Categories
Uncategorized

I Am The Underground Railroad

“I woke up this morning with one of the songs of our ancestors on my mind:

I’m a rolling, I’m a rolling,

I’m a rolling through an unfriendly world!

I’m a rolling, yes, I am rolling

Through an unfriendly world.

O Sister, won’t you help me?

O Sister, won’t you help me to pray?

O Sister, won’t you help me?

Won’t you help me in the service of the Lord?”

Our songs tell us that we knew how to ask our kin for help as we were risking it all to make our way through to freedom. Our kin learned to listen for the sounds of the ones headed to Beulah, to freedom.

What does it sound like when our kin are asking for help today to make it through to freedom? What are the sounds our ears and hearts need to be attuned to if we claim to stand on the shoulders of those whose “vocation” was the Underground Railroad?

I can not hear these songs as just disembodied tunes with meaningless or otherworldly lyrics. And, I think my ancestors would caution me not to think that being able to occupy the same burning houses of the masters whose greed created a world dependent on the subjugation of people, any people, is freedom. Anybody in the business of subjugating is adding another brick on the walls that hold up the world white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, and slavery made. I ain’t free until we are all free.

I don’t want a world that just replaces those powers with their cousins. I don’t want my grandchildren’s world to look back at me, tracing the contours of the chains I placed on someone else.

I believe another world is possible.

So, this morning I woke up with a determination to keep on rolling through.

To pray – to keep watch in God’s direction.

To stay in the “service of the Lord” – the work of liberation.

To own my vocation.

I am the Underground Railroad.

“There is a lot of embedded symbolism within the narrative of the piece. The contours of the base represent the Maryland/Delaware Peninsula, where Harriet was enslaved, eventually escaped, and continued to return for her freedom raids. The dramatic step up/cut is the Pennsylvania state line, and they are stepping out of the slave states to an elevated freedom. The wind illustrates the peril of the journey but is also a metaphor for the intense opposition she faced. The dress is enveloping the girl, billowing protectively like a flag, and is meant to represent all of the legal protections afforded every United States citizen-a symbol of the future equality to come. Each hand signifies an attribute, Determination, Protection, Fear, and Trust. The Union military coat represents Harriet’s time in South Carolina raiding plantations and bringing the freed slaves back to Union occupied Beaufort.” (Artist – Wesley Wofford)

https://www.woffordsculpturestudio.com/#

Categories
childhood. children Cradle to Prison Pipeline injustice Uncategorized

Florida Officer Arrests Children, Ages 6 and 8, at School | Time

I believe another world is possible – one where agents of the state do not have the power to terrorize black children simply because they are black children.

A police officer who arrested a 6- and 8-year-old children at an Orlando charter school on Thursday is facing an internal investigation.
— Read on time.com/5683453/children-arrested-orlando-florida-school/

Categories
Uncategorized

Loved Home

Eighteen years ago today on this day – September 11, 2001, I didn’t have GPS or a map and I was trying my best to get home. The towers had fallen. New York City was in chaos. I was physically ok but could not wrap my mind around planes crashing into buildings. I sent my staff home and left my office on 73rd street. I got as far as 23rd Street and could get not below that to my child who was on 16th street. It was my child’s second day of Middle School, the towers had fallen, and I was trying not to lose my mind.

Mercy, Jesus.

A member of my church and dear girl friend was able to get below 23rd Street to get to my child’s school on 16th Street.  She brought her up to me. I will always love my dear friend for many reasons – but I am eternally grateful to her because she took my hysterical call.

Now, I had to figure out how to get the both of us home.

None of the usual routes were accessible to me. I was a relatively new driver and didn’t know much about NYC’s roads because I usually just drove to work, to church and children’s play dates. That was it.

But the late Deacon Cozetta “Mama G” “Coco” Green knew the roads. She had traveled them before. I called her and she stepped into the fullness of her witness. She encouraged me to put in the earphones to my cell so that my daughter didn’t have to hear our conversation and know the degree to which her Mama was struggling.

And, Deacon Green went to work. She talked me through back alleys, roads and passageways all through Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and then Brooklyn. Her challenge was my limitation. I couldn’t orient myself with north, south, east or west. Left and right meant nothing – those were useless points of direction and reference. My mind was just not functioning in that way. But she didn’t shame me, or give up on me, or make me feel like I should know better, or I should get it together. She knew I was in “calm hysteria” and she talked to me until she could figure out how I needed to hear her directions.

