S1 – Episode 1 – Friends for Life
Black Trans Lives Matter, Black Trans Joy Matters, Juneteenth and Stonewall
REVEREND LAWRENCE RICHARDSON: Walking down the street every single day as a black trans man or leaving my apartment or getting into my car, there’s always the thought that I might not make it home. I might not be alive tomorrow. And to be in the middle of the street with thousands of people, queer, cis, trans, black, white, like, all of these different colors of folks, and I felt safe. (music)
RAQUEL WILLIS: We have to continue to carve out those moments to celebrate ourselves. You know, that’s the piece of the revolution that we don’t hear about, you know, or no one really explores. It’s, like, yeah, there’s going to be intense struggle. There’s going to be growing pains, you know? It’s going to be almost like a collective puberty, right, where we’re kind of shedding this, like, skin of the past and shedding these, like, systems [00:01:00] and things that don’t serve us anymore and leaning into evolution. And while we do that, we do find our moments of joy. (music)
LISA ANDERSON: Welcome to Friends for Life from Auburn Seminary, a podcast for friends who give us life and with whom we are in it for life.
MACKY ALSTON: My name’s Macky Alston. I’m a Christian, a queer dad, a filmmaker, and an activist here with Lisa Anderson. Lisa’s Auburn’s vice president and founder of the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle.
LA: Hi, I’m Lisa, and I’m also a black, queer theologian who believes that loving blackness is the spiritual calling of our time and that the lived experience of all black people is a sacred freedom text. This is our first episode.
MA: Look, we’re just little baby podcasters, trying to figure out how to be in relationship [00:02:00] with you and with the whole universe.
LA: (laughs) We sat down on June 10th to talk to a pair of our beloveds. The first voice you heard was Reverend Lawrence Richardson, a United Church of Christ pastor, black and trans and from the Twin Cities, from the middle of Uprising’s calling for justice to the murder of George Floyd and to the pandemic of police violence and anti-blackness.
MA: You also heard the gorgeous voice of Raquel Willis, activist, writer, strategist, former executive editor of Out magazine, national organizer at the Trans Law Center, founder of Black Trans Circles. Raquel’s an alum of Auburn Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle’s second cohort. Both Raquel and Lawrence are media trainers with Auburn, bringing their off-the-chain media savvy to leaders of faith and moral courage all across the country. To start on this show, we asked [00:03:00] them four grounding questions: who’s got your back, where do you go to feel better, what song is getting your through, and what flavor delights you?
LA: And then, we ask a few deeper questions: what strategic counsel do you have for leaders of faith and moral courage so that we can survive, thrive, and win in 2020 and beyond? Can you tell a story of when we have won in the past so that we can remember that we are only here today because of the victories of our ancestors and earlier battles of liberation? And finally, we asked: what is a joy practice that is getting you through these days? Thank you for being on this journey with us. We want to hear from you about how we’re doing and how we can be of help. So, email us at [email protected] to tell us how to make it better. [00:04:00] So, Raquel, Lawrence, how y’all doing?
LR: I’m doing. I’m doing well in terms of, you know, in this moment. But in the larger context of life, you know, I’m doing (laughs) a lot of things.
RW: Yeah, very similarly, I’m doing, life is going, things are happening. A lot of things are happening. But weirdly, I feel hopeful about this new era it feels like is emerging around us.
LA: Wow. Who’s got your back in this time of both what you said, Raquel, both feeling hopeful but also this time of so much difficulty and challenge?
RW: Definitely always have to lift up my mom. I feel like she has had my back my whole life. So, she’s always there. My sister, [00:05:00] my brother, my nibblings, and my friends, and my communities, of which I’m lucky to be a part of many black community, trans community, and also local community.
LA: How about you, Lawrence? In light of these times, who’s got your back?
LR: I can absolutely echo a lot of what Raquel said, yeah. And for me, my youngest sister, [Rashi?], she’s got my back. She’s always had my back but especially in this time, you know, she’s then quote-unquote on the front line as an essential worker throughout the pandemic and then with the race riots and stuff that was happening in the Twin Cities, like her store was looted and even in the midst of all of that, she’s calling or texting me, “How are you doing?” So, she’s always had my back.
MA: Isn’t it incredible how people who are in [00:06:00] it still are loving us, still are dishing out the care.
