Jenna Barnett is an associate culture editor for sojo.net.
Jenna was born in San Antonio, Texas, and has found home in California, Georgia, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. She has a B.A. in sociology and religion from Furman University and an M.F.A in Literary Reportage from New York University.
Before joining the Sojourners team, Jenna managed the International Rescue Committee’s large urban gardens in San Diego, and worked as a Peace Writer for the Women PeaceMakers Program at the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, where she used creative nonfiction, interviews, and conflict analysis to tell the life story of Pauline Dempers, a human rights activist and torture survivor from Namibia. It's a life goal of Jenna's to continue uplifting the stories of women who are cooler than she is.
Posts By This Author
#WomenCrushWednesday: Dorothy Height, Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement
Height is something of an unsung hero to both the civil rights and women’s rights movements, largely because of the sexism within the civil rights movement and the racism within the women rights movement. According to the New York Times, Height is “widely credited as the first person in the modern civil rights era to treat the problems of equality for women and equality for African-Americans as a seamless whole, merging concerns that had been largely historically separate.”
10 Women of Faith Leading the Charge Ahead
In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked some of our favorite women leaders questions about their personal hopes, faiths, fights for justice, and how their womanhood surrounds and informs those parts of them. Here is some of what they had to say.
#GrabYourHeadphones: 8 Songs by Powerful Women to Soundtrack Your Women’s Day
There are many ways you might spend International Women’s Day: going to work, staying at home, being a woman, or thanking a woman. This playlist is for all of these ways you’re observing the day, and more.
Hillary Clinton's Humans of New York Interview Resonates Because We've All Experienced That Moment
For Hillary Clinton, it was a classroom in Harvard with scared law school hopefuls trying to keep her from studying justice. For Malala Yousafzai it was a school bus loaded with an armed member of the Taliban, determined to keep her off her schoolyard soapbox. For me — clearly not saving the best for last here — it was a kitchen in the South with a confused freshman Baptist hell-bent on keeping me away from the pulpit.
Songs of Longing
LEYLA MCCALLA wrote the title track of her latest album A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey while imagining the experience of the Haitian boat people—political asylum seekers who packed into sailboats headed for the U.S. only to get intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard mid-journey and sent back to the politically volatile and violent land from which they fled. In the early 1990s, the U.S. repatriated more than 34,000 of these Haitians before hearing their asylum cases and listening to their stories.
McCalla sings their stories now—in French, Haitian Creole, and English. The album’s title is a Haitian proverb that McCalla came across in an excerpt of Gage Averill’s book of the same name: A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey. McCalla explained to NPR that the phrase captures the spirit of her Haitian ancestors, who overcame slavery only to fall in and out of political turmoil, but that the proverb also points to a universal experience: “It made me think of the roles that we all play throughout our lifetimes, how we are all trying to navigate our way through this world where sometimes it feels as though we are the hunter, and sometimes we are the prey.”
McCalla can make us feel like we’ve gone back in time through songs written years ago about people fleeing another time’s violence. But McCalla’s voice also pushes us to consider today’s Syrian boat people, intercepted by white waters, delayed by white fear. And she urges us to consider this historically systemic turmoil alongside our own feelings of personal displacement and victory. The album’s inspiration is as timeless as McCalla’s voice.
Only three of the tracks on A Day for the Hunter are Leyla McCalla originals. All the others she arranges and bolsters with vocals from former Carolina Chocolate Drops band mate Rhiannon Giddens, the jazz guitar of Marc Ribot, and the fiddle of Louis Michot. McCalla incorporates the talents of all these musicians without crowding the sound of her songs. The instruments and voices almost take turns, giving A Day for the Hunter an uncluttered, focused, and conversational feel.
Recovering Joy in the Youth Sports Industry
DAVID KING and Margot Starbuck are nostalgic for the good ol’ days of youth sports. In Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports, the authors first critique the current youth sports machine by reminiscing about an athletic utopia of the past: One where kids used water bottles for goal posts and flip-flops for bases. Back when parents weren’t paying up to $18,000 in hotel and trainer fees for elite travel teams. Back when kids loved sports.
This book intends to teach parents how to prevent burnout, overuse injury, and a misguided value system for their children. However, I read Overplayed as a young single woman learning to love sports again after suffering overuse injury and burnout right before college. I wish my parents—loving and good-intentioned as they were and are—had read this book 20 years ago.
King, athletic director at a Mennonite university, and Starbuck, a writer and a parent to three teenage athletes, believe that sports has the potential to be a powerful force in the lives of children. However, often money and myths corrupt that potential. Early on, Starbuck speaks wonders of the ways athletics teach us to know and love our physicality, explaining, “I came to know my body as good because of the opportunities I had to play sports as a girl.” But with early single-sport specialization and year-round tournament schedules, children are coming to know their bodies as injured before they can come to know their bodies as good. The authors note that in 2014, 1.35 million kids suffered sports-related injuries that landed them in the emergency room. “‘No pain no gain,’” the authors insist, “should have no place in youth sports.”
If You're Happy and You Know It...
