This Self-Love Sunday, I’m standing in gratefulness and pride in the midst of trying to completely understand my purpose. This week, I shifted the atmosphere. This week, I made history. This week, I witnessed the culmination of six months, and sixty-years of hard work. This week I shattered a glass ceiling. I’m, as previously stated, grateful and proud but I have yet to fully grasp the impact my actions have had on the world.
Almost a year ago, my choir was chosen to perform for the American Choral Director’s Association through a blind audition process. This is significant because we are the very first choir from a Historically Black College/University to ever be chosen to perform. My choir has been recognized as ‘The Choir of the World’ & ‘World Choir Games Champions’ so applause and recognition aren’t foreign to us. However, we are accustomed to being loved in other countries but being treated as strangers in our own. In the ‘Choir of the World’ competition in Llangollen, Wales, we went up against choirs from around the world to gain the title we walked away with. It was a life-changing moment, it was beautiful and freeing. A few days after our victory I checked the ‘Choir of the World’ website and there were affirming words about our win along with a description of our performances. These words were amazing and it felt great to hold such a great title but where was our picture? Where was our spread? We were the first all black choir to hold this title but I couldn’t find a single picture on the website that indicated this. I’ll also add that there could have been various reasons why there weren’t any pictures of us on the website but after oppression becomes your second language everything feels like disenfranchisement.
In an interview I was watching a few days ago, one of my favorite poets, Kai Davis, talks about how existing as an African-American woman is almost always existing in a constant state of rage. This sentiment is exactly how I felt, as I perused the website. I wasn’t upset when I didn’t see our picture, I wasn’t annoyed, and I definitely wasn’t surprised. I’ve lived long enough to know that if you wait for the applause of those who never wanted you to be in the room in the first place then you’ll always be standing in silence.
The following year my choir was accepted to compete in the ‘World Choir Games’ held in South Africa where we won two championship titles and received the highest score of the entire competition. These are amazing accomplishments that propelled me into positive thinking & motivated me to keep working hard in all things. After we won each championship, we were called to the front to accept the award and sing the song of the country we are from. Each time, between emotional tears, I remembered a country that never loved me. I sang the song like my ancestors who knew that death was better than enslavement would’ve, chuckling at every false promise of freedom. As I stood there with pride, I was filled with a conflicted spirit. “Sweet land of liberty”—-ha
This brings me to the events of this week. This week, my choir performed as the first all-Black choir representing a small HBCU in the middle of nowhere and the reactions blew my mind. We received a 10 minute standing ovation the first time, followed by the same exact reaction the second time. Many of us were moved to tears because we know how important our presence was in such a historically unwelcoming space. Oh, and no…we did not only sing Negro Spirituals. We had a 25 minute performance filled with choreography, Bach, Jazz and so much more. Afterwards I was overwhelmed with emotions as countless people came up to me to express their love for my choir and what we did on stage. We made history. We changed lives.
I’m grateful for this experience. I’m grateful for all the affirming words. But just so it’s clear, I cannot save your world. Among all of the wonderful things that touched me were these words “please save our world”. A middle-aged Caucasian woman expressed her love for our performance then stopped in her tracks as she was walking away. She returned slowly with tears in her eyes and said “please save our world”. These words touched me deeply and I was moved by her sincerity. This is my open response to her:
I would love to save your world.
I would love to save our world.
My ancestors have always been willing to sacrifice their lives for a country that still questions the humanity of their descendants.
My people went to war for your world.
They returned to no place to sleep and no food to eat.
They returned to mental, financial and systematic enslavement.
If I go to war to save your world what can I expect in return?
Will I finally be accepted when I’m not singing Bach or when my hair isn’t ‘tame’?
Will the world I go to war to save finally accept my brother?
I cannot save your world.
I cannot save our world.
It isn’t my job.
This Self-Love Sunday I’m grateful for such an amazing opportunity and experience. I’m appreciative and humbled. But I’m also stepping back and realizing that yes, I can fight to be allowed into spaces that may not always welcome me initially. Yes I can work hard and achieve my goals. Yes, I can make an impact on the world. Yes, I can be my best self and watch lives change as a result. But no, I cannot save the world and it is not your job try to do that either.
Happy Self-Love Sunday!