MA: The human spirit is just, is, you know, is profound. All right, y’all, A, I just got to say it’s amazing to see you and I’m so glad, I mean, just seeing your big smile, Lawrence, and your beautiful smile, Raquel! (laughter) It’s heaven and it means everything. I mean, the strangest feeling of being together when I’m actually sitting in my closet. I haven’t seen folk, I haven’t seen my folk for so long, except like this. And yet, it’s just such a gift to be in this space together, whatever this space is, it truly is. Where do you go these days, or existentially, or in life to feel better?
LR: My [00:07:00] car. My car’s name is Maya and she’s black and she’s beautiful. And even if I’m sitting in my garage, (laughter) there’s something about being inside of my car that makes me feel more free, more in control, more at peace. Most of the time, I end up going for a drive but sometimes I just sit in the car.
MA: I love that.
LA: I love that, too. (laughs)
RW: For me, it’s twofold. So, for a long time, I would say, you know, my home was wherever my mom is. So, clearly, I’m a mama’s girl. Like, I hope that’s, like, apparent. And it’s also the South. I was raised in Augusta, Georgia. So, I’m a Southern girl. And I think, like a lot of Southerners, I spent [00:08:00] most of my life trying to get out of the South. And since I’ve lived away from the South, I’ve lived in Oakland, now I live in Brooklyn, I have found a new appreciation. And so, whenever I get there and I get off the plane, wherever I am, whether it’s Atlanta or New Orleans or wherever, that, like, sticky air that used to annoy me so much just feels so comfortable. And the people are just a different kind of warmth and move in a language that just feels like home. So, the South, for sure.
MA: I feel that way so much, too, and it’s interesting how the places you try to get away from, you know, can be the places where you end up feeling like you belong.
LA: [00:09:00] Cool. Wow, I love that. I love that. What song is getting you through?
LR: The one song that I’ve had on repeat in the last couple of weeks since the killing of George Floyd is “Lord, I Love You” by Todd Galberth. And it’s a Christian gospel song and there’s a point in the song that brings me back to the — like, I’m a UCC pastor, United Church of Christ pastor. But this song brings me back to my Southern Baptist roots and there is this point in which they just say the word hallelujah over and over again. But it’s from a place of deep, recognizable pain. And for me to be able to say the highest praise in the moment of my deepest despair is something that I needed to express. And even again and again, I’m expressing it because I’m filled with [00:10:00] so much rage yet so much hope. That song’s carrying me through.
LA: Wow, gosh, I can so relate to that. I’m just, like, I want to hear from you but I want to just speak into that immediately, immediately to say that’s how I feel during seasons like advent and lent where we are waiting. And I feel like that’s the time we’re in right now in this time of — it’s active. It’s not passive waiting. But it’s there’s longing for something else inside of, and inside of pain there’s this longing. So, I completely relate to that. Completely. Raquel, let’s hear from you. What music, songs are getting you through?
RW: I’ve been really into the new Lady Gaga album. I’m [00:11:00] one of those people.
MA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. (laughs)
RW: So, her new album, Chromatica, came out a few weeks ago and it just has a lot of, like, good kind of deep house dance rooted music. And so, you can just hear the elements, hear the influence, right? And we know that house music and dance music is so black, right? So, I think that that, even through this white artist, is translating to me. And going, I guess, further, I think when summer hits, I think about, you know, the parties that people have in their, like, parks and stuff, you know? The black folks just, like, congregate and how that’s just like a thing in the black American experience. Like, Piedmont Park in Atlanta or the house parties, the house music parties in the parks in Chicago, or around Lake Merritt in Oakland. [00:12:00] So, I’m thinking about, you know, the actual, like, roots of all that deep house music. Like, the song called “The Glow of Love” by a group called Change that’s really — Luther Vandross is one of the, like, lead singers in that before he got super famous on his own. And folks like Evelyn Champagne King, I love that stuff because it just — it reminds me of summer growing up. My dad and mom were in their heyday in the ’70s and so I really feel like a connection to that time period.
MA: Lawrence, I can remember when you and Raquel and I were doing work together at Vanderbilt, Public Theology and Racial Justice, and we created a playlist for those trainings that we did for the week. And literally, this song you gave me has gotten me through like nobody’s business, right? Hold on. (singing)
SINGER: This album is dedicated to [00:13:00] everybody that’s (inaudible) (laughter) this (inaudible)
LA: Yeah. (singing)
MA: Hold on, hold on.
