Value and Worth: Hip-Hop, Trayvon Martin, and a Message to the Black Boys of America

by Elise Lockamy

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“Canaan, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Without hesitation, he stood up gleefully and shouted, “I am going to be President of the United States!”

In this post-acquittal era of the George Zimmerman trial and the wrongful death of our martyred son Trayvon Martin, I’d be just as delighted if my elementary school-aged cousin had said, “Alive.  I want to be alive.”

Here’s what I can’t swallow, or seem to be able to have non-Black peers acknowledge, and that’s that if Trayvon was White, he would be alive today.  Zimmerman found him suspicious because he was a young Black male walking around the neighborhood, fitting the same profile of a former neighborhood burglar.  That other guy – Black. Trayvon – Black. Trayvon – dead. Killer – free.  I weep.

Trayvon’s unidentified body lay in a morgue for hours.  He was just another one of “them”.  Another Black male profiled and deemed unworthy of life.  I weep.

Trayvon Benjamin Martin was shot and killed on February 26, 2012.

I maintain that he died on February 5, 1995, the day of his birth, the day he was born a Black Boy in America.
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I sat in the congregation, afro in full force, as the Black missionary from Cameroon relayed all the wonderful things the church was up to.  There were healings and trips to heaven.   Ministry students were powerfully walking in their spiritual gifts.  The school was becoming the equipping ground for nation-changers.  The missionary acknowledged the congregants who monetarily supported the ministry and thanked the rest of us for our spiritual support.  She told anecdotes of her cultural re-adaptations to the United States.  She went on to mention that she was appalled by the music and television shows she saw on VH1. And then my sister, this sister with beautiful dreadlocked hair who had captured the ears of the mostly White congregation said, “Hip-Hop is killing this generation.”   I cringed as most in the audience nodded and clapped in agreement.  I still cringe.

Art, in its unmodified form, is an outward expression of the meditations of the inner-man.  Worshippers know that when Kim Walker-Smith or Richard Smallwood begin to use their instruments (vocal and otherwise) to exact adoration to the Father that it’s coming from a rich soul, and anointed with the Father’s presence that’s able to transcend time, space, and mode of hearing.  See it’s coming from the spirit.  When I listen to Hip-Hop, sometimes filled with meditations of bigotry, sexism, self-hatred, pain of the fatherless, and a dearth of hope, I know it’s coming from a broken spirit, a lost inner-man.

Hip-Hop is not killing this generation.  A lack of identity, value, and self-worth, rooted in the Father, is killing this generation.  We #Coolikans like to say that somebody lied to us.  Well somebody not only lied to our brothers, he or she stopped speaking to them altogether.

Ponder this – if people only paid attention to you when you achieved on the basketball court or the football field (and pushed your body to its physical limits in the process), wouldn’t you too only see value in another’s body?  I am not surprised that many songs feature the sexualized female form.

Ponder this – if the only opportunity you had to engage society’s influencers occurred when you had as much money as they did, wouldn’t you too want to equate your worth with your earnings and flaunt what you have? I am not surprised at the stronghold of materialism that is heard throughout popular music today.

Ponder this – if your father never came home and you never saw an engagement of fraternal love (between him and his intimate circle), wouldn’t it also be easy for you to slander a brother in a song?  I see how easy it is for some songs to drudge up imagery of murdering another person.

I have to ask – what have we (women, fathers, the education system, the jails, the ghettos, society-at-large, and dare I say the church) been telling our Black boys about themselves that drives them to the continued oppression of themselves and those around them?

Hip-Hop is not killing this generation.
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A couple days after the verdict was announced, a radio personality challenged listeners to call in and share what they will now tell their sons as a result of the tragic death of a beloved son and the acquittal of his killer.

A fierce mother called in.  She was angry. She was hurting.  She told that she will now tell her son that he is a member of an endangered species with a target on his back, viewed as a threat by all who manage or bother to see him.

I want to tell our fathers, sons, uncles, brothers, and cousins something else.2115162_orig

You don’t wear a target.  You wear a crown.  The Father says that you are kings.  Don’t look in the mirror and see a reflection of a workhorse, a mere athlete or entertainer, or a slave.  See a reflection of a Son of God, worthy of the calling of leader and lover.  For generations, your power, gifts, and talents have been feared.  I do not fear you.  I celebrate you.  Deaden your ears to the evil whispers of those who envy you and want to see your demise.  Awaken to the promise of abundant living and the esteem of a Father who sees incredible value in you.  Charge into Fatherhood and take back your families.  Charge into the boardroom and rip the price tag off your back.  Take it all back and stand firm.  He, the glorious Father, is with you.  

