In my late 20’s, while I was working at the community development corporation of a for-profit bank (an oxymoron of sorts), I met a woman working with the Department of Housing & Urban Development who on almost every occasion that we interacted asked me the same pointed question, “Who you be?” I gave the typical answers about my job title, my age, my ethnicity, my religious affiliation, my gender, my marital status, my educational background, my family heritage, and so on.
Almost as if I didn’t even attempt to answer the question, she would very pointedly ask me again, “Who you be?” Unsure of what answer would be acceptable, I would reply, “What do you mean?” Without any further explanation, she would once again ask, “Who you be?” It was clear that she had found all of my attempts to answer the question inadequate, so, I eventually resorted to saying, “I don’t know.” Now, although I thought that it was a rather peculiar question at the time, I knew that she was asking me something important. Every time we had a conversation, I was asked the very same question, “Who you be?” Each time she asked, I struggled to answer, and in fact, I never did provide her with “the” answer nor did she ever explain her question before we lost touch. The question, however, had awakened something in me. It created space to do some personal inquiry and soul searching to gain a deeper understanding of “who I be.” For, if “who I be” is not my job, my education, my social status or any of those other external things that we use to define ourselves, then “who in the world do I be?”
This sister had been placed in my life for a brief season to stir up the gifts within me, to help me start stripping away the false identities, and to awaken my true essence. She was challenging the prevailing societal tendency to ascribe value based on what you do and/or a plethora of other external factors. After all, before we could do anything and before we were even born into a body, a family, a culture, a race, and so on, we were simply beings. In fact, we are human beings not human doings, and understanding “Who we be?” is about awakening to that deeper level of consciousness to really re-discover our true essence.
It was almost as if she was asking me, “How is it with your soul?”–which is the question John Wesley would ask to open up Methodist small group meetings–but I had no words for the question “Who you be?” that seemed appropriate and the common religious platitudes just would not do. Her question was of a spiritual nature, an inquiry in the state of my being. Her implicit assertion was that I was more than my career, more than my education, more than my social status, more than my ethnicity, more than my marital status, and so forth—all of those external means we use to gain power, affection, and status in the world. Her affirmation was that my being, my essence is at the core of my real identity, that my being is paramount, and that my being is enough all by itself.
At the core of our being, I believe that we are all “seekers” born with an innate desire to remember and to “be” who we really are. The first two lines of my poem entitled, “I Am She”, puts it this way:
I Am She
Seeker of the Truth . . .
We have to start with truth, and we have to be awake and willing to receive that truth from wherever God sends it! In my particular case, God used a business colleague to help excavate that desire to “be,” that desire to awaken and live fully into the essence of who I really am. So, I ask you again, “Who you be?”
Tara LaShawn Seabrook is a self-proclaimed “free spirit,” a public, practical, and prophetic theologian; a spiritual and social justice activist; a creative and cultural artist; and a prolific teacher, speaker, and writer. Currently, she resides in Guatemala where she is finishing up a 2-year volunteer in mission commitment with a non-governmental organization before returning to her native Charleston, SC in the spring of 2017. Her book based on her original poem, “I Am She: The Anthology” will be released later this year.