Penning this fortieth and final blog of my Lenten Safari and of 2017 has literally taken me three weeks to get on paper and out of my head, heart, and soul. In the midst of a busy holiday season and with the challenge of bringing this journey to a formative conclusion, I just needed more time and more space to process and to finally express what has been bubbling up for me.
Now, there were certainly times when I thought I was ready to speak or even write, but for this final and fortieth post, the right words did not come when I wanted them. In fact, I felt like I had been silenced like Zechariah after the angel Gabriel told him that his prayers were answered and his wife Elizabeth would have a baby in old age. Not until after Zechariah had written down that “his name is John” on the eighth day after the child was born and about to be circumcised, was Zechariah’s tongue loosed.
Well, unlike Zechariah and Elizabeth, I am not birthing a child like John to be the forerunner of Jesus–the dark-skinned Palestinian Jew, the Liberator of the left out and left behind, the Radical Resister of hegemonic systems of oppression, the Activist for peace and justice in the right now–not the hereafter. In fact, I am not even pregnant–not with a baby at least.
However, there is something eerily similar about this Lenten Safari and being pregnant, because the anticipated process for both from inception to completion is about 40 weeks long. And it was just a little over 43 weeks ago that this journey began as an ambitious 40 Day Lenten Safari on March 1, 2017, but by September 2017, it had mushroomed into a full blown pregnancy–being re-branded the 40 Week Lenten Safari.
So, several things are at the heart of this process for both Zechariah and myself–the restoration of vision, the relinquishing of hindrances (like fear, doubt, ego, etc.), and the reconstitution of promise and purpose. While Zechariah encountered an angel privately in the temple, I encountered an activist publicly at Burke High School in Charleston, SC.
It was a sunny afternoon on April 22 when I had a life-changing encounter while attending the Charleston Civil Rights Film Fest public workshop at Burke High School. A documentary was aired that focused on educational disparities, and one of the activists interviewed was a woman who was among the first young people to integrate Charleston public schools in 1963–Dr. Millicent Brown–esteemed historian and professor, truth-speaker extraordinaire, and long-time civil rights activist.
This was a watershed moment for me, because I had never been taught the history of Charleston public school integration, but viewing the documentary, and, in particular, seeing Millicent’s interview ignited something in me. I was genuinely intrigued by her story and fascinated by her candor in the documentary. Then I actually had the pleasure of meeting her at the end of the workshop and then having a conversation with her over a meal at Hannibal’s, a local soul food restaurant.
Through our dialogue and just by being in her presence, I was gaining another level of awareness and clarity about my soul’s work. Vision was being restored.
At the restaurant, Millicent was very welcoming and down-to-earth while being as real and raw in person as she had been in the documentary, and I absolutely adored and admired that. She shared that she had moved back to Charleston three years earlier and when I mentioned that I had just returned home about two weeks ago, she offered to be supportive in helping me get reconnected. Then after we discovered that she lived less than two miles from my brother’s house, she invited me to visit her.
Later that evening, we all returned to Burke High School for the film screening of Freedom Song where Millicent was slated to be on a panel with Danny Glover and David Dennis. The panel used the film–set at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement–to put into context the racial injustices, resistance, and retaliation prevalent in this present age of #BlackLivesMatter.
As a panelist, Millicent shared a little about her childhood integration experience, but was intentional about having a relevant conversation about the current methodology, psycopathy, and importunity of racial injustice and white supremacy. She spoke of the Charleston culture of politeness wherein Black people are expected to be quick to forgive the most egregious of offenses without a hint of righteous indignation or justifiable anger. Then she pulled back the curtain on the facade of progress which showcases that we can all now party together without ever seeing or addressing the real inequities that exist in policing, housing, employment, education, and so on. With no holds barred, she even threw some shade at elected officials for doing what was comfortable and easy instead of what was courageous and right. As a lover of truth, I was in absolute awe!
There was something incredibly powerful, and familiar, and inspiring about her truthful way of being–that resonated not only with my soul’s work, but with who I am called to be. Millicent Brown was someone I wanted to get to know better, but I was still getting re-acclimated to being home and going to a lot of events to discern what issues and groups were a fit for what I felt called to do, and weeks passed by.
In fact, so much time had passed that I wasn’t sure if the invitation to stop by was still good, and we hadn’t even exchanged contact info. Even so, hindrances were being relinquished.