The songs of life (not fear and death) that will be sung, once the truth about His sons is revealed and celebrated, will shake the Heavens and draw us so close to the presence of God that we’ll be able to smell his fragrance.  That’s where Trayvon is, in His presence.  That’s where we all belong.

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Injustice for All

by Acasia Olson

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My heart hurts and I don’t know where to begin.  My goal is to find a healthy balance between the heavy emotions that course through my spirit and the clinical logic that allows me to piece everything together.  I’ve attempted to write and rewrite only to find myself at a dead end.  This country is at a dead end and we need to course correct soon.  Too many children suffer and die and I don’t know why their cries, trembling fears, why their concerns are not at the forefront of our minds.  I don’t know how and why a child’s life is less valuable than that of a dog.  We go up in arms to defend and protect inanimate objects such as guns and so many graves are being filled with the bodies of children who once ran around and played on swings or sang about what they wanted to be when they grow up.  We will never get it right if we don’t learn how to honor and respect, serve and protect each other.  I’ve felt everything from sorrow, confusion, anger and disappointment all in 24 hours but I also feel this more often than not as a person of color living in America.

I have scrolled through comment after comment on my Facebook newsfeed and almost 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, people are still hurting and frustrated.  However, what I found most fascinating is that every single post and response on my newsfeed was by another black person.  The common misconception held by the dominant culture is that we are living in a post-racial society or that we are supposed to just ignore it and pretend it’s not there and somehow the foolishness will cease and desist.  Racism is like a cancer.  It feeds on people and it’s pervasive and it sucks the life out of our society affecting everyone. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.  You can’t just ignore it and pretend everything is alright.  If someone you know is suffering and you see them suffering but you walk by them as if nothing is wrong what does that say about you?

I’m so torn right now.  This makes no sense at all.  I’m trying to find the words to articulate my frustrations.  This is not for one incident in our country…what I’m feeling is an accumulation of countless acts of stupidity and injustice.  Countless acts of terror against black and brown people being for no other reason than being black or brown.  Whether we walk alone or walk in pairs or a group, we’re still a ‘perceived threat’ to be apprehended by the cops or some lunatic vigilante who feels that taking the law into his own hands is justifiable when the person in question is a child wearing a hood.  Once upon a time in our history the very ancestors of our lawmakers and law enforcement wore hoods and went around on foot and on horse attacking innocent lives and destroying communities.

Men in white hoods who concealed their identity because they were such cowards are now men in black robes who sit around debating the “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”  It’s funny because this country has seen centuries of racial entitlement and the very act intended to protect the rights of men and women, who were LEGALLY oppressed, has now been struck down by the SCOTUS.

I wish we didn’t have to explain that racism hurts everyone or that in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” cowards run around attacking children and searching teenage boys coming home from a graduation party or calling little boys Niggers.  But when you’re black in America that just happens to be the reality and the lesson about bigotry continues.

I had a conversation with my husband the day the verdict was announced.  We sat on a park bench watching the sun set the birds fly freely and listening to the steady lap of water licking up against the shore.  Children were playing on the playground behind us.  I thought about my amazing, intelligent, talented, handsome male cousins who are young but have experienced racism and no, they don’t all live in the south.  I think of my own unborn children and the many young children of color growing up in this country.  If I have a son, he will be tall, toned, beautiful and unfortunately, he will be an endangered member of the human race.  My children, our children shouldn’t have to be given another set of instructions on how to behave or an addendum on how to keep from being shot or targeted.  How many white families sit down with their children and tell their sons not to not wear a hoodie, not walk around the neighborhood with headphones or to look over your shoulder for people who might follow them in the store or their own neighborhood?  How many white families have to worry about the day their child comes home crying because they aren’t black and no-one likes white kids only black kids?  When was the last time a little white boy or girl wondered why they saw so many black children on t.v. and not enough children who looked like themselves? How will I explain to my son that driving while black is a risk?  Why does WALKING while black have to be a cause for concern.  The little children playing behind us on the playground didn’t have a care in the world, and they shouldn’t.  I imagine their parents didn’t have a care outside of the normal worry of child abductions or a scrape from falling off the playground equipment.  A black mother, regardless of education, income and marital status is at greater risk for giving birth to a pre-term child than a white woman. A black parent is far more likely to bury their child due to homicide, the leading cause of death for Black males ages 15 – 24, than any other leading cause of death.   Why must I pray extra hard at night for protection over my child because society doesn’t value his life more than that of a damn dog.  A dog people.  A black man serves a two-year prison sentence forshooting himself in the foot, a black man serves a two-year prison sentence for dog fighting and a young black male was put on trial for his own murder because a fool decided to attack him and he, the unarmed Trayvon Martin, acted in self-defense while his murderer walks free with the same gun he used to commit the crime.