SINGER: [This minister?] (inaudible) (laughter) (singing) [please continue?] —
MA: All right, all right.
LR: Yes (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) right? Yeah.
MA: [Listen to him?], amazing song. So, thank you for the gift of that song. Raquel, what flavor delights you right now?
RW: So, it’s a toss-up between lemon meringue, because I had this tart the other day, y’all, (laughter) that changed my soul! I’ve been dreaming [about?] it. It was better than, like, even just, like, real traditional lemon meringue pie. It was, like, in a tart. It had the perfect amount of crisp, because you know sometimes the crust gets a little soggy with all the, like, custardy stuff going on. So, it was everything, perfect amount of sweetness. That. And then, I now have a [00:14:00] hydroponic garden and I’m growing lavender in it. And I love lavender. It’s, like, a power scent of mine. And I’m just loving watching it grow and seeing — you know, all plants kind of start, for the most part, with, like, a similar kind of basic sprout, you know? And watching it mature into something different than some of the other plants I have has just been a beautiful experience. Right now, it hasn’t opened up quite yet and it looks like a, like, living, green, like, royal scepter or something that’s just waiting to, like, explode, like, brilliance all over the place.
LA: Does it smell already?
RW: You can smell it and the leaves a little bit. It’s not as strong as it’s going to be because it hasn’t bloomed yet but, ah, it’s amazing. So, I’m going with the Ls this time, lavender [00:15:00] and lemon meringue.
LA: Oh! (laughs)
LR: It’s interesting, I’m going to have to get some tips from you on growing. Lavender definitely is one of mine. I love the calming effect, absolutely. But it just makes me feel peaceful from the inside out. And my second flavor that I would say is raspberry. My grandmother had a, well, lots of raspberry bushes in her backyard growing up. And so, it was just an amazing taste sensation to go outside in the middle of the summer and to pick a bunch of raspberries and to just squish ’em into your mouth and to feel that tangy sweetness. And it was, like, that is, like, summer to me.
MA: That’s awesome. I mean, you know what’s so wild is just to listen [00:16:00] to your voices when you talk about lemon meringue, listen to your voices when you talk about that growing lavender, you know? Listen to you voice, the raspberry. Just the shift, the shift in spirit as we even just imagine delight. So, thank you for sharing those, that which delights you, and I think that, you know, our hope for those who are listening is that we lean in, we lean into those folks who have our backs, right? We go when we can to the places that give us strength. We listen to the music, we share the music, and we cook up that food for one another when we can and for ourselves because these are rough times. These are hard, hard, hard, hard times. And so, I think we’re going to, at the end, we’re going to talk about joy practices and things that y’all do to make it through and feel better. [00:17:00] But we also invite the listeners as y’all hear what is delightful to Lawrence, what is delicious to Raquel, to consider that for yourself, because we got to bring that up and then lean in. It’s June. In fact, we are just right coming up on Juneteenth, a day when the folks who hadn’t heard finally heard about emancipation, about the promise of freedom. One of the things that we’re committed to as members of communities of faith and moral courage, as friends and as folks who have worked in movement spaces for a long time together, through Auburn, through other places, is [00:18:00] trying to help folks know what to do and how to show up between now and 2020. And, you know, that can mean just don’t forget to care for self, to care for one another, to lean into delight and to have each other’s backs. But I guess the first question that we’re interested in asking the two of you is just to consider — Lawrence, you’re a pastor. And Raquel, you’re a writer and an activist. But both of you, you know, I’ve media trained with each of you and Lisa has been at Mountaintop and in Sojourner Truth leadership circles together with y’all. And you know the folks who are likely to listen to this show. What would you hope those folks who have — you’ve gathered with or led in sessions before might be thinking about now? It’s [00:19:00] June. November’s around the bend. It’s not all about November and we know, also, in November, it’s up ballot, it’s down ballot, it’s all kinds of issues and all kind of organizing today, tomorrow, the next day, and all kind of living and thriving on the other side of Election Day. But what would you want to see us and our folk be doing as we prepare not only to survive and to strive toward thriving but also to win in 2020?
