Loving Black women hard and well can change the world
By Lisa Anderson
I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what God will say to me, and what God will answer concerning my complaint.
Then God answered me and said, “Write the vision; make it plain…” Habakkuk 2:2
The urgency of the times demands a bold new vision, not only of how to make change for today, but about how to equip individuals and communities with the resources they need to engage in social transformation over the long haul.
The urgency of the times demands leaders and communities who are resilient yes, but resilience offered in a new register, a new key that has the capacity to invite, inspire and build a deep sense of the preciousness of long dishonored bodies, minds and spirits into the fabric of our movement building; and thereby to inspire a more grounded, shared and sustainable plan of action.
The need for such an intervention is profound because as much as the suffering of those whom society has long disregarded is revealed through statistics that record how the first and worst impact of the global economic crisis, violence against women, and the unequal distribution of educational opportunities and health care hit communities of color hardest – and within the U.S., Black communities hardest of all – there is still a more subtle, but just as profound story behind such data.
That story is of the folks who have learned to accept a social ordering that makes concern for the daily, ordinary, and persistent care of their flesh seem trivial, incidental and unimportant.
For leaders, such a desperate reality results in activism that assumes perpetual and endless sacrifice is the name of the game; and that reduces any desire or plan for self-care to narrow narcissism and indulgence.
For the most vulnerable, such teachings reinforce the assumption that loving their often dark, female, poor and queer bodies is just plain crazy; that regardless of the “projects,” “programs” and “plans” anyone would implement on “their behalf,” a deep love of their bodies, minds and spirits is always beside the point.
The Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle at Auburn exists not only to disrupt this narrative, but to embody and proclaim a new story activated by a prophetic vision that declares the sacrifice of the strong, yet vulnerable humanity of any one of us is not okay; and that as we consciously and carefully – but also boldly and brazenly knit a new narrative of self-care – which is really a counter-cultural narrative of self and other-loving into our activism – we can change the world.
This vision for the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle came to me all at once one day in the spring of 2012, while sitting in a hotel lobby coffee shop in Atlanta, and when I received it I was certain that it was a word from God.
I say this not only because of how quickly it went from an idea scribbled on a couple of Starbucks coffee napkins to a full-blown statement of what we are all about, but since we officially launched the program in 2013 until this very moment, I have seen evidence of that vision made real in the lives of so many flesh and blood Black women leaders of faith and moral courage.
For example, there is the story of inaugural cohort member, Tina Frundt. Tina is a long-time advocate on the front lines of anti-trafficking and anti-gang violence activism. A survivor of the child sex trafficking trade in the United States, Tina’s prominent role as the founder of Courtney’s House and as a spokesperson for the countless young people still caught in the web of sexual violence and abuse that characterizes this vicious, but often invisible injustice, makes her a sought-after public advocate. Tina credits a deep faith in God, nurtured in the home of her Jewish and Christian parents as a key source of the power and passion for justice she embodies for others on a daily basis. But it is that very same tireless focus on others that has landed Tina in the ER on numerous occasions with dangerously soaring blood pressure.
“I know how to let people lean on me,” she remarked in her STLC application, “but I need to learn how to lean on others.” The STLC helped Tina translate this desire to fully survive and thrive in leadership into concrete and practical reality.
Another inaugural cohort member, Lisa C. Williams summed up the work of the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle well when she reflected at the end of her experience:
“The practice of self-care … is the undercurrent that carries the breath of life. It is, in every sense, transformative justice for Black women. It requires right thinking, right speaking, right acting, accountability, and the writing and signing of an individual proclamation with one’s self, to do no further harm to self.”
God answered my/our complaint that for too long, movements for social justice have happened on the backs or over the dead bodies of Black women with this bit of plain talk about the problem, and a way forward that we are privileged to behold every time we love a Black woman of faith and moral courage hard and well.
Thanks be to G-d for the vision to imagine it, and the provision to make it real.
Lisa Anderson is the Vice President of Intersectional Engagement and Strategic Convening at Auburn, and the Founding Director of the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. Which Voices leave you wanting to hear more? Email us ideas for interviews at firstname.lastname@example.org.