I ask my Maker more often than not, “why do they hate us?  What did I do to deserve so much hatred?  Why do they hate my people?  Really, what did and what do black people do to warrant such vilification and evil treatment?  Why is my skin, facial features, hair texture, build, and ancestry portrayed as ignorant, vulnerable, weak, wrong, slow, bad?”

I’ve heard several responses to this question.  One has always been this notion of Black people being such a threat that the dominant culture and bigots don’t want our power and privilege to be taken from them. There are others who say that Black people are killing each other left and right so how can we argue that one group of people hates us more than we hate ourselves.  If you haven’t heard of the Willie Lynch Letter, let me inform you that slave masters successfully divided to conquer and this method has continued for generations and generations.  When you live in a culture where the media perpetuates negative and degrading images of your race you start to develop self hate and low self worth and end up with an identity crisis.  Let’s be real, how many non-blacks wish they were black?  Sure people like to bastardize our culture but no one wants to be black.  Not when black people are constantly dragged in the mud and treated like we come from another planet.

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“There is a higher court than courts of justice, and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” 
Mahatma Gandhi

Unfortunately, this country has been knocked unconscious by the spirit of greed and conquest and apathy.  Writing and reciting these words won’t put an end to the violence and sitting around upset and distraught won’t bring back the stolen lives nor will it right the wrongs of our nation.  A lot of us have said that this shouldn’t be a surprise, that we got our hopes up and that we shouldn’t have expected justice to put her blindfold back on when she’s been wearing shades for centuries.  I was talking to one of my big brothers about this and told him that I would love to take to the streets riding on top of the “Anti-Racism” machine shouting out to all the blind and ignorant bigots across the nation. It would be a national abolish racism tour and I would encourage folks to just stop and have empathy, and listen to each other’s stories, and build compassion. I would organize meetings and conversations with community leaders, community members, people in positions of authority and then we’d all play figurative duck duck goose and go around and figuratively slap some sense into people’s heads to wake them up!

The silver lining in all of this is that people have been jarred but we need to act.  We need to mentor children, especially black and brown children who are bombarded with messages that erode their self worth.  We need to unite across color lines and move beyond conversations on race and start being the change. We need not grow weary in making progress and in doing good.

In spite of it all, I will take my direction from the Prince of Peace who reminds me that my feet are to be fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…I will walk in peace.

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The other day I found myself in church.  I had a lot of mess to sort through and only God could handle my ugly.  The worship team was playing Casting Crown’s “Praise You in this Storm”. It was just what I needed in that moment:

I was sure by now

That You would have reached down

And wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day

But once again, I say, Amen and it’s still raining

As the thunder rolls

I barely hear Your whisper through the rain, ‘I’m with you’

And as Your mercy falls I raise my hands

And praise the God who gives and takes away

And I’ll praise You in this storm and I will lift my hands

For You are who You are no matter where I am

And every tear I’ve cried You hold in Your hand

You never left my side and though my heart is torn

I will praise You in this storm

A House Divided

by Acasia Olson

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.  -Audre Lorde

“If a kingdom is divided against itself it cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” – Mark 3: 24-25

In 2012, Reverend Fred Luter Jr. became the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.  Upon learning of Rev. Luter’s appointment, I didn’t know if I should celebrate, shake or scratch my head. “What took ‘em so long?!”  I asked myself.  It seems that southern black folks have been Baptists since time immemorial. My mama grew up Baptist, my granny grew up a Baptist, her mother was a Baptist…you get the point.  So why didn’t the convention appoint a black leader before the nation saw its first black president? Isn’t the church supposed to set the standard? Hmm… What frustrates me most is the fact that Rev. Luter promised that he would do everything within his power to ensure that his presidency is not a “one and done” ordeal.

As a leader of the Christian faith and an organization that professes to follow the teachings of Jesus, why is it his job to ensure that other people of color are considered and voted as the president of a Christian organization?  Why must he carry the weight of the black and brown people on his back?  He shouldn’t have to; but I guess the Southern Baptist Convention still uses the SMT (Slave Master’s Translation) version of the Bible.