I HAD GEARED myself up for a sort of Job-God exchange between Mary Oliver and some wild roses in the aptly named “Roses,” from her latest collection of poems, Felicity.
This is the scene: The narrator, full of poetic angst and existential fatalism, approaches some huddled roses and wonders in their direction: “What happens when the curtain goes / down and nothing stops it, not kissing, / not going to the mall, not the Super Bowl.”
I was ready for the roses to respond in a whirlwind full of rhetorical questions about the wonder and origin of creation. Instead they deflect the inquiry: “‘But as you can see, we are / just now entirely busy being roses.’”
And I laughed. In the past, Oliver’s poetry has caused me to cry over a dog (see “The First Time Percy Came Back”) and pray accidentally (see “The Summer Day”), but never before had her poems made me laugh.
In her 2014 collection Blue Horses, the flowers are “fragile blue.” They are “wrinkled and fading in the grass” until the next morning when somehow they crawl back up to the shrubs, bloom a bit, decide they want—just like all of us—“a little more of / life.” Now, in her latest collection of poetry, Oliver’s flowers are red, and they want as much life as they can get. They are carefree roses with a love of causal banter and a kind distaste for troubling existential questions.
How Not To Respond to Grief
All of us are understandably sad about Paris — devastated. Many people have used striped profile pictures, candles, and flowers to express our collective solidarity. But in the wake of tragedy, almost half of the governors of the U.S. have responded with fear, announcing that they will do whatever they can to thwart the acceptance of Syrian refugees — from cutting funding for nonprofit resettlement agencies, to demanding religious screening tests.
If there’s one thing I learned from some of my friends who are refugees, it’s how to respond to grief. And there’s no one approach and they didn’t always get it right. But sometimes they did: Some refugees, in the shadow of shocking sadness, sang more than usual, prayed louder, invited more friends over for dinner, cooked their parent’s recipes. None of them responded with terrorism.
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Faith in Ferguson
Young people ignited by injustice, refusing to back down. A nation waking up to the reality of racial disparities. And a church that can no longer remain silent. This, says Eden Theological Seminary professor Leah Francis Gunning, is the real “Ferguson Effect.” As she protested in Ferguson over the past year, Gunning collected interviews from clergy and young organizers. The result is Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community (Chalice Press, 2015), a behind-the-scenes look at the role of the church in the Black Lives Matter movement. Sojourners interviewed Francis to learn more about the religious community’s role in supporting and sustaining a racial justice movement started by young activists.
The Devil We Know
As a ten-year-old suburbanite, I saw a black dog stumble through the cul-de-sac without a collar and named him “The Devil.”
I remember a couple years later deciding I was wrong — that the devil was bearded, gendered, nocturnal, and afraid of my prayers.
I think about the devil differently now. I think less about bearded imps and more about the incarnations of evil I see around me: racist shootings, the disrespected bodies of women, dusty nukes.
The devil has evolved and morphed throughout Judeo-Christian history as well, going from absent, to messenger, to adversary, to the evil commander in an eschatological battle, to metaphor, to the Broadway sock puppet described in Stephanie Sandberg’s “Devils We Know” (Sojourners, July 2015). In many ways, the devil’s role in scripture is as changing and fascinating as the devil’s role in pop culture.
Athletic Feminism and the Women’s World Cup
Feminism and athleticism were one in the same to me. Four square matches, pick-up basketball games, and soccer scrimmages were all opportunities to prove that women were as valuable and gifted as men. Brandi Chastain with her shirt off and body flexed in uninhibited celebration was my Betty Friedan and my Bell Hooks.
But then puberty arrived, and brought with it hormones, testosterone, and different images of female athletes as the boys in my classes got their hands on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition (I’m a much bigger fan of the feminine strength displayed in ESPN’s “The Body Issue”). The Women's United Soccer Association — the world’s first paid professional women’s soccer league — closed down, and suddenly it seemed to me that the U.S. only cared about women’s sports when women traded in their sports bras for bikinis.
So when I read that this U.S. Women’s World Cup brought in 285 percent more viewers in its group stage play than ever before, and when I heard two twenty-year-old men at a jam-packed bar in D.C. rattle off statistics about Morgan Brian’s college scoring stats and Tobin Heath’s signature moves, I got excited.
L'Arche: 50 Years of Transforming Communities
Krista Tippett, host of the successful podcast On Being, is one of those transformed people. She described to Sojourners how her radio pilgrimage to an Iowa L’Arche community and an interview with L’Arche founder and Templeton Prize winner Jean Vanier influenced her way of thinking about Christianity:
“What I love about L’Arche is that it is a living manifestation of some of the most paradoxical and lofty ideals of Christianity — strength and weakness, light and darkness — that our culture and some of our churches can barely grasp. It’s very countercultural, very paradoxical. But it’s embodied at L’Arche—lived and breathed in an everyday way.”
After a flower procession and a dramatization of the origin story of L’Arche, Tippett joined in on the 50th-anniversary celebrations by publicly interviewing four L’Arche community members.
