Marches for Ebola virus awareness and for the response to the death of Michael Brown.

Together, we will get there (…and this is not a personal thing)
By Janjay Innis

Janjay Innis is a US-2 Missionary in The United Methodist Church serving in Washington State. In the midst of the Ebola virus’ toll in Africa as well as the local community’s reaction to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Innis shares how advocating for these two realities as a black woman in mission is much more than “a personal thing”.

Lately, as I’ve been spending time on social media spreading information about the ways people can assist in eradicating the Ebola virus that is wreaking havoc in four West African countries. I’ve felt equally responsible to share information on the systemic racism and white privilege which has always been the leading factor in the death of black people at the hands of white law enforcers – as is evident the case of the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager by officer Darren Wilson – and the result of the ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo. Lately, I’ve found myself on the floor, weeping, in need of community, any community – with the right words or no words – to mourn with.

Recently, I found hope when an online search led me to an event in Seattle titled, “National Moment of Silence”. This event was one of many vigils being held around the country in memory of black lives lost due to police brutality and in silent protest of the injustice that sentences black people to mental, social and physical death daily – based on the color of their skin. When I asked permission from my supervisor to let me attend the event, which would interrupt my work time, I received a text response: “I heard about this on the news this morning and would support you in attending, but – as a personal thing – it would need to be charged against the vacation time/personal leave balances.” My supervisor knows what I stand for and supports me (if not, I would not be here.)

“As a personal thing.” The response to my request was in the context of how I’d account for my time out of the office so that I would not be penalized for missing work: personal time off. But, the response led me to think about the times people – especially people of faith – have historically used the “it’s personal” sentiment as a means to disengage with the countless social justice and humanitarian issues that are prevalent in our world today. This idea, in my opinion, is no different from the way Christian abolitionists resisted a militant, moral argument against slaveholders in the American south, nor different from when clergy called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s protest against the treatment of blacks in Birmingham as “unwise and untimely.”

I love difference. Sameness is boring. However, when our differences – in thoughts, words, and deeds – harm others, we must lay them aside and stand on the side of mercy and justice for those most in need of it.

When we claim to be persons of faith, we aren’t claiming to have the answers to life’s existential questions. We aren’t claiming to have the formula that will rid humanity of all ill wills. Claiming faith as a Christian means audaciously wrestling, struggling, falling and getting up with the assurance that, together, we will get there.

Also, it’s not about the destination – as it is about a new reality. It is the reality that there is a more excellent way to be in the right relationship with one another – and that way is God’s way. My drive to join in the efforts to help eradicate Ebola, or speak to racism comes from my identity as a woman with strong familial ties to Liberia, West Africa, and as one who has endured her share of overt/covert racism as a citizen of the United States of America.


Young people march through Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park in
the Capitol Hill neighborhood protesting injustice. Photo by Jesse N. Love.

However, personal ties are not enough. I stay in the fight to imagine and bring forth a new reality with my people – with all of God’s people who have yet to live into the promise of abundant life – because I believe with every fiber of my being that I am a global citizen. I believe in the truthful words of Dr. King in that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” I believe that all of our humanities are bound. I believe those Old Testament redactors when they wrote in the second account of the creation narrative that God breathed the breath of life into humankind.

This is what it means to be in mission. This is what it means to love radically. This is what it means to put faith in action and none of this is just a personal thing.

Janjay Innis is a US–2 Missionary serving as a social justice advocate for Tacoma Community House.
This article will be featured in Channels 75, September 2014, COMING SOON!


  1. Thank you for sharing your “personal” thoughts on this matter. My mind goes back to the day when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. I was very sad, but did nothing. However, a lay person in my church called me and asked me if I would join him and another lay person in participating in a silent march in a nearby city. I immediately said yes, put on my clerical collar and went to the march. Bearing in mind that I am a white person, there were very few white person in the march and the next morning the local newspaper had a photograph of the marchers and I was front and center in the photograph.

    Word came to me that a constituent of our church (not a member) was very unhappy with me. I went to his home and he was working on his roof. He refused to come down to talk to me, so I climbed up on the roof to talk to him. He explained his viewpoint and I encouraged him to find another church home. (That was a very bad mistake on my part. No longer would I have the potential of having any influence on him.) A few years later he was elected to the state legislature. I didn’t have much influence on him and he supported the fight to oppose recognizing a special day to remember what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for. Racism was and is alive in that state. Eventually the legislature did the right thing, but without his help.

    As a minister, I had the luxury of not having to ask permission to do things, but I often informed my supervisors of what I was doing, so they would not be out of the loop of information. No surprises!

    • Hi John, Jesse here. Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your experience. I’m sure in your example, the idea of “We have a long way to go…” was thought. But gosh, here we are, advanced in technology social media, having health advances…and yet here were are today: “We have a long way to go…” -JNL

  2. I wish I had known about the march in Seattle. I’d have joined in. We need to have regular, peaceful protests, with more of us Euro-Americans joining in, to raise awareness of the continuing racism in our country. There are so many of the majority culture folks who think racism is only found in the fringe element, those white-supremacist, Aryan-race type people. I’ve seen such sadness in the faces of brothers and sisters of color who despair over white people ever getting a clue about what’s really going on. It makes me sad, too.

    • I would really love to hear about local churches peacefully marching to raise awareness of racism. We’ve seen local churches in Seattle march for gun control and gay pride. We’ve seen churches participate in the Occupy movement. The conversations about what is in our hearts and minds about our perceptions of each other can lead to very positive results. Thanks for reading! -JNL

  3. Deena,perhaps we can create a system to share information when such events are taking place. You are correct. Beyond the fringe elements, racism is embedded into many of our systems and if we cannot get our allies to realize this- and give people of color the space to be the educators and leaders in this conversation- we will continue to live with the unjustifiable claim that racism is a thing of the past.

    • Perhaps it can be as simple as an email network of folks who are passionate about racial righteousness.

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