Most of us will admit that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week.  As someone who spent a considerable amount of my life in the south (Birmingham, Savannah, Atlanta stand up!), I often witnessed this conundrum.  More often than not, I found myself wondering why the church remained in the pre-civil rights era. There are the majority white churches and the majority black churches.  Even our worship music is divided. We listen to Gospel music and Contemporary Christian music, which I believe is code for Black Jesus Music and White Jesus Music. Granted, I understand that geography/zip codes and musical taste have a lot to do with the location and makeup of the church and the type of music one listens to. In recent years, I’ve made it my personal goal to attend churches that have a healthy mix of racially and ethnically diverse congregants. I don’t want to be the only black person in the congregation and experience that awkward frustration of not belonging because my fellow parishioners don’t know ‘what to do with me,’. I don’t want to attend an all-black church where I don’t feel challenged and encouraged to love my non-black brethren.

So I want to renew a movement.  This is a “Go down Moses, part the Red Sea, crumble down the walls, walk on water and rise up” type of movement.  It’s that bleepin’ big. It all started with a radical man who imparted a few radical ideas and I, His willing disciple, believe it is my duty to carry on His mission.

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What if the church decided to start, lead and build an anti-racism movement?  I could be wrong, but I don’t know of any modern day anti-racism movements lead by the church, and more explicitly high profile church leaders.  Should that be a priority?  I don’t know…Did Jesus talk with a Samaritan woman?

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself with wishful thinking and maybe some would argue that I’m trying to start mess. I’d like to call it righteous rebellion but tomato/tomatoe.  When I think of the Church, I consider it a pillar in the Christian faith and lifestyle.  We fellowship with one another.  We come together and celebrate God’s Word together.  We hold each other accountable and sharpen and encourage one another.  Why wouldn’t we find it appropriate and acceptable to have conversations about race and reconciliation with our Christian brethren?  Why can’t we talk about the role of the church in the perpetuation of slavery and otherism as well as its role in the abolishment of Jim Crow?  Why can’t and why don’t we talk about the role of the church in promoting modern segregation?  Jesus radically challenged the status quo, the norms, laws and social expectations of His day and He calls us to do it as His disciples today.

I look forward to the day when the Christian church apologizes for its role in slavery/racism and stops ignoring its responsibility for mending the festering wounds and keloid scars of racism (including the church’s actual role in endorsing social Darwinism).  I anticipate the day when the church starts to collectively, openly, and willingly tackle the issue of racism and otherism and inferiorization not just in countries across the pond but here on our own soil.   Call it what it is, do a sermon series and trainings on it and provide congregations with open spaces and opportunities to discuss and work against the monster of racism.  The word of God explicitly says that if we say we love God but hate our fellow man, we are liars (1 John 4:20).  How can you hate your brother, whom you can see but say you love God, whom you haven’t seen?

There’s a lot of hate and tension floating around these temples of faith. Maybe that’s another reason non-believers and former believers and pseudo believers don’t really believe.  Because the church still hasn’t figured it out.  Jesus was and through His teachings still is relational and interacted with all people.  That includes the educated, the wealthy, the scandalous, the people ‘on the fringe’ and the marginalized ‘others.’

We, on the other hand, will go on missions trips to remote countries outside our borders but let someone suggest driving in and volunteering in certain “bad neighborhoods,” and you might as well have blasphemed the name of God in 5 tongues.  If we remain divided over our differences, we won’t be credible in our pronouncements of love, justice, faith, and community.The nation is still greatly divided but if we can get it right in the church and in our Spiritual domain, everything else will fall into place.  So who’s with me?

Go Fly a Kite

By Elise Lockamy

Dedicated to the single Christians out there, and those yearning for more intimacy with the Father

We had spent many nights Skyping and talking on the phone but still no clarity. I was disappointed when I asked him to let me know where this was going and he said that he just wanted to be friends. I woke up later that night telling myself to cry, to just let it out. As I stood on my balcony, the tears did not come. The only thing I felt was relief.

A week prior to confronting my “friend”, I watched a sermon series by Andy Stanley entitled “The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating”. In the final part, Andy encouraged listeners to take a year off from dating to “become the person you’re looking for is looking for”. So the day after my balcony moment, I started my year off. The year is currently in progress. Here are a few vignettes that I hope you can relate to. I must admit, this year is becoming less about transforming into wife-material and more about intimacy with God. Welcome to my journey.

 

The Kite Story

“Daddy, is this a set-up?” My friends and I had reached the top of Stone Mountain in Georgia.  There were kites flying way up high.  It suddenly occurred to me that I had never flown a kite before.  Sarah said that I should put it on my list of things to do during my year off.  Yes!  The very next day, my coworker, who was moving to a new city, was downsizing from her trunk.  She handed me a pair of shoes and (coincidentally) three kites!

