Another wise woman

Dear President Trump,

If you’ve not gotten this before, I’ll tell you plainly that Laura is a terrific finder. I see things that happen to pop up right in front of me and I regularly sleuth out what I need for paper and letter writing, but she actively searches out new stuff all the time (music, books, ways to teach probability, etc.), and fortunately for me, she regularly finds things she thinks (knows) will resonate with me. And so it was yesterday when she sent me a YouTube link to Ayanna Pressley’s announcement about her alopecia that I told you about last night. And so it was when she shared a link to an interview with Ruby Sales on the On Becoming show with Krista Tippett (updated 1/16/20; originally aired 9/15/16; https://onbeing.org/programs/ruby-sales-where-does-it-hurt/).

The title of the Sales episode is “Where Does it Hurt?” I know it’s not your nature, but just sit with those words for a minute. Without knowing anything else about Ruby Sales (presumably), consider what framing a conversation around this simple / not simple question might mean. And no, Ms. Sales is not a medical doctor and her question is not asked in that sort of context.

Ms. Sales is an activist and educator who focuses on race, class, gender, and reconciliation. Much like I didn’t know about Mahalia Jackson having urged MLK to tell the people about his Dream, I didn’t know anything about Ms. Sales until yesterday, let alone that she survived a violent mob attack during a Civil Rights protest in 1965. She survived because a white seminarian, Jonathan Daniels, pushed her aside and took the shotgun blast intended for her full on in the chest. He died instantly.

I didn’t know about her keen discernment regarding the costs of integration to Black people and her sense that in encouraging young Black people to venture out into the wider, much Whiter, world there are significant costs to them since they are almost certainly going into places where they are not welcome and often are in danger, vulnerable without the armor and support of the Black Community to shield them. I didn’t know about her particular framing of these phenomena and hadn’t come across the idea that younger generations of Black people often feel abandoned by their elders, untethered to the Community and its history. I know Black people often feel dislocated and as though they fit in neither world, but I hadn’t understood the sense of abandonment that integration might occasion.

Just to be clear, Ms. Sales was not being negative about Black people striving and engaging outside their immediate communities, rather she was apologetic about the older generation having let down the younger generation.

I also had not been aware of the idea that “black folk church”, which Ms. Sales explains is a spiritual and religious resistance movement, has kept the United States from “tilting into the abyss of fascism.” This part of the interview is incredible – she draws out how the idea of a liberating God, a God of love and justice, one that is redemptive and that has essentially (as in basically and fundamentally) been a saving grace for African Americans, and thus for all Americans. She explains that this is so because this version of God has provided a sense that unjust systems will not prevail, that there is a power beyond human power that will see to it that evil doesn’t win. The interview is copyrighted so I can’t share more than a few of her exact words with you, but her argument rings true to me – that this way of understanding God and the crucial focus of black folk church on justice, love, and right relations are what have literally saved America from imploding.

I wish I’d learned of Ruby Sales and Mahalia Jackson years ago, but it occurred to me earlier that it’s maybe a little bit of a positive sign that it didn’t take a Black History Month for me to come across their stories this year.

May we be safe inside and outside our primary communities.
May we be happy to welcome and cherish everyone.
May we be strengthened and held by our elders.
May we make peace with all our growth edges.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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