the household. And one can’t help but see that her new strength is rooted in how God sees her and therefore how she now sees herself. What a gift, to be fully seen.

The Gift of Being Seen

I believe we see ourselves most clearly in the company of those who truly love us, those who are honest with us about where we need to grow and develop, but who also remind us of the greatness in us that we cannot see or from which we shy away. There is something positively life changing about being seen for more than our struggles. 

It is what Hagar experienced during her time of distress in the desert, it is the plea that Congresswoman Pressley heard in the testimonies of her church family, it is the courtesy, yea even the gift that we should extend to others. And I thank God, it is life changing gift that Jesus Christ gave us through His life, death and resurrection. He saw us healthy. He saw us happy. He saw us fruitful. He saw us as an “intrinsic part of the world.” We are seen.

Sources

Exclusive: Rep. Ayanna Pressley Reveals Beautiful Bald Head and Discusses Alopecia for the First Time

Dare to be yourself, tell YOUR story: Ayanna Pressley at TEDxRoxburyWomen




Amelia Boynton Robinson

A Devotional About Preparedness

In the acclaimed movie “Selma”, directed by the extraordinary Ava Duverney, the gifted actress, Lorraine Toussaint, portrays the unshakable civil rights pioneer, Amelia Boynton Robinson having a conversation with the brave Betty Shabazz (and yes, I used many superlatives, because they are well deserved!). In the movie, Boynton Robinson is portrayed as saying, “I know that we are descendants of a mighty people, who gave civilization to the world. People who survived the hulls of slave ships across vast oceans. People who innovate and create and love despite pressures and tortures unimaginable. They are in our bloodstream. Pumping our hearts every second. They’ve prepared you. You are already prepared.” The concept of preparedness is one that daily lingers in my reflections and observations. So when I read a familiar passage from Exodus, the idea of preparedness caught me, yet again.

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3: 9-12 ESV).

A Lesson in “But”

The English Language Arts educator in me first noticed two sentences that began with the contraction “but.” This word sometimes negating the words spoken or written before it signals to readers or listeners that the important part of the sentence is coming up on the other side of the “but.” God told Moses he would send him on a successful mission. Moses negated what God said with his more important question of “Who am I?” God then returns the volley with a “but” of His own, negating Moses’ negation (you’re following me, yes?) and giving us all a lesson in preparedness. I’ve read this passage several times, but it wasn’t until a second or third reading that I noticed that God’s response of “But I will be with you…” didn’t quite answer Moses’ question.  I started to think of all the responses He could’ve given Moses instead:

  • Moses, you were the baby preserved from death for this very time. You were born for this. Literally. It’s your destiny!
  • Moses, you are the man who was raised in the courts of the country I am sending you to topple. You know it inside and out! You are like special ops.
  • Moses, you are the one whose zeal for swift justice is well known. You know I saw you handle that Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew? I need a swashbuckler like you to get this job done. You in?

Instead, Yahweh, in so many words, said, “But Moses, you are a man who I am with.” Now, I can’t articulate for sure Moses’ intentions in asking “Who am I that I should go…” but I can tap into my humanity and surmise that Moses could have been seeking validation for why he was needed or called upon. However, Yahweh’s idea of preparedness turned Moses’ question on its head. Instead of validating why He needed Moses, Yahweh needed Moses to validate his need for Yahweh.

The Truth About Validation

I sometimes seek validation of myself when I should be validating the One who seeks after me! I sometimes muse about my preparedness when I should be meditating on the One who prepares me. I am not suggesting we be willfully unprepared for life’s assignments. I am suggesting that we remember who has assigned us to this life.

God, why have you chosen me? 

God says, “I am with you.”

God, why do you think I can carry out this task? 

God says, “I will be with you.”

God, why are you not answering my questions? 

God says, “My presence is an answer.”

And might I add, that God is not being flippant at all! Whatever He tasks us to do for Him, it is He who fulfills the purpose (Psalm 57:2) and it is He who gives us the energy (Colossians 1:29) to live and love for him day after day. In fact, one of the names of God, Adonai, actually describes God as our loving master who not only gives us tasks but also equips us for them! 

We Are Already Prepared

Amelia Boynton Robinson was already prepared for the life of fearless activism that she would lead. She became the first African American woman to run for Congress in the state of Alabama in 1964. She spearheaded and organized the 1965 march in Selma across the Pettus bridge where she suffered a brutal beating, yet she survived and continued to walk in her activist calling. In fact, Boynton Robinson recalls of her childhood that, “We felt like we had to be leaders, because this is what the community expected.” The expectations held of her as a child was a part of her preparation. The expectation Yahweh has of us is a part of our preparation. He expects you to “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG). Emmanuel, God with us, is our preparation. We are already prepared.