LR: I actually believe that heal thyself is where we all need to focus the energy to be able to withstand not only making it to, you know, November 2020 but beyond that. And more specifically, in order to do the work that we’re doing and do it in a sustainable way, we need to [00:20:00] have spiritual, physical, and emotional endurance to be able to withstand these pressures. And if we’re coming at it from a history of trauma or if we’re internalizing the challenges or the trauma that we encounter because of the work that we do, it’s important to build time in our schedules every single day and sometimes multiple times of day, depending on what you’re doing to process, to heal, or what I like to call remember yourself. And in remembering, it takes us beyond the trauma, takes us out of the trauma and helps us heal that trauma. And so, remembering or healing might include psychological therapy, contemplative meditation, prayer, physical exercise, spiritually grounding yourself. There’s so many things that people, that we all can do. But the more we do this work of activism, [00:21:00] of, you know, caring for the community, of shifting systems, we can either get lost, easily, in the work or we can burn out before the work is completed if we don’t have healing practices built into our everyday schedules.
MA: Lawrence, I’ve heard through the grapevine through mutual friends that you were in protest and got attacked. Is that true?
LR: So, a number of clergy, black clergy, specifically, were invited to a meeting and then to a protest. And we were invited to stand as the barrier between the police and the protesters. And so, I was literally on the front line (laughs) between the barricade and [00:22:00] the police and the protesters behind me. And there was an unfortunate issue that happened where someone in the crowd of protesters stabbed someone else. So, then, the police had to be called. And several big, you know, police units come to the area and then, you know, we’re already there because we’re protesting police violence. And so, then the crowd energy just kind of rises that much higher. And when the police got there, there was a drunk or appearing to be drunk white man who stumbled into the center. And he fell down, so the police ran to him and the guy who got stabbed was about 25 feet away and he was black or he is black. So, then, the crowd is interpreting that and [00:23:00] they’re angry. “Why are you not helping the one who needs help? We didn’t call you here for them.” And someone threw a water bottle into the center area where the cop cars were. And then, the cops were, you know, yelling, “Get back, get back!” And people were, like, “No, this man needs help.” And so, then, that’s when, first, they fired tear gas into the crowd. And I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I heard it, I started to feel it, and it started to, you know, my eyes are burning. And then, I thought I got to move back because (laughs) this isn’t going to go well. And then, the next thing I know, they started shooting rubber bullets into the crowd.
LR: And so, I turned around to kind of run away but I just had knee surgery, so I couldn’t really run. So, I was kind of, like, hopping away. But we ended up going back into the [00:24:00] space because that person still needed to be taken to a hospital. So, it was kind of the back and forth and each time we went back in, you know, we’re yelling, “Don’t throw anything,” you know? “Be calm.” And there was always someone, that just one person would throw a water bottle or a Gatorade bottle, and then that would send the police into defensive mode and they were, again, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. So, that happened, I would say, three or four times before the police left with the person who was going to be taken to the hospital.
MA: You are in Minneapolis. I mean, you are in it. How’s it been and how have you been?
LR: You know, it’s interesting, I have been [00:25:00] deeply grieving and enraged but also hopeful. And interestingly enough, this is the safest I have felt in all of my life in the United States. Out of the country, I definitely feel safe because my perspective and lenses are so different. But walking down the street every single day as a black trans man or leaving my apartment or getting into my car, there’s always the thought that I might not make it home. I might not be alive tomorrow. And to be in the middle of the street with thousands of people, queer, cis, trans, black, white, like, all of these different colors of folks, and I felt safe. And even though buildings were literally burning around us, even though there were people that were clearly protesting [00:26:00] against their own pain and injustice that they’ve experienced, not just what we saw with George Floyd, but there was a sense of solidarity and community that I had never experienced before in the United States. Like, there was no worry that someone’s going to — even though that happened, there was not a worry that I was going to somehow lose my life in the moment of protest. And I was out there every single day, different times of the day. And outside of that bubble, though, it’s challenging to minister to a predominantly white congregation in a very wealthy part of Minneapolis, just miles away from where all of this happened. And I feel like I have, you know, one foot in both worlds, so to speak. So, in that way, I’m really grateful to have had vacation time because it was challenging to navigate those two worlds.
MA: What size is your congregation and how [00:27:00] do they, when you’re up in that on a daily basis, in a sense, they’re up in it with you, right?
MA: Because their pastor’s out there.
MA: So, how does that, for those who are in similar roles, different kinds of religious leaders, how’s that going for you and how do you stay connected in ways that feel helpful but also stick your neck out and be the prophetic witness that you are?