Deacon Green just kept saying, “if you drive with the sun in your face and not the back of your head, you’ll be ok, you’ll be going in the right direction, you can do it. I’m here. Where’s the sun? Is it in your face or the back of your head? Alright, there’s gonna be a gas station coming up, look out of the passenger side, you see it? Good, now drive past that bodega and turn toward the driver’s side. Good! Now, you see a bridge on the passenger side? Go under it and there will be a side road. Take that. How you doing? Aren’t those buildings on the passenger side such an unusual color? Isn’t that a huge cemetery over there? I think you are doing great! That’s the city’s worst supermarket on the passenger side. I’m proud of you, you are hanging in there!”

That’s how I got home. Seven hours driving through unfamiliar territory with a whole city on edge, my child in the passenger seat but Cozetta Green in my ear, guiding me by landmark, speaking my language and telling me that I was ok because she was there with me.

When our congregation gathered the next day just to be in each other’s presence, I couldn’t wait to see Cozetta. I rushed her and she welcomed me with open arms. She hugged me and whispered in my ear over and over again – “I knew you could do it.”

Mama G is with the ancestors now but while she was with us, she sure found ways to make us believe we could do absolutely anything. And we all could, in part, because she was ALWAYS gonna do her part. Encouragement. Speaking the language we needed to hear. Sharing what she knew. Refusing to let us worry about what we didn’t know. And hugs. Lots of hugs.

She knew the roads, in part because she had shopped ev-er-y street in the Metroplitan area, never being limited to the malls. She knew the deals on every the street in this city.

She knew my deal. She loved me home.

****

I pray for the families who lost so much on 9/11. I pray for the victims of terrorism the world over. I pray for us, for all of us. I pray for myself. And I pray that God would be gentle with all of our tomorrows.

Categories
Uncategorized

Roll Call for Michael Brown

ROLL CALL FOR MICHAEL BROWN

It will happen,

an honest mistake

in a hot August classroom.

Someone will blink

at the name and swear this

“Michael Brown” can’t be

that “Michael Brown.” Or someone

will be too busy with her head down

finishing syllabi to look up and see the flash

grenades and tear

gas. Someone will be running

late, his mind on the cops

that will probably ticket him

for not having a permit.

Someone won’t see why a name

is such a big deal. Someone will

read his name like the next item on a list

of groceries and move to the next student

before the first groan rumbles

through the stale Missouri air.

Someone will start to speak

his name and then cover his mouth

like a Roman priest closing Janus’s door

and praying all the violence of the world will stop

short of his porch. Someone will ask,

“Michael Brown? Is Michael Brown here?”

and we will all have to answer.

Poets Respond
August 17, 2014

__________

Jason McCall: “This poem was inspired by the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. His death is one of the many recent cases of unarmed black males dying at the hands of police officers. He was scheduled to begin the college this semester.”

(jasonmccall.weebly.com)

Categories
Uncategorized

Creed: “The Holy Spirit, the Eternal Immigrant…”

THE IMMIGRANT’S APOSTLES CREED

We believe in Almighty God,

who guided the people in exile

and in exodus,

the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,

the God of foreigners and immigrants.

We believe in Jesus Christ,

a displaced Galilean,

who was born away from his people and his home,

who fled his country with his parents

when his life was in danger.

When he returned to his own country

he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,

the servant of a foreign power.

Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured,

and unjustly condemned to death.

But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,

not as a scorned foreigner,

but to offer us citizenship in God’s reign.

We believe in the Holy Spirit.

the eternal immigrant

from God’s reign among us,

who speaks all languages,

lives in all countries,

and reunites all races.

We believe that the Church

is the secure home for foreigners and all believers.

We believe that the communion of saints begins

when we embrace all God’s people, in all their diversity.

We believe in forgiveness,

which makes us all equal before God,

and in reconciliation,

which heals our brokenness.

We believe that in the Resurrection

God will unite us as one people,

in which all are distinct

and all are alike at the same time.

We believe in life eternal,

in which no one will be foreigner

but all will be citizens of the reign

where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.

(Written by Rev. Jose Kuis Casal, the director of Presbyterian World Mission. He is an immigrant to the USA from Cuba. Icon image, Copyright © by Kelly Latimore / www. kellylatimoreicons.com.)

