Da'Shawn Mosley is associate editor and culture editor of Sojourners magazine. He earned a B.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago and graduated from the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, where he studied and briefly taught creative writing. In 2012, he was recognized by President Obama as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts for his works of creative nonfiction.
Da'Shawn was a researcher for two documentaries by the Oscar and Emmy-winning filmmaker Kirk Simon (The Pulitzer at 100, Where Has All the Play Gone?) and was featured in the PBS documentary Becoming an Artist. His poem "I Don't Know" was published in the anthology The Best Teen Writing of 2011 and received a Scholastic Art & Writing Award from former poetry editor of The New Yorker Alice Quinn, NAACP Image Award winner Nikki Giovanni, Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri, and other luminaries. Da'Shawn's fiction earned him the 2019 A Suite of One's Own: A Writer's Residency, awarded by Kiese Laymon. An excerpt of his essay "Dark Matter" was exhibited in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Da'Shawn is a native son of South Carolina.
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Recentering Spirituality for People of Color
WHEN TERESA P. MATEUS attended gatherings on Christian contemplative spirituality, she often didn’t see herself reflected in the spiritual practices “centered in whiteness” that she found emphasized there. She yearned for spiritual resources that drew on the experiences of people of color—and out of that yearning, the Mystic Soul Project was born.
Mateus is a graduate of the New York University School of Clinical Social Work and the Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation and author (under the name Teresa B. Pasquale) of two books on recovery after trauma, including Sacred Wounds: A Path to Healing from Spiritual Trauma. Da’Shawn Mosley, assistant editor of Sojourners, spoke with Mateus in August about how the Mystic Soul Project brings healing and spiritual nourishment to people on the margins.
Da’Shawn Mosley: Tell us about the Mystic Soul Project.
Teresa P. Mateus: Our basic mission is activism, mysticism, and healing centered around the life experiences of people of color. We create space for conversations, relationship building, practices, and other programming that have a people-of-color perspective and allow many to reclaim ancestral practices that have been abandoned or erased by Western traditions.
From State Government to Kavanaugh: Filmmaker Kimberly Reed Investigates ‘Dark Money’
From the start of his bid for the Oval Office to now, the 45th president of the United States has drawn plenty of accusations of illegal activity for his finances and the funds of his companies. Many of us have paid close attention to the developments of investigations into this money, watching cable news and following journalists we trust on Twitter. But perhaps we should also turn our attention to other areas of our government, look beyond the executive branch to search for signs of money and politics intermingling in nefarious ways.
In the Mourning
This mourning begins with eyes:
ours which open
and the eyes a gun closed,
the barrel a chamber in which there is found no heart,
for every latch and mechanism of the machine moves with menace
and every finger entangled and wound around its trigger
draws closed the stage curtains of peace.
This mourning begins with flesh—
our stance under a persistent sun
as a body stretches across a coroner’s table like the hide of a deer.
In such an occasion, a body’s bullet holes
become mouths. They speak of the perils our muscles
hope not to know. They reveal what it’s like
to be whole and come undone
and linger like litter.
For you, we combine this mourning
with the mournings that have become before it.
How to Be a Bystander
Bio: Gail Hyder Wiley is the organizer of Charlottesville Gathers, a group in Charlottesville, Va., that has taught hundreds of people nonviolent active bystander tactics and encourages resistance against racism, especially resistance led by people of color.
What inspired Charlottesville Gathers to organize nonviolent active bystander training? I saw what was happening after the election—that people were getting assaulted and demeaned, and it was just turning into a dangerous place for people who are outside of the spectrum of white privilege. There were a lot of people in December 2016 talking about the resistance, but there didn’t seem to be much training going on. I was impressed by the stories of people who used church basements, during the civil rights movement, to teach people nonviolent civil disobedience. I thought, “Okay, I belong to a church that has this big library, and it sits idle some nights, so why don’t we use that and bring in people who can help the community learn how to grapple with what we’re dealing with.”
What acts of racism have occurred in Charlottesville since last summer? There has been a string of incidents of white supremacists targeting our community that hasn’t made the news: white supremacist stickers placed over the new road sign for “Heather Heyer Way,” an activist’s tires getting slashed, and countless more insults and threats. Our immigrant neighbors have been fearful as the policies of our current president have become apparent, and the violence of the white supremacists in our area has amplified that fear.
A Flood of Wonder
TO BE A FATHER is to be an example, and the writer Silas House knows this well. His latest novel, Southernmost, is the story of a father and pastor named Asher who strives to do what’s right, while his young son, Justin—who is distrustful of the church—watches.
But Asher’s quest for morality places him on a path of unwanted attention and threatens to separate him from Justin, until Asher makes the questionable decision to take his son with him on a journey for which neither of them are prepared.