LR: So, I’m, you know, the first black pastor in this church. The church is 118 years old and we have about 300 adults and children that physically come to our parish. And then, we have however many other (laughs) people that participate online because of our online ministry efforts. And there is a lot of truth telling. [00:28:00] I also recognize that there hasn’t been a black pastor in this church. So, I am a lot of people’s black friend and I don’t take it upon myself to represent all of, you know, black America. But I do often get asked questions like, “How do I talk to my kids about racism? How do I explain to my kids what happened to George Floyd? How do I tell my kids that the police will protect them but not other people?” And so, then I have a lot of questions that I am always prepared to answer because of who I am and who I pastor. But there’s a certain part of my community that has been doing this work, work of anti-racism, work of, you know, unfortunately, desegregation. A lot of our communities and neighborhoods in the Twin Cities are still very segregated because of redlining. [00:29:00] So, there’s a lot of people in my church that do the work. We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have teachers, people that work on policy. But we also have the parents and then the grandparents and great grandparents who — they grew up in a, you know, very isolated space and they just were removed from these sorts of problems. So, they really need basic education. They have no clue how to talk about this. And so, I have a list of resources that I send out, you know, to different church members. And the last thing I’ll say is I had a number of my folks also protesting with me. The first day, when I was out there and, you know, got shot with the rubber bullets and tear gas, I was by myself. And then, (laughs) after that, there was people protesting right alongside me. I mean, there were several protests happening around the cities and so we had some people in St. Paul, some in Minneapolis. You know, so it’s just my people are beautiful and wonderful [00:30:00] and I don’t feel like the quote-unquote black pastor but I feel like their pastor and they love the fact that I am black. But they also love the fact that, you know, I write, that I like pizza, you know? Like, it’s not a thing that — they don’t see that, primarily, and I don’t think of it as erasure. I think of it as an opportunity for real integration to happen in a very historically white area. And so, it hasn’t been challenging because of race. More than anything, it’s just been trying to balance it all. (laughs)
LA: Lawrence, when you’re saying all of this, I remember you started off this, the answer to this question, with focusing on the importance of self-care. And I mean that in the broadest sense of the word, not as self-care as, you know, personal kind of self-improvement but as [00:31:00] valuing your humanity and being very concrete about how that valuing both allows you to stay grounded in the work but also to bring other people in in ways that allow you both to become more human, to experience your humanity in the fullest way. And I really appreciate that lens that you help us to look at what it means to be whole and well in the midst of the work and to talk about that in terms of what it means for what we have now and what it means to, like, see a future, future being November or future meaning beyond November where we get to be, you know, a manifestation of the love of community. And I thought that was powerful. And I want to pick up and ask Raquel to speak into this question a little bit, as well. And I want to recall, I don’t know if this’ll work for you, [00:32:00] but I want to recall a post that I saw you put out. It was, I think, around the time, maybe a day or two after George Floyd was murdered, and you posted that your book was coming out, you’re working on your book with the amazing title, which I will let you share, and I heard a little bit of, “I’ve got this beautiful news at this hard time,” but kind of not knowing if it was the right moment to drop that beautiful news. And I just remember sitting there reading it and my soul lit up. And I remember saying to you, “That’s a balm, honey.” It was a balm to hear you say that your book was out. And I want to know: is that part of getting you through? Is that work a part of what gets you through now? Or what is it?
