My parents often like to remind me that my nickname as a very young child was ‘chatterbox’. I loved to talk, about anything and everything, just to talk. I loved words, I loved discussions. By the time I reached school, I realized I loved ideas, learning, and different concepts. I loved the challenge of debates, the changing of minds, and the skeptical analysis of beliefs.
As I grew up, I still loved to talk, but became more of a silent observer. I wanted to listen to what was being said and think upon it before formulating an opinion.
At some point, I became driven by the idea of justice. I don’t know when, I don’t know why. I just know that one day, using my privilege to speak out for the downtrodden, the dismayed, the disenfranchised, and the ones in the minority suddenly swallowed me whole.
My first real introduction to slavery and the things black Americans faced was through a fiction book called Ghost Hotel. I first read it in the late third grade, believing it was a horror/thriller-based story. I was enthralled by ghost stories and was reading books about mysterious occurrences left, right, and centre.
The book wasn’t any of those things, but it captivated me. It also destroyed me. The story followed a 12-year-old girl who is haunted at a hotel, and following an adventure crawls through a tunnel that sends her back in time 200 years. Travelling back in time, her life in the future becomes just a dim memory, as she relives her real childhood. The book never gets into the how’s or why’s this girl was sent forward into the future in the first place, then back, then forward again, but that didn’t really matter. The purpose of the story is to introduce you to a young white girl, who fights to save the life of a slave boy and ends up being hunted by slavers as well.
I don’t remember a lot of the story outside of the slavery aspect. I still remember the sickening feeling in my stomach as I realized the amount of truth this contained regarding how blacks were treated. I remember crying myself to sleep and wondering how humans could ever treat another human being this way.
That feeling sits so fresh in my memory because it’s how I feel every time I see injustices. It’s the same feeling that swells in the pit of my stomach every time I see someone reduce another person to being less than human because of everything from minor things like disagreeing with them about what is acceptable or ‘normal’ to the larger things like race, gender, or religion.
It wasn’t until I completed the Myers-Briggs assessment that I learned this feeling and this drive were not caused by anything in particular, but simply because of how I’m wired.
I’ve spent a lot of my life having people tell me to be quiet for many reasons. The more I speak out about concerns, controversial issues, or injustices, the more I’ve been told to back down, to watch what I say, or that perhaps I should avoid it.
But being quiet is simply not in my nature. Just ask three-year-old me. I don’t know how to shut up. Sometimes, that’s a bad thing. I’ll admit when I get in the heat of the moment, I can run my mouth. For the most part though, I believe it’s my greatest strength.
As someone who believes in God and tries to model a life after Jesus, I also believe that each of my talents, strengths, and gifts were given to me for a reason. There are so many people without voices, and so many more whose voices are drowned out for no other reason than being in the ‘camp’ people are against. I believe it is my duty as someone with a voice to speak up.
Of course, words are never enough. Words can only go so far. But, they are the starting point. They are the place where conversation begins, where ideas can be shaped, and from where change ripples out. Words are where perspectives begin to shift.
I’ve been on the wrong side of issues many times in my life, and I’m certain I will be on that side again. The truth is, we all will. There is no way to ever be on the right side of every issue 100 percent of the time, because it would require that we think, act, believe, and comprehend the exact same as everyone else.
Perhaps one of the biggest things I’ve learned in my 31 years on this planet is that using my voice is as much about listening and truly hearing as it is about speaking. It’s about recognizing that other people using their voices often have valid points to make and important things to say. It’s about learning that people’s stories and their experiences have far more weight than an opinion formulated solely from beliefs and ideas.
Grace is paramount in fighting for justice because it looks upon the ‘other side’ as a fellow human being rather than some giant, evil enemy. No matter how much we disagree or cannot understand how they believe what they believe.
These things don’t come easily – it is much easier to hate someone who believes something that goes against your own views than it is to try to love them. It’s so much easier for me to hate people who actively believe and act in ways that harm others. But hate is incapable of driving out hate. In this time of so much polarization, love, compassion and understanding are key in changing minds.
All of that, however, still comes back to words, to speaking up, to refusing to remain silent.