Rarely have the church’s tensions about homosexuality—and how deeply those tensions can fracture a family—been explored in fiction. But with this, his sixth novel, House explores how Asher’s relationship with his wife, Lydia, disintegrates when, to Asher’s disgust, she turns away a gay couple in need of shelter after a flood. House examines Asher’s heart, which is broken over his failure to defend his brother Luke when they were young, forcing Luke to go it alone in dealing with societal hatred over his sexual orientation. In Asher’s heart, House finds hope and desire for a faith that welcomes more than it excludes.
Our 2018 Movement Honorees
MANY PEOPLE TALK about the injustices in the world but do nothing to rectify them. This can’t be said about the following five leaders—pastors, activists, lawyers, businesspeople, and artists—who Sojourners will recognize as “movement honorees” at the June 13-15 Summit 2018. These innovators are doing what Jesus did: taking God’s vision of the world and spurring others toward that ideal. Rev. Brittany Caine-Conley
Rev. Brittany Caine-Conley
“I learned pretty early about myself,” Caine-Conley told Sojourners, “that the concepts of justice and righteousness were really important concepts to me.”
Cue Aug. 12, 2017. While much of the nation watched from afar the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Caine-Conley encountered the physical threats in person as she protested the white nationalist rally in her city. Caine-Conley and other protesters were shoved by supporters of the Unite the Right rally. And the car that a Nazi sympathizer plowed—apparently on purpose—into a crowd of protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, also injured an affiliate of Congregate Charlottesville, the local faith-based social justice network Caine-Conley, United Church of Christ minister, helped organize.
“It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever experienced,” Caine-Conley said to Vox about seeing the wounded, who were lying in the street in the car’s wake.
And yet Caine-Conley believes it is her duty to be wherever tragedies like this happen—to put herself in harm’s way.
Love on Wheels
Bio: Bruce Schoup was pastor of Peace Congregational United Church of Christ in Clemson, S.C., when the church started a new outreach project. The goal: Build a mobile “tiny house” to serve as temporary residence for LGBTQ people kicked out of their homes due to their gender and sexual identities. Nationally, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
#WomenCrushWednesday: Toni Morrison, A Champion of Black Literature
Morrison’s wisdom and her immense love for blackness — a heritage, but also a color often used to describe evil and evoke disgust — have been blessings to the world for almost half a century. She has written and published eleven novels, numerous children’s books and nonfiction books, two plays, a libretto for an opera, and despite being 87-years-old, she shows no signs of stopping.
The 'Prestige' of the Grammys Denies Great Art
In a world that’s all about the Benjamins, in which art is endlessly asked to compromise to rake in the dough, artists need as much support as they can get to create art that questions the status quos of their medium and our society. Great art depicts us as who we are, while it also shows us who we can be. If we don’t give it the attention it deserves, and reward it accordingly, fewer artists will be brave enough to give us work like Kendrick Lamar’s sonically raw Christian social justice commentary To Pimp a Butterfly; Lorde’s boundary-testing, lyrically complex Melodrama; or Beyoncé’s soul-bearing, historically sweeping musical project Lemonade.
Can This Country Be Saved?
TA-NEHISI COATES is an atheist, but in We Were Eight Years in Power he atones for sin. In a 2008 article about Bill Cosby for The Atlantic, Coates failed to thoroughly report on the sexual assault allegations brought against the comedian, only mentioning them briefly. On page 12 of We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates repents. “That was my shame,” he writes. “That was my failure. And that was how this story began.”
By “this story,” Coates means his ongoing career as a correspondent for The Atlantic, during which he has received a MacArthur genius grant, a National Magazine Award, and several other honors for his writings on race in America. Coates is one of the nation’s most popular living chroniclers of the plight of African Americans. But despite that, he is acutely aware of his failings.
We Were Eight Years in Power is both a collection of Coates’ best articles published by The Atlantic and criticism of those pieces. Prefacing most of the articles are short essays by Coates about the stage of life he was in when he wrote each article, the pieces’ triumphs, and their flaws. With sometimes savage specificity, the essays map the evolution of Coates’ writing skills as well as his personal foibles. At the same time, the articles themselves document the flaws of the United States and how the country consistently does wrong by its African-American citizens in favor of doing more than right by its white citizens.
Coates’ writing process is a metaphor for the social corrective he pursues: the abolishment of white supremacy.
A Different Kind of Healing Ministry
Ruby Garner is a health educator for Health People, an organization in New York’s South Bronx that provides services to people in need. She is an adviser to the AIDS Institute of the New York State Department of Health and partners with her church, First Corinthian Baptist in Manhattan, to provide medical care to its lower-income neighbors.