For our paths crossed a few more times, because unbeknown to Millicent and I at the time of our first meeting, we were connected in a web of mutuality, mentoring, and friendship that would eventually come to fruition. Then I saw Millicent and her sister, Minerva, at the Black Ink Book Festival on September 23, and I sat near them for the keynote address that would be given by award-winning author Kwame Alexander.
While we were waiting for the program to start, she asked me if I was coming to Spirit Talk the next day, and of course, I had no idea what she was talking about. Then she realized that she had mistook me for someone else and proceeded to invite me anyhow–handing me her phone so I could forward the invitation to my email address. The event sounded really interesting and I actually showed up the next day for my first Spirit Talk.
Millicent and I have become fast friends, and often carpool to Spirit Talk and other events, as we have very similar interests. We even discovered that–with the exception of Guatemala–she has lived in every place that I once lived–from D.C. to Tallahassee, FL and Greensboro, NC.
While we may be working on different aspects of our wholeness, both of us seem to be in the process of reconciling our higher consciousness with our black consciousness and have a role to play in each other’s healing. Promise and purpose are being reconstituted.
Encountering Millicent and becoming friends with her has breathed fresh air on the promise and purpose of my soul’s work. Although I may not have had the language or insight to always articulate it, I believe that I have always been wired for truth with a heart for justice that confronts the existential realities of the oppressed. As I became more aware of this innate purpose, I searched for ways to not only live more consciously, but to do so with people who get it and get me.
However, be clear that consciousness means different things to different people. To one group it may mean higher consciousness—an ethereal state of being in a world obsessed with doing and achieving. To others it may mean black consciousness—a reclamation of black history, black excellence, and black worth in a white supremacist world. The challenge in both cases is to not only value both the celestial level and the existential realities in order to confront their contradictions, but to dethrone the ego so as to operate from a place of presence instead of privilege and power.
Now, while this promise and purpose of participating in the healing of racial trauma is being birthed, I am also being challenged by my friend and mentor, Millicent. One day we were having a conversation, and I was sharing about an interaction that I had, and she said to me, “Tara, we have got to tell White people the truth,” and I agree wholeheartedly, but in that instance maybe I wasn’t as assertive as I could have been. Interestingly, this is in direct contradiction to what my Mom told me. I remember her telling me as a child, “You can’t tell White people the truth.”
There you have it…two conflicting pieces of advice from two women who grew up during the Civil Rights era in downtown Charleston, and both of whom I absolutely adore. So, let’s put this in context, because Millicent will be the first to tell you that she was born into an activist family with some means, which afforded them the luxury and burden of being heavily involved in civil rights and social activism. My parents, however, were born into families with less means who were probably just trying to survive Jim Crow and white supremacy.
Furthermore, I can’t really remember when my Mom gave me that advice. It is possible that she said this to me after I had a traumatic experience as the only Black student in the eighth grade Gifted & Talented program–a spot I was only given after my mother persisted until they finally let me take the test, which I passed.
Anyway, one day during class, I asserted my perspective, and with the voracity of a rabid rattlesnake, the teacher released an excessive and irrational tirade on me. Humiliated and in tears by the time I got home, my Mom promptly took me back to the school and confronted the teacher–telling her, “If you ever yell at my child again, I will come back down here and whup your ass!” So, it is possible that my Mom gave me this piece of advice, because she saw how traumatized I was by this experience.
And maybe this teacher’s verbal assault was so menacing and heavy-handed, because it was a direct attack on the promise and purpose of my soul’s work. For I stopped asserting myself in White spaces, because that experience had taught me that my perspective was not welcomed or valued in those spaces. However, all bets were off if you asked me something directly, because I would gladly offer you the truth.
But my soul’s work requires more of me. The work of Blissful Authenticity–of valuing higher consciousness and Black consciousness in a white supremacist world–requires more of me if I am going to create space for communal consciousness and racial healing.
This 40 week journey has been trying at times, and at times, just like Zechariah, I felt like God had forgotten about me. Like Zechariah I believed in the promise, but was finding it hard to see how and when it would come to pass. Then I had a life-changing encounter with an activist, and gained a friend and a mentor, who sees me and gets me, because she exemplifies what Blissful Authenticity is really called to be.
So, let 2018 be the year where the promise of Blissful Authenticity is not hindered or held up but released and realized!