'This Is My Iran'
A middle-aged Iranian man sat down next to me at Shirin Neshat’s new retrospective, "Facing History," in Washington, D.C. He looked at me, smiling and bewildered, and said, “All of this, this whole museum, just for her?”
He wasn’t the only one surprised. In Neshat’s opening comments to a packed house at a meet-the-artist presentation, she said, “It’s an honor as a woman and as a Middle Easterner to hold this much space.”
And she didn’t just take up space. She filled it — covered the entire second floor of the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art with Muslim women, Iranian history, Persian music, and creative commentary on the role of gender and politics on the life of a woman in exile.
Womanhood and Parenting in the Black Lives Matter Movement
A web-exclusive interview with Erika Totten
Short Takes: Erika Totten
Bio: Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Washington, D.C., and the black liberation movement at large. She is a former high school English literature teacher, a wife, a stay-at-home mom, and an advocate for the radical healing and self-care of black people through “emotional emancipation circles.”
1. How did you get started with “emotional emancipation” work?
Emotional emancipation circles were created in partnership with The Association of Black Psychologists and the Community Healing Network. I was blessed to be one of the first people trained in D.C. I had been doing this work before I knew what it was called. My organization is called “Unchained.” It is liberation work—psychologically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
I want to tell people to be intentional about self-care. Recently, we had a black trans teen, who was an activist, commit suicide. A lot of times you need to see a counselor or therapist, which is often shunned in the black community. Because of racism, we are taught that we need to be “strong.” But it’s costing us our lives. As much as we are dismantling systems, we have to dismantle anything within ourselves that is keeping us from experiencing liberation right now.
School of Love
WHEN FATHER THOMAS PHILIPPE brought philosopher Jean Vanier on a tour of asylums, institutions, and psychiatric hospitals, Vanier discovered “a whole new world of marginalized people ... hidden away far from the rest of society, so that nobody could be reminded of their existence.” A year after this realization, recounted in The Heart of L’Arche, Vanier founded the first L’Arche community in his new home in France. Vanier shared meals, celebrations, and grievances with Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, two men who had lived in asylums ever since their parents passed away.
Vanier was inspired by life with these friends, and motivated by a new understanding of Luke 14:12-14: “‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”
In the words of Vanier, “L’Arche is a school of love.” It is a “family created and sustained by God,” and it is an embodiment of the belief that “each person is unique, precious, and sacred.” In practice, L’Arche is a global network of communities: People living with and without developmental disabilities sharing meals, prayers, work, and advocacy efforts.
10 Artists of the Black Lives Matter Movement
While statistics, tweets, marches, and articles can bolster and enliven movements, art brings in the endurance. Art makes injustice a song that gets stuck in your head. Art makes murals out of obituaries, and hope out of statistics. Below, check out some of the art surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement:
1. Epitaph as protest. In “All Eyes Are Upon Us” (Sojourners April 2015) Gene Grabiner references 14 fallen people of color—men, women, and children, from 1973 to 2014—all casualties of “this war against the people.”
2. Nightmares. In her spoken word poem “black. anathema.”Jessica Edwards mourns the feared death of her unborn black child: “My soul mourning you prematurely, / clutching my empty womb bitterly.”
'This Is How We Fight Terrorism:' Syria's Sacred Music
The destruction and looting of art and historical sites in Syria is "the worst cultural disaster since the Second World War,” according to anthropologist Brian L. Daniels.
The human losses are devastating: At least 210,000 people have died in the ongoing battle between the Assad regime and the Syrian rebels. ISIS has joined the violence and exploited the instability in the country, taking control of large parts of northern and eastern Syria.
And now, in the unofficial war over Syria’s cultural heritage, art is the main casualty. As of September 2014, five out of six of Syria’s Word Heritage sites had been destroyed including Aleppo’s 12th century Umayyad mosque.
ISIS’ ruthless participation in the Syrian conflict only increases the danger to Syrian art and history: In ISIS controlled Mosul, Iraq, art, music, and history have been removed from school curriculum. In February, ISIS released a video of its fighters smashing ancient statues and artifacts in the Mosul museum in an effort to weed out “heresy,” prompting the UNESCO Director-General to call for an emergency meeting with the Security Council to advocate for the “protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage as an integral element for the country’s security.”
New & Noteworthy
Going it Alone
Reclaiming 'Angry' Feminism and Other Lessons from 'She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry'
Bras weren’t the only things the second-wave feminists burned in the ‘60s. But that’s all I learned about the movement in school and casual conversation (on the rare occasions when feminist movements were brought up). The documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, fills in what our education system and historical imaginations leave out.
Second-wave feminists also burned oppressive patriarchy, definitions of feminine beauty, and, most poignant to me, their hard-earned diplomas. They literally set fire to bachelors degrees, masters degrees, and PhD certificates. An activist in the film explained, "We had graduated and learned nothing about women."
This documentary shows us what the textbooks didn’t and still don’t show often enough — the early, angry, undoubtedly beautiful grassroots radicals.
Of course, not all anger is beautiful. Some anger is abusive, relentless, and uncontrollable. I noticed three types of anger in the documentary — one beautiful, and two problematic.