1. What inspired you to partner with your church? Being able to give to my community, which has a lot of disparities, and deliver information and resources to people who need them is my passion. Working at Health People, I do presentations on behalf of the state of New York on diabetes prevention, health care for women, HIV, how to establish and maintain healthy relationships, and other topics. It made sense to take what I already do and bring it to my church.
The Horror of 'I, Tonya'
From rural, residential life to news cameras to FBI investigations, I, Tonya is a sweeping view of an America that has barely changed since 1994, and certainly hasn’t improved much. It’s a film about how, in the words of screenwriter Steven Rogers, “America wants someone to love, but they also want someone to hate.”
2017 Is the Year of ‘When Did You Know?’
On 2016, David Axelrod, the chief strategist of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, interviewed Jon Stewart at the University of Chicago, my college campus, for his CNN podcast The Axe Files. I was in an audience of students eager to see the former host of The Daily Show return to the public eye, and I’d wanted to ask him a question during the Q&A portion. I didn’t get to, but I am confident that even if I had, my question would not have been as important as Dan Ackerman’s.
The Personal Is Protest
REV. OSAGYEFO Uhuru Sekou’s album In Times Like These does something I’ve never witnessed any other recorded musical project do: It sings before track one even begins. Printed on the inside of the album’s CD case is one of the most powerful commentaries on the 2016 U.S. presidential election I’ve read. “The Task of the Artist in the Time of Monsters,” written by Rev. Sekou, is simultaneously an artist statement, a poem, and a call to action for the world to engage passionately in “the art of loving and living.”
Sekou’s album is a rousing sermon that may re-energize social justice activists who listen to it, keeping them engaged in “the movement.” At the same time, it’s also an extended prayer of sorts, lamenting the wrongs of the world and asking God to alleviate society’s pains. “In times like these / we need a miracle,” Sekou sings in the chorus of the album’s title track, one of the project’s standouts.
However, despite his call for divine intervention, Sekou doesn’t allow believers in a higher power to sit back and rest assured that God will do the work they should be doing. He completes the chorus of the song “In Times Like These” with the much-appreciated but potentially controversial statement: “Ain’t nobody gonna save us / We the ones we’ve been waiting for.” In a time that calls for bold, social justice-minded commentary from artists, Sekou delivers.
Kendrick Lamar Is a Great American Writer, But There Is Room to Grow
For what the singer/songwriter/music producer Pharrell said two years ago about Kendrick Lamar is absolutely true. Kendrick Lamar is the Bob Dylan of his generation, an American storyteller on the same plane as Toni Morrison, Eugene O’Neill, Pearl S. Buck, and other U.S. Nobel Prize in Literature laureates. Why this statement may seem overblown is because of highbrow bias against hip-hop, which is to say bias against black language, black storytellers, black people. But, to quote Chuck D, the leader of the rap group Public Enemy, hip-hop is “CNN for black people.” And Lamar is the best reporter in the business.
‘The Shack’ Is One More Disappointing Reminder that ‘Christian Art’ Is Often Bad
The Gospel isn’t simplistic, and its representations shouldn’t be, either. If The Shack were created with this creed in mind, perhaps it would be a better work of art. Instead, sadly, it’s nothing more than a religious tract.
“Here at NASA, we all pee the same color,” says Harrison.
But this scene never happened. Harrison never took a crowbar to a “Colored Ladies Room” sign. He never solved Johnson’s dilemma of having limited accessibility to a legal bathroom. Harrison’s action is a fabrication framed as history, one that could easily be recognized as an insidious white savior narrative created and advanced by the white people who made the film.
The Melancholy of Race
The first time I saw Amy León, she was standing in a church that was about to explode. Or had already exploded — I couldn’t tell. I was watching the music video for her song “Burning in Birmingham,” a reenactment of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that took the lives of four black girls on Sept. 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Ala.
'Religious Freedom Has Never Been Unfettered'
“Religious freedom has never been unfettered. It has always been the case that you are free to exercise your religion — as long as it’s not hurting anyone else,” Bishop Gene Robinson said.
We Have to Hold President Obama — and Ourselves — Accountable for Naive Rhetoric
America rests on a foundation of sin. Its body is strong but its soul is dead. Yes, America provides so much freedom and benefits so many lives. But woe to us if we look at this country’s glass as half full when so many of our fellow citizens barely have water at all. Woe to us if we praise the calm in our lives while failing to give the distress of others’ lives the full attention it needs.
Any speech about America that fails to look at this nation’s current state with the realism and gravity it deserves is speech about a country that doesn’t exist. The America that President Obama spoke of, in his farewell address, is an America I barely recognize.