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.
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.
This article will be featured in Channels 75, September 2014, COMING SOON!