By Brenda Blackhawk
As humans we have this incredible ability to move. By move I mean not remain stagnant. We can grow. We are forever making or facing transitions in our lives that will shape who we are going forward. When we are faced with such defining moments – holy occasions that guide us down one path or another – I think it is a good idea to listen. Sometimes God is calling us to serve.
I grew up in North Minneapolis in a mixed-race, multi-cultural family. Nothing about my personal life was monotone. My family, my friends, the people I dated, and my adopted brothers and sisters ranged far and wide in race, ethnicity, and culture. I didn’t know I was living a sheltered life until I went to Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
“I grew up in North Minneapolis in a mixed-race, multi-cultural family. Nothing about my personal life was monotone.”
Now, Minnesota is not known for being particularly racially varied, though some areas do have quite a bit of diversity. Moving to Iowa, experiencing the culture shock, and witnessing blatant racism and deeply privileged ignorance contributed significantly to shaping who I am. I learned the terminology to talk about justice in productive ways. I joined an honor society dedicated to intersectional gender justice. I started participating in vigils and protests. The decision to move to Iowa ultimately changed my life.
I graduated in May of 2016. The plan was to be a writer and an editor — to make a good living doing two of my favorite things: reading and correcting people. But two weeks before I moved home to Minnesota, another one of my defining moments occurred and I listened to God.
THAT DAY I WAS working with my friend Karissa, both of us restaurant servers with the spirits of social justice activists. As soon as the lunch rush died down, she pulled me aside to tell me that a Black man in the Twin Cities was murdered by the police.
I started panicking. “What was his name? Where was he? Who was it?”
After several minutes of research on our phones, we discovered that his name was Philando Castile. I lived in desperate fear for the minutes leading up to that discovery. Karissa and I held on to each other and we cried for his loss. But, if I’m honest, I also cried out of relief that he was a stranger to me and not one of those young men that I already loved.
“After that moment, I knew I would never be fully satisfied with a career as a writer and editor.”
After that moment, I knew I would never be fully satisfied with a career as a writer and editor. In whatever direction I went, a justice component would be essential. I listened to God, who I believe was encouraging me to use my gifts and experience to fight for a more just world.
When will our congregations have a defining moment around justice? When will we see our collective power as a tool to do as Jesus did and care for the poor, defend the oppressed, call for justice? Can we do so today? Are we listening to “the still, small voice of God”?