We were sitting around a table spread with pads, pens and leftovers a few feet off of Beale Street in Memphis. We had a two-day staff retreat for Area Relief Ministries, and we were closing up our time together with some overarching reflections on our different ministry areas, what we were seeing and feeling, and where we wanted to go in the days ahead.
Having been through the National Civil Rights Museum together, a staff of half women and half men, half black and half white, we were reflecting on our own experiences and those of the people we serve every day at ARM. One of our staffers, Vakendall, started talk-praying in a kind of musical tone that he often speaks in; what came out of his mouth has been lingering in my head since then.
In reference to the photos and pictures throughout the Civil Rights Museum of men and women standing up to oppression, racism and violence with a kind of sharp meekness seldom see, Kendall asked, “Who told them they were somebody?”
As I think of the people who walk through the doors at Area Relief, the kids who show up at The HUB Club for tutoring and mentoring in the afternoon, the clients that sit in my office at Pathways fighting bravely against all shades of mental illness, I am now wondering who is telling them they are somebody.
Churches often get swallowed up in the business of deciding who is and who is not…somebody.
There seems to be a task at hand, a responsibility and a privilege bundled up together the moment eye contact is made with another. Just as we hope to be bearers of a holy image, we feel a call to look another in the eyes, reach down deeply, and speak of their somebodyness.
The people not in those photos at the Civil Rights Museum were likely their teachers, neighbors, postal carriers––maybe if we are lucky, even their pastors––the women and men who made it clear over and over again that they were somebodies. People who were made to be kings and queens, even if nothing else in the world at that moment suggests that is anywhere near the truth.
I’ll be more satisfied if I ever end up not being the person who speaks at the pedestal for the world to hear, but rather the one who told him or her that she was somebody.