RW: Yeah. [00:33:00] Thank you for naming that kind of weird moment. I think even just having you understand that and be able to articulate that gives me a sense of, like, calm, even now, you know, days and almost weeks removed. Yeah, so it was literally a day or two after George Floyd really kind of inspired these protests and everything. And so, I learned that I got a book deal. My book, The Risk It Takes to Bloom is still a work in progress. So, it’s not quite out yet and it probably won’t be out until next year. But it was just a milestone moment, I think, for me in terms of being validated in [00:34:00] some ways with the work that I’m doing and just a reminder that, like, it matters, right, and that there’s some big thing for me to look forward to, in some ways, I guess, gifting the world, right? Because I think whenever we share stories or our kind of articulations of the world, it’s a gift, hopefully, to other folks. So, yeah, it was weird to kind of be relishing in that news. It also was, like, my birthday week just before that. And so, it was kind of, like, right, you too, yes, because —
RW: — we’re the same day. (laughter) It’s so wild every time I think of it. Yeah, so it was just a beautiful reminder, I think, that even in times that it’s hard, there are still moments of joy that we have to carve out and find. And I think, also, you [00:35:00] know, being able to name even the awkwardness and the weirdness, I think, gave people permission to honor that, gave myself permission to honor that. And a lot of people said similarly to what you said that, no, this is good news, like, that we need to continue to hear these things. So, yeah, so I appreciate you for seeing that moment, for all of the complexity that it was. Yeah, and I think that we have to continue to carve out those moments to celebrate ourselves. You know, that’s the piece of the revolution that we don’t hear about, you know, or no one really explores is, like, yeah, there’s going to be intense struggle, there’s going to be growing pains, you know? It’s going to be almost [00:36:00] like a collective puberty, right, where we’re kind of shedding this, like, skin of the past and shedding these, like, systems and things that don’t serve us anymore and leaning into evolution. And while we do that, we do find our moments of joy, right? I don’t know why I’m hooked on this, like, puberty reference but, you know, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, you know? You still had your, hopefully, your fun times at the mall doing absolutely nothing, you know, and still enjoying your teenage years or you still went to the movies and saw ridiculous things that helped you escape for a minute before you went back to your existential crisis. (laughter) And so, I think that that’s what we have now, right, is, like, we have to take care of ourselves, extend grace and patience to ourselves, exactly what you were saying, [00:37:00] Lawrence. And then, we also have to find those moments of just pure joy and just live in it.
LA: I can’t wait for this book to come out. I remember when we met, you were talking about wanting to write your story. Like, that was a big way that you were oriented and that was, gosh, maybe six years ago, seven years ago. So, it was a minute. And so, I can’t wait. And the title, the idea of risk and blooming together, can you say a little bit about that now? Is it just the title that you’ve chosen or does it have a particular resonance for you?
LR: It is, you know, I’m trying to make sure I get this quote right because it’s like a quote that I’ve, like, held close to my heart for so long. But the quote is, “And the day came [00:38:00] when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” And so, I kind of adapted that and felt called to this idea of, like, blooming, right? And, no, I’ve been talking about plants a lot lately. I think I’m kind of a plant person. And I do think that, you know, we have our moments where we have to decide whether we’re going to bloom or not, you know, whether we’re going to remain in that kind of tight, restrictive case that may have served us at one point, it may have protected us or shielded us from what we perceived as harm. But now, we’ve outgrown it.
RW: And it’s time for us to grow beyond it and find new ways [00:39:00] of existing without that which, at one point, may have been comfortable for us and no longer is. And so, I see that thread in everything, you know? This book is really exploring a lot of not just my story but, I think, my story in the context of how I see the world, how I’ve experienced the world. I talk about my relationship with my father and how his death when I was 19 really kind of pushed me to bloom in a new way, pushed me to confront my identity as a transgender woman in a way that I may not have been able to do if he was still around because he was kind of this protective force in a lot of ways. So, I’m excited to continue [00:40:00] to explore this. And hopefully, you know, inspire other folks to share those stories that may be hard. But if we look at them in a different way, reframe them in a different way, they actually allowed us to be a better person.
LA: Oh, can I tell you, listening to both of your stories inside of our question of what have we got now towards winning, I think about: the through line for me is around what it means to love ourselves, love blackness, and love ourselves as black people. I can feel that through line. When you were talking, Raquel, I think about the fact that even in our BLM statements now, it is all Black Lives Matter. And there’s this way in which there’s this blossoming that we are doing as a community and as people in our activism that will not [00:41:00] leave any of our folk behind. And when Lawrence, when you were talking about, “I’m, of course, a black pastor but I’m not the black pastor. And we are growing this community. And I started out and I was on the line by myself and then the next day, my congregation and my people were there.” Like, I see that kind of tilling of that deeper soil to your metaphor around, you know, plants and growing of that loving blackness, I say, is the spiritual calling of our time, that that is part of what we’re talking about when — winning in 2020. But that winning that embraces an Afro-future for the world that we’re living in, that that Afro-future that we imagine actually does not expunge the rest of the world out of it. But grounding in that makes a possibility for all of us. And the through line I heard in both of your stories just kind of, like, really captured that for me. It’s so inspiring [00:42:00] and I love y’all. (laughs) I do.
LR: I love you, too. Thank you.