I realized that God was not only concerned with my “ministry-centered” development but also with my fun adventures.  Maybe I did miss tithe payments and did not volunteer to help out with children’s ministry when I was definitely available.  Maybe I did not spend enough time reading the Word last week.  Yet, he did not hide from me.  He showed up in a happy coincidence that spoke to my nerdy heart.  The kites were better than flowers on Valentine’s Day.  He heard and he responded.  And not just with one kite but with three.  Talk about abundance!  (John 10:10)

Imagination

“Daddy, I hurt.”  I was lying down on my living room floor with my eyes closed and arms straight up in the air.  In my mind, I was sitting in God’s lap.  We were chest to chest so that our hearts were near each other.  I imagined hearing his heart beat in sync with mine.  I began to whisper in his ear.  I told him that I was disappointed that my parents divorced.  I revealed my fear that I would never get married.  It seemed that no Christian man would ever take the time to get to know me, want to have fun (rollercoasters and mini-golf), and initiate righteousness in a relationship.  Sigh.  I told him that I had no idea what my next career move would be or how I would ever finish paying back my student loans.  I told him that I wanted to live free and be whole.  I told him that I loved him with my whole heart and that I would never stop chasing him. 

He told me that I was his.  And that his thoughts towards me were those of peace, love, and prosperity.  I learned that I was a woman of joy and that my gifts included teaching and healing.  He told me that I was not lost in the crowd but that he has had his eye on me since I was in the womb.  I actually caught a glimpse of him looking down at me when I was a little girl with big hair puffs.  He told me that when I was lonely, there was a place for me in heaven to come and play.

Since then, I have imagined walking down the beach with Jesus, enjoying a swing in a park with God, and sitting atop the Great Sphinx of Giza with Jesus in a beach chair beside me.  My imagination led me right into fellowship with God.  (And let me tell you this, the more I use it for intimacy with the Father, the less room there is to entertain past regrets and sexual fantasy.)

This Is On Purpose

“Lord, I want to have sex!”  I am in my mid-twenties, and yes I am a virgin.  Some out there may be applauding.  But seriously, hormones do not dissipate, no matter how hard I try to pray them away.  How can I wait?  How come nobody wants to have sex with me?  What is wrong with me?  Elise, this is on purpose.  Huh Lord?  I had come close to having sex once.  I was in grad school and in the throes of one of the lowest points of my life.  I said no and then for weeks thereafter, I could barely look myself in the mirror.  I was ashamed of the woman who had come so close to giving her body away, disobeying the edict to honor God with her body (1 Corinthians 6: 18-20).  In my recovery period, a friend I confided in said she was proud that in the moment I was sensitive to the grieving of the Holy Spirit.  Hmmmm.  So why does God not want me to enjoy what everyone else (siblings, godparents, friends, media) thinks I should be doing at least once a day?

He told me that he wants me in this condition in order to accomplish what he wants me to do.  My virginity is not a default.  It is on purpose.  I now believe that the outpouring of my gifts and talents would not be possible if I had joined myself to another through sex.  Even in the context of marriage, my priorities would be different and probably would not include sitting down to write an  essay about my experiences (for instance).  This is on purpose.  My whole being is on purpose.  And guess what, I like it.  I like being available to Daddy and sharing his truth with others.  Thank you for my virginity!

As God showed me purpose, I experienced healing from the shame I was carrying around.  I suddenly remembered a line from a sermon I heard.  The speaker said that “with God’s restoration, even a prostitute can reclaim her virginity”.  Whoa!  I envisioned myself weighted down by a heavy coat.  It was shame and embarrassment.  God took the coat off, and replaced it with a glowing white cloak of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).  And as he made the exchange, I was no longer weighted down but rather floating in front of him.  My pink princess crown was intact.  I can start again.

In The End…

There is so much more to tell.  But I am sure your own journey will bring much revelation.  So go fly a kite… and hike a mountain, and forgive those who have hurt you.  Explore the depths of Daddy’s love through quiet time.  Use your imagination to sit right in his presence and let him lavish you with healing and spiritual gifts.  Allow God to break things off of your heart.  Ask him about your identity.  Let him reveal to you the secrets related to your purpose.  Observe nature and people, and listen intently for the Holy Spirit to share valuable insights.  Get to know him as Father, Friend, and Lover. Rest. Play. Love-bathe.  Enjoy this romance that you and Daddy are invested in.

As you delight in your fulfilling romance with God, you will begin to trust him with the desires of heart.  You will trust that he will bring you and your partner together in his time.  And you will know the contentment that Paul describes (Philippians 4: 11-12) – and dare I say happiness and joy too – as you wait.  Make a move toward his heart.  It is accessible and he does not disappoint.

“Go Fly a Kite” was originally published on December 4, 2012 in Warrior Lessons.