I was thirteen years old, a freshman in high school. This was my first mission trip – a week of working in an elementary school in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Inner-city urban experience, meet private-school-raised girl. School grounds within the walls of my church, meet bars and constant police surveillance. The students we were going to serve looked a lot like me, but I could not feel further from their experience
Our team came during a week-long civil rights celebration week. At the end of that week, we were invited to the main room to listen to the presentations from a few classrooms. Flanked on either side by a kindergarten student —and with at least two more in my lap — I listened to a young girl recite the poem, "Lord, Why Did You Make Me Black?" by RuNett Nia Ebo. It opens with a series of questions to God which left me weeping in a sea of small children:
Why did You make me some one the world wants to hold back?
Black is the color of dirty clothes; the color of grimy hands and feet.
Black is the color of darkness; the color of tire beaten streets.
Why did you give me thick lips, a broad nose and kinky hair?
Why did you make me someone who receives the hatred stare?
I wept for the voice of the girl who recited the entire poem from memory. I wept for so many of my sisters who have internalized the pain of the poet’s questions to signify their permanent reality. I wept for myself, in being too afraid to accept the same shared insecurities this girl was so bold to publically declare.
Years later, I have not forgotten the poem, and I occasionally read through it as a reminder of that first time I was moved by such powerful words. The first half—the questions—remain, but I try to live in the truth of the second half, of God’s reply to us. I look back at that first mission trip and realize that our respective stories are not too different from one another. Our commonality comes in knowing the likeness in which we are all made.