LA: Yeah, so I’m going to ask the next question. (laughter) So, [talk a?] little bit about storytelling. The story is remembering a time when we have won as people, as, you know, however you have shown up in movement and activism in your lives. But we want to tell those stories because I don’t know about you but I have heard more than a few people say that the, you know, the progressive folk or whoever, however we name ourselves, that we can forget that most of the advances that we’ve made of a positive nature in our national life have been led by people in faith-rooted communities, have been led by people of spirit. But we don’t tell those stories anymore [00:43:00] as a part of just remembering who we are. And so, I’d like to know if y’all have any stories that you’d like to share about when we won. And because we imagine Juneteenth is coming, I mean, we want people to be hearing this around Juneteenth. Like, what are some of our freedom stories that you might connect with from our past, recent, or long gone that you’d just like to lift up to people, say, “Remember this? We did that.”
LR: You know, I feel like there are a lot of successes that gets overshadowed by the issues that we’re still dealing with. And so, I love this question because it’s kind of in line with what Raquel was saying, you know, being able to celebrate yourself and being able to celebrate us and the work that we have done. And I think about, you know, civil rights legislations, [00:44:00] Stonewall uprising, the marriage amendment. And in Minnesota, actually, and several other states passed voter ID legislation that doesn’t discriminate against people who can’t obtain identification. And then, also, in Minnesota, we’ve able to secure the arrest and charging of all four officers who killed George Floyd. Those are just a handful of things that we have done, that we have all — you know, in terms of people of color, LGBTQ folks, like, very much carrying forward those specific examples that I gave. But there’s so much more that we’ve done and that we are doing. And just remembering that is just so important.
RW: Yeah, you know what’s so funny is I thought about this question and I was, like, Stonewall, duh. [00:45:00] And then, a part of me was, like, oh, well, that’s cliché, you know? The black trans woman is going to talk about Stonewall. But then, I think in this moment and I think also hearing Lawrence reiterate it, the importance of reiterating it. It will never be cliché to celebrate our struggle and making it through struggle, you know? And so, I’m going to name Stonewall, the Stonewall riots. I think it’s perfect because, you know, it’s Pride month, June, and we have to continue to tell the many different chapters of that story, the many different characters, ones we know the names of, ones that for a long time were erased and ignored, [00:46:00] ones that still haven’t gotten their just due, people like Stormé DeLarverie, thinking about figures in that early moment of, like, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson. You know, names that have become, like, the go to names to signal your wokeness or whatever it is. But, you know, they’re more than names. They were human and what is beautiful is also, I think, the little win of the individual to even just wake up and get out of bed on any given morning. And so, if you put that in the context of these people at various points throughout their lives where they decided that they were going to — it was hard but they were just going to wake up. They had no idea that they were going [00:47:00] to be starting and building and bolstering movements. But that little will to get out of bed, leave the door, leave through the front door, led to so much winning down the road. And I guess I’m getting a little emotional. But, you know, I think about that and I think about that little win of leaning into that will, whatever that little force, that little voice, that spiritual being that tells you to continue on, that is a win, a universal win. And there could be countless wins after that if you just listen to it.
LA: Oh, God, you said that and [00:48:00] apropos of your sentence about the things that feel cliché, if you have never heard Fannie Lou Hamer sing “This Little Light of Mine,” you have not lived. (laughs) And that has to exist as one of, that song, as sort of a cliché song. But when you said that little will to get up, that little will to go, and what that can yield? And so, I just recommend to all of us, you know, in line with what both of you have said, that whole idea of this light that gets us up, that keeps us moving, and that it’s never cliché and it’s never too small to be celebrating that. And, again, you got to hear Fannie Lou Hamer singing “This Little Light.”
LA: Macky, we got one more question for our folks. [00:49:00]
MA: Yeah, I’m just so moved by, I mean, I could live and probably will for the next week in this phrase: the risk it takes to bloom. And I think about the stories y’all just told, the risk it takes to bloom. I mean, that might be the spirit of this first show as we all together, as friends for life, as friends in movement, I mean, I’m so moved by Lawrence, Reverend Richardson, going out there by himself, getting shot up, and then the next day, with his congregation. I mean, that’s such a beautiful thing to behold. And so, also this notion of [00:50:00] taking the risk to be fully alive, fully human, as movements and as human beings and how they are so wedded, even to the point of just waking up in the morning and saying, “I gotta, I’m gonna let this little light of mine shine.” So, to that, our last question for you two, which is really a request to give us just a little bit of any suggestions you have as to how to keep on keeping on in these days. What is it? Do you have a daily practice or a weekly practice or something you’ve done more than once that brings you joy on the regular?
