Why People of Color Should Attend the Wild Goose Festival

By Melvin Bray 5-24-2011

This June, I plan to attend the Wild Goose Festival, an arts, music, justice, and spirituality festival in Shakori Hills, North Carolina. My appeal to you is simple. People of color must involve themselves with the Wild Goose Festival, otherwise the color balance in all the photos will be off!

Yes, seriously, I believe that in due season the Wild Goose will change the landscape of faith imagination in America, even as the Greenbelt Festival has done so in the UK over the last 30 years. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when people of color were conveniently excluded from "mainstream" undertakings such as the Wild Goose Festival. Out of habitual exclusion arose identity movements and addendum politics -- our refusal to be forever ignored. The problem is that after years of African-American, Asian-American, First Nation and other "hyphenated" studies that have taken those disposed into a deeper appreciation of diversity, we're loath to admit that our efforts have not distributed the treasures of a pluralistic heritage nearly as broadly as proponents had hoped. With deep gratitude for the gifts of "The Struggle," in all its wonderfully myriad expressions (without which we would not be at the borders of New Possibility), as people of color, we presently find ourselves on the brink of a most fortunate opportunity that escapes the apprehension of many. There is now appetite -- yea, even longing -- for a telling of a holistic American faith story in which our stories are integral, not addendum or prop.

If I've framed a good enough shot, you should have that silly grin on your face that people have when reminded by a true picture of an oft-referenced, but misappropriated dream. I believed we have actually arrived at the moment the social experiment of integration anticipated, but that America wasn't quite ready to embody 40-some-odd years ago.

However, I realize things could just as easily devolve into yet another 40 years of desert-dwelling marginalization (that could even be self-imposed). Martin Luther King, Jr., may have shamed America into confessing the sins of inequality but with the election of President Obama there has been plenty of talk of what "real Americans" lost in the exchange. The realist in me recognizes that there is just as much potential in this moment for regression as there is for breakthrough. And the cynic in me can only shake his head -- while listening to Glenns and Sarahs -- for what often seems the likely choice. Yet we -- people of faith and color, love, goodwill and every combination of the same -- have an unprecedented opportunity to tip likelihood decidedly toward a story of American faith, justice, and the arts that makes room for everyone. It won't include everyone, sadly. Many will self-select out. But that is very different from not being invited. So I personally invite you.

Now I know the idea of running around in the woods with random people, most of whom may not look like you (thus seeming to have little in common), doesn't strike everyone as the best visual of a good time. For black folk, by example, camping doesn't just mock the homeless, it can feel a little too close to the Kunta Kinte experience than we want it to be. Still the best photos generally involve a little discomfort (at least that's what the guy at Glamor Shots once told me), and if that includes making some (a minority, I'm sure) of the beige folks in event snapshots a little self-conscious by our showing up in droves, so be it. Besides, if you don't come, I'm gonna be real identifiable in group pics. But I'll keep holding this space until I see you.

Melvin BrayMelvin Bray is coordinating author of Stories in Which We Find Ourselves, a 'post-ism' Bible story project. Learn more about the Wild Goose Festival.

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