You Too Are America
As I watched families enter precincts in Clayton County, Ga., where I served as a poll observer last night, it occurred to me that one of things that I missed most about this presidential election cycle was voting alongside my father. Less than a year after the 2012 election, my father, a Christian minister and civil rights leader, passed away, but not before having cast two votes for President Barack Hussein Obama, that for a man who grew up in the segregated South was nothing less than a miracle.
I also missed what I know would’ve been his colorful color commentary which might be peppered with words that would make the raunchiest comedian blush. Daddy probably laughed as much as he cried. And today, I believe he would do both.
Daddy, a masterful storyteller, once told the story of a friend of his named, Poppie, who was the grandfather of one of my sister’s high school classmates. Other than the connection between my sister and her friend, Daddy and Poppie had very little common. Daddy was a staunch progressive, a strategist in the Greensboro, N.C. civil rights movement and the pastor of the first mainline congregation to ordain a woman in the 1980s in Washington, DC. On the other hand, Poppie was a staunch white Northern conservative who apparently had no religious affiliation. Yet, Daddy and Poppie got along famously, had a high level of admiration and respect for each other, despite their differences. On one occasion, they sat together at concert at my sister and Poppie’s granddaughter’s all-girl school. While watching the girls perform, they said, at practically the same time, with tears in their eyes, “I wish all girls had the opportunities that these girls get.”
Daddy would later poetically sermonize this experience as a world where “all children can fly.”
Daddy and Poppie didn’t allow the fact that they had different political leanings to interfere with their ability to see the Imago Dei in each other nor in all other of God’s children. They also didn’t allow their political differences to distract from envisioning a world where every child has the opportunity to soar.
I believe Daddy would weep today along with those of us who have witnessed a campaign which has been short on civility and long on castigation, long on othering and short on embracing, and where policies have taken a backseat to personal attacks.
He would also weep because it was clear before yesterday and is still clear today that we do not live in a land where all children have the opportunity to soar. Too often a child’s social location, his race, her class, her gender, who his parents are, where they live, their religious affiliation determines his or her fate. Moreover, those social determinants often affect how the rest of the world perceives or portrays them — thug, maid, criminal, illegitimate, rapist, terrorist, and bitch.
When the soon-to-be leader of the so-called free world has denigrated and demeaned others with impunity, it makes the job of those of us who seek to provide an environment where all children soar that much more challenging, but at the same time that much more crucial.
So what did I tell my middle school students after the election? I told them: Don’t lose heart, keep working hard, keep fighting the good fight, stand with and for the least of these, righteous indignation is OK, passionate debate is welcome, but making demons of those with whom you disagree is not. Mocking those who are different is not. Inappropriately touching is not.
Disengaging from the political process is not an option; packing up and leaving isn’t either. This is your country. In the words of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, "You too are America.”
The final thing I told my students were words of wisdom from my daddy. I recall him talking about a past election of a not so favored candidate to many African Americans. He met an older woman on the train who told him, “Don’t matter who the president is, God is still in charge.” These were not words of eschatological complacency, but rather spoke of a present hope and a present help.
Yes God is still God, from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same sun And, when we go low, and we have gone low, we can rely on a God who sits high and looks low. God is still our ever present help in times for trouble, and we remain God’s hands, feet and voice — weeping and working to transform this world into a land where all children can fly.