July 23, 2015

Lift Every Voice

This post is also available in Spanish aqui.

I knew it was going to be life-changing
I just didn't know how
I knew I was going to shed some tears
I just didn't know when
I knew I was going to feel uncomfortable
I just didn't know why
I knew I was going to learn new things
I just didn't know which
I am at a Plantation for the first time
I knew I would see a big White House
And slave quarters
As I walk towards the big house
I feel as though I am in a scene from The Color Purple
and I smile with pain
I stand near a chimney and breathe
With spirits of young and old running all around me
Showing me how to feel and what to do
As I touch a slave child’s footprint left on a brick
and imagine his laughter (he’s my son in my mind)
I cry.

Written during my quiet reflection time after hearing three slave narratives at one of the largest plantation complexes in the south – Stagville Plantation.

Last week I had a transformative experience when I was part of the Lift Every Voice/Freedom Ride event in the Diocese of North Carolina (you can read about it here). It was an event for youth and young adults that centered around truth, reconciliation, and peace. There were over 70 of us from several dioceses around the nation and South Africa. As part of the leadership and music team I had the opportunity to plan and hear ideas of how we would help the participants and ourselves months in advance. From the first moment I felt the love of God in each person of the team – mostly comprised of young adults. Even though I only knew the director, my musician partner, and my son, I felt great intimacy with each person present. We were united by curiosity and deep emotions and I also feel we are united by some fear that this experience will bring a lot of feelings that we might not even know we hold inside. We pray a lot and we commend ourselves to God.

During the week we had opportunities to visit places that were key for social justice and the history of civil rights in North Carolina. We had the chance to meet historic figures as well as activists who greatly inspired us. We heard many narratives from invited guests, team members, and participants. Each story, each anecdote, each poem, each video, each prayer drew us closer and gave us hope to keep going. We cried, laughed, remembered, and lived.

One of my highlights was meeting Episcopal Latinas and being able to interview some. I interviewed Cecilia Alvarez, Canon for Transition Ministry and Clergy Development from the Diocese of New Jersey who taught me about making daily devotion time to spend with God. Student and activist Fernanda Torres taught me about the feelings of isolation and people’s judgment when people find out you are undocumented. Activist and teacher Elisa Benitez taught me the importance of being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice or aren’t being heard. Fernanda and Elisa are from the Diocese of North Carolina. Each one taught me lessons the entire week on God’s unconditional love and the importance of having a relationship with God. (Note: You can find more videos, pictures, and stories by searching #LEVNC on social media.)

Another highlight was to get to know Michael Curry, our presiding bishop elect a little more. In his sermons (like this one given at Chapel of the Cross after visiting the Stagville Plantation and hearing about Pauli Murray) he admonishes us to not give up and keep going no matter what comes our way and also asks us to join the Jesus Movement. I had a short conversation with him regarding this Jesus Movement.

Some other great experiences included Mike Wiley’s one-man show Blood Done Sign My Name where he personifies all the characters surrounding the 1970 murder of Henry “Dickie” Marrow in Oxford, NC. When asked how he can handle so much darkness because his stories are usually of fugitive slaves and freedom fighters he answered, “Music. Music gives me hope and is powerful” as shown by Mary D. Williams who sings in his plays. The Beast a Jazz and Hip-Hop group also shared the same message and gave us an African-American music history lesson amidst their rhymes and rhythms and made us all dance (including our presiding bishop elect). We were able to sing a lot with the entire group in different languages (watch here and here). Our final song, of course, was "Lift every voice and sing."

Singing truly helped us each day to leave that darkness of the abuse, inequality, injustice, and violence behind. It also brought us closer to God who tell us “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. Truly this trip keeps urging me to Lift Every Voice and proclaim Freedom for all!

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