RW: Planting. I keep going back to plants. I just need to own my identity as a plant mama. That is the first thing I think about. That excites me when I get up in the morning, is to look around at what [00:51:00] is growing, what looks different. I mean, you know, when plants start out, like, they seem like they look the same for so long. But once you, like, actually just get into a rhythm with them and acknowledge the patience and the grace, again, that it takes to just grow from that, whatever little sprout that it was, you see every day as just a step forward, you know, barring that there’s some drying leaves or you overwatered something or whatever, you gave it too much love. And so, that’s been my grounding, centering practice now for a few years. I finally acknowledged it and embraced it for what it is as a practice because for a long time, I was, like, oh, it’s a hobby, you know? It’s not like a part of my identity. [00:52:00] And then, I was like, well, why couldn’t it be if it brings me joy, if it’s exciting? I think it also just kind of roots me in this kind of, like, ancestral knowledge of how to cultivate things. I mean, I think about my grandma. You know, she would have me out there, helping her plant rose bushes. And she would always tell me, “Oh, you’re the one with the green thumb.” And I’d be, like, “I’m just following the directions,” you know? I’m just putting it in the right place and watering it regularly. And it wasn’t simply just directions. I think maybe at that point it was but it becomes intuition or you lean into intuition. And, you know, how that’s tied to, especially as a descendant of enslaved Africans, like, that [00:53:00] history of cultivation, the history of cultivation even before that, you know? So, I’m honoring that as my grounding, centering practice that I do every morning.
LR: For me, it’s yoga. I have a yoga mat in my office. I have a yoga mat right on the side of my bed so that the first thing I do in the morning when my feet hits the ground is to go into poses and stretches that remind me of not only who I am but whose I am and that the life that is being breathed in is the life that I breathe out. And to take that moment to ground myself and remember that all of life [00:54:00] and all of the universe and all of what I call God is love and that is literally flowing through me right now. And that’s when I can feel it the most, is when I’m in some of those deep, deep stretches that ignite every single part of my body and I just feel so much joy because that’s God for me, to be completely alive in every single way and feeling peace and joy and love and loved is just — whether it’s five minutes or 50 minutes, yoga brings me joy.
LA: Oh, so beloveds, well, at the risk of sounding corny, y’all bring me joy. (laughs) Y’all bring us joy. Thank you so much, beloved Raquel. Thank you so much, beloved Lawrence. This has been a gorgeous conversation. [00:55:00] You blessed us and you blessed everybody who will be listening to us. Macky, we’re going to close now. Macky and I have a closing that we hope will be a blessing for everyone who listens. But I’m imagining these words anointing the heads, particularly of Raquel and Lawrence as we sign off. So, the quote is by Winnie the Pooh. (laughter) “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together” —
MA: — “there’s something you must always remember” —
LA: — “you are braver than you believe” —
MA: — “stronger than you seem” —
LA: — “and smarter than you think.”
MA: “But the most important thing is” —
LA: — “even if we’re apart” —
MA: — “we’ll be with you. We’ll be together.”
LA: “We’ll be together.”
MA: Thanks for being with us, y’all. Thanks [00:56:00] for being friends.
MA: May we stay, you know, stick together, have each other’s backs in these months to come.
RW: Yeah, in these months, these years, these decades. We’re claiming it.
LA: We’re claiming it.
MA: Love you all.
LA: Love you, bye.
MA: Love you.
LR: [Yeah?] (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) (music)
MA: And that’s our show, y’all. Thank you for being with us our first time out. For more information about this show and other Auburn programs, follow Auburn Seminary on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or go to auburnseminary.org, that’s auburnseminary.org. We want to hear what you thought. Email us at [email protected]
LA: It was a joy to be with you in this, Macky. I’m already excited about next month.
MA: I can’t wait. This show was produced by Auburn Seminary and is made possible by a generous grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. [00:57:00]
LA: Friends for Life was produced by Macky and me with additional support from Sharon Groves and David Beasley. Audio engineering from Dan Greenman with editing by Macky and David.
MA: Thank you. We love you. Come say hi. [00:57:19]