“Ella’s Song”

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CW: white person processing, mention of riots

I first heard Sweet Honey in the Rock perform this song at the inauguration of my college’s first black President, Dr. Ronald Crutcher. Sweet Honey in the Rock performed during the ceremony as did the college’s choir with which I sang. After we performed, I remember their smiles and encouragement as we returned to our seats which were right behind theirs. Then, it was their turn.

“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons.”

I remember feeling a dissonance in my gut as these lyrics rang through the stadium. “Wasn’t this a celebratory day and a celebratory event? Weren’t we celebrating that a black man was president, why did they pick to sing a song that brings up murder.”

This was not the first time, nor the last, when my privilege and whiteness would feel that dissonance as it encountered racism and white supremacy and its daily effect on the lives of my siblings of color. 

The election of Dr. Crutcher as our college’s president didn’t wash away the racism and white supremacy that permeated my beloved alma mater. Were Sweet Honey in the Rock trying to let me and my white siblings know that they knew this and were calling us to attention? Perhaps.

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest, We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

The month of June is celebrated around the world as Pride month because it was in the early hours of June 28th, 1969 that queer folk — specifically queer folk of color like Marsha P Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie — took a stand against the New York Police Department who were raiding one of their sanctuaries — the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar — and arresting its patrons.

What followed was a week of riots, rebellion, confrontation, and destruction of property which gave life to the Gay Liberation Front and a movement for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in New York City and beyond.

My ability to live openly as a queer woman and to be legally married to my wife without losing my job and livelihood is due, in large part, to those first moments of riot, rebellion, confrontation, and destruction of property.

Pride today is celebrated with parades, rainbows, and often PRIDE worship services led by the very religious communities that once shut their doors to our community. It is a time of joy.

“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons.”

The dissonance experienced by these lyrics — is yet again — within me and our community. 

This year’s Pride is not a time of joy — it is a time of anger, mourning, and remembering that our community’s journey toward justice was ignited at the hands of our black LGBTQIA+ siblings who are, once again, rioting, rebelling, confronting, and destroying property to declare their lives matter.

Let not the Pride flag — with all its symbolism of “welcome” — be put to shame by being waved this month in ignorance of our siblings’ suffering. Let us acknowledge as Emma Lazarus, the Jewish-American poet, so poignantly wrote that “Until we all are free, we are none of us free.”

During the months of June and July, ELM has asked members of Proclaim to use our blog as a space for Pride Devotionals: songs that have inspired action, spiritual awakening, tied to an unforgettable moment, associated with captivity/freedom, Pride. We are specifically asking all of our writers to acknowledge the intersectionality of identities that remind us that seeking justice in a silo — a queer-only focus — ignores and dishonors the great diversity of bodies, minds, abilities, genders, and orientations with which God has blessed us.

Let us pray…

Oh great Mystery, whose Word sparked all things into being at the start of creation, bless the words and actions of our community. May your Spirit — who toppled towers when humanity thought itself too proud, and parted the seas to liberate your people from the death-dealing ways of empire — convict us to act on behalf of our neighbor for the sake of your Kin-dom. And, may we who believe in freedom not rest until it comes. Amen.

Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) believes black lives matter and is educating and training herself to dismantle the white supremacy and racism that has scared and paralyzed her in the past at the expense of her siblings of color who have experienced great harm. She seeks to be an ally and — in the words of long-time ELM supporter, Margaret Moreland — an accomplice in the movement to eradicate racism and white supremacy in ELM, the Church, and society.

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