Credo (Dorothee Soelle)

https://vimeo.com/223289599

Categories
Uncategorized

A View from Harriet’s Rocking Chair

The view from from the Harriet Tubman Rocking Chair on the porch of the White House on the CDF Alex Haley Farm, Summer 2019.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” (D. Bonhoeffer)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words were close in my heart this week during the Children’s Defense Fund’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.

New perspectives, new friends, affirmations of work and the rekindling of old friendships, food for the journey, the spark of challenge – all toward sharpening that spoke.

I don’t want to just rescue children – I want to tear the systems down as a guarantee of non-repeat. And I’m grateful to walk the way of joy with folks whose bags are packed with spokes.

All thanks be to our God for the gift of Haley Farm. Amen.

Categories
Uncategorized

Headed To Where the Stars are Standing Still..

I’ve been hanging out with the Baptists for real since 1989. Nevertheless, I’m still singing carols and celebrating Christmas until January 6 right along with a good portion of the faithful across the globe.

Right now, I am on a journey with the wise ones. We are being guided by a star of wonder and light toward the house where Jesus lives.

Along the way, I’ve got one thing on my mind: what I will I offer of myself when I finally get to that place where the stars are standing still?

Frankincense? Gold? Myrrh?

What do you give in honor of the one whose birth caused His mother to sing:

All of you who are rich and powerful, listen up!

No more standing on our necks, crushing our hopes, occupying our lives with your terror, sucking the life out of us. I’m birthing God’s answer to the cries of the poor,

the oppressed, the hungry, the terrorized.

This answer will turn the world right side up again!

Hang in there, broken-hearted and weary ones!

Freedom is on the horizon!

(Luke 1)

Categories
Uncategorized

God Breaks In!

‪Paraphrasing Mary:

“I got a word for the rich & powerful! Times up! Through our faithful lives, God breaks in! Listen up all who are poor, oppressed, hungry – hang in there! Freedom, Oh, Freedom!”‬

‪Madonna & Child

© 2012 Laura James | Eyekons‬

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

Luke 2:15-18

Categories
Uncategorized

No Room For That

I attended a meeting in downtown Brooklyn a few months ago. There is a sculpture of an alligator rising up from the sewer biting a figure of a ‘money man’. I think there are several of these sculptures through the city.

I avoid the area because every time I see that sculpture, a knot forms in my gut. In good weather, there are usually a lot of people milling about, often taking photos of it and laughing at it. I’m sure that is what the artist intended – that there would be laughter at the sight of this alligator chomping on the money-headed figure.

Except, the sight of the sculpture doesn’t bring up laughter for me. I am instantly awash – every time – in the overwhelming feeling of how unsafe Black children have always been in these United States of America. Instead of laughing along with New Yorkers like the artist surely intended, I remember the often reputed reports of a peculiar kind of “alligator bait” – Black babies.  The reports that confirm that this practice was not widespread do not soothe any anger I feel.  It was widespread enough that Florida warned against the use of the image of “the alligator lying in wait of pickaninnies” because they feared it was “destructive advertising” and negatively impact the development of their livestock industry .

As a child, I remember hearing the phrase “they are going to feed you to the alligators” as a cautionary saying uttered by adults who wanted to warn us not to wander off too far from their sight.  I never thought anything of that saying, never tried to find out what they meant, and never did any research on my own – until this day when those words of warning washed over me again as I stared at this installation.

I certainly don’t want the installation removed. The image does not depict a Black child; it is intended, I think, to be a rebuke on capitalism or something. Or maybe it is just art which does not need explanation or to be justified – its meaning lives in the eyes of the beholder. People should have the space and grace to laugh and enjoy whatever is the artist’s intent.

Some of us carry in our bodies the traumatic legacy of the images of our dehumanization. We are always walking – sometimes very tenderly – into and through spaces of violent remembrance.  I felt disoriented and needed to stop and take a breath.

I hope that I will be even more mindful of how others may experience trauma and pain in the spaces that I find to be liberating and joyful.

In the moments where some find space to laugh and enjoy, and others are gasping for grace to take a deep, healing breath lives a prayer for the creation of a community – in the here and now – where there is no room for violence. No room for that.

IMG_2298

Categories
Uncategorized

Praying With Araminta…

“..and I prayed to God to make me strong and able to fight, and that’s what I’ve always prayed for ever since.”

Harriet Tubman, 1865