 

Sources

Amelia Boynton




Miss Mary Hamilton

A Devotional About Names

Names mean so much within the cultures of the African Diaspora. Our names may be “monikers that have a history that forever may be a mystery” as Poet Sha’Condria ‘iCon’ Sibley describes about the name Tynishia in her poem “To All the Little Black Girls With Big Names (Dedicated to Quvenzhane’ Wallis). She continues writing,

If those who assume ever stop to think that maybe…

Transatlantic submerged native tongues

have reemerged in the form of ghetto monikers.

Sounds a lot like Tinashe

a name from the Shona tribe meaning “God is with us”

because when her mother died, He was all she had. 

Our names, when spoken or read, convey sturdiness and whimsy, tradition and originality, assimilation and uprising. It is not only what our names convey that signify our culture, but also the nuances of how we relate to names. I know it wasn’t only my Grandma (whose dazzling name was Goldie Amelia Patterson) who, when trying to get my attention, would call me by each of my cousin’s names before she got to mine. Expecting me to respond immediately as if I knew telepathically that it was me for whom she was calling, she’d declare, “KiaKarenJamarEricShalisha…Porsche, you know I’m talking to you!”

Or how about that story you told just the other day about “whatshisname” whose name you nor any of the folk listening to your story could remember, yet they all confidently said “Oh yeah yeah, whatshisname! We know who you talkin’ bout!” There is so much diversity and nuance associated with names in our culture, but there are also expectations. 

Honorifics

One expectation about names that upends others is the use of the honorific –  a word that expresses respect, confers honor, appreciation or affection. You know honorifics well. Mrs. Pauletta Washington. Auntie Maxine Waters. First Lady Michelle Obama. The Mrs., Auntie and First Lady all ascribe an intention and describe a relationship towards each woman that would otherwise be lost if the honorific was omitted. This is exactly what Miss Mary Hamilton knew, and because she knew it she chose to do something for the culture regarding names; something that we still benefit from today.

Miss Mary Hamilton

Miss Mary Hamilton was a teacher, a Freedom Rider and the first female field organizer in the South for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). While testifying as a witness in a case in Alabama, the prosecutor called Miss Hamilton by her first name only, which was par for the course of how African Americans were addressed in 1963 courtrooms. Mary Hamilton refused to answer the question, stating instead, “My name is Miss Hamilton. Please address me correctly.” Twice the prosecutor repeated his use of only her first name. And twice Mary Hamilton replied that she would not respond unless she was addressed correctly. She was never addressed correctly, thus she never responded. Subsequently, she was held in contempt of court, fined $50, and jailed for 5 days.

The story doesn’t end here for I believe you already get the feeling that Miss Mary didn’t take no stuff. In fact, she took her case all the way to the United States Supreme Court whose landmark ruling, HAMILTON v. ALABAMA, 376 U.S. 650 (1964) “established that people of color are entitled to the same courtesies and honorifics as whites.”

What’s My Name?

Now that you know or have been reminded of what Miss Hamilton did on our behalf, will you, if involved in a legal proceeding, ever willfully ask to be called only by your first name? Will you reason that, despite what happened in 1963, you’d be fine with however someone chooses to address you in 2020? I doubt it, for it would be an affront to Miss Hamilton and to the culture! 

In the same way I proudly accept what Miss Hamilton won for us, I accept what Yeshua Hamashiach has won for us. He has made it possible for us to be addressed as valuable (Matt. 6.26), loved (John 3:16) and specially made (Psalm 139:13).  These and other descriptors all ascribe an intention and describe the relationship He wants with us. And because of these honorifics, we are empowered to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), restore communities (Isaiah 58:12), say the right thing at the right time to people (Isaiah 50:4) all while living healthy, prosperous lives (3 John 1:2)! He most definitely did something for the culture – for every culture under the sun regarding names – that all people benefit from today.

 

Sources

To All the Little Black Girls With Big Names (Dedicated to Quvenzhane’ Wallis)

Mary Hamilton 

Mary Hamilton, The Woman Who Put The ‘Miss’ In Court

When ‘Miss’ Meant So Much More: How One Woman Fought Alabama — And Won