She bought my ticket months ago when she saw the hair standing high, like a full sunrise shining and the name Esperanza in the same line of Ode Joy.
I had said yes to the invitation but had totally forgotten about the plans we had made. You see, my Big Sis Doreen is a planner and maps out her life in seasons—while I nibble off chunks of today as it comes.
We don’t share the same color of skin, but we share the same family. It’s a complicated story and not all mine to share—so let’s just keep it there.
2014 struck me deep in the gut with a Floyd Mayweather, Jr. right hook. Ever have those years?
Depression. Bam! Unemployment. Bam bam!
Loss of close relationships. Raising wayward teenagers. Walking up Mt. Mundane Midlife. Topped off with the final blow of a career backstab evoking betrayal and trauma—just go ahead and knock me out!!
Spinning dizzy from unpredictable blows of setbacks and heartbreak, I needed it all to end with a soft landing. I needed time to regain my footing. I needed to know that I could stand back up in the ring called “my life” again.
My normal go-to prescription of writing, worship and words from God couldn’t pacify the pain, injustice or uncertainty I was up against. My otherwise big, ever-present God had become silent and invisible right before my eyes and I couldn’t fake my disappointment, nor my resentment.
The day of the concert kept growing nearer and I was still not sure I would be in the proper mood to party.
What was there to celebrate?
The world had gone to hell and back again, and again, and again, and again.
I was numb from not being able to breathe. My hands now trembled from keeping them raised. Being Black in America the last several months has triggered an ache, a sadness, an anxiety that I am still finding hard to put into words.
While the world has moved on, I am still stuck in the invisible quicksand of injustices. I am still grieving the deaths of Black lives. My voice is hoarse from yelling “we matter.”
“You ready for the concert?”
” Yes. I am, Sis.” I lied confidently.
“I made dinner reservations walking distance from the Schnitzer!”
“That’s perfect. It sounds like a set up for a special night.”
And maybe it would be. I let my mind wander back to my last “special night” which happened to be in the same concert hall.
An evening with Dr. Maya Angelou just two years ago had forever changed my life. That night I found out that Maya, at the ripe age of 41, published I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Maya’s journey gave me a new hope that midlife didn’t have to be in crisis—it could be a coming out, a breaking forth of new dreams in new wine skin.
Tapping on the door of 40 with a manuscript and a dream half done—I drunk in deep gulps of this “phenomenal” legend. I have continued to sip from that cup of inspiration.
That night I was desperate to fill up in that same way again. This time my dream in need of renewal was for racial equality and social justice. I needed a reason to hope and believe in my country and humanity again. I stepped out with my own full-fro-shining and two-hour stilettos. Sometimes folks say, “you gotta fake it till you make it.” Tonight I was trying to “wear it till I felt it.” I wanted my 6 inch heels to lift me out of the socialized dark shadows I had for weeks been standing in. I needed my kinky afro to stand boldly—protesting loud —I’m Black and I’m proud. And then it happened. She sang these words.
Hold your head as high as you can
High enough to see who you are, little man
Life sometimes is cold and cruel
Baby no one else will tell you so remember that
You are Black Gold, Black Gold
You are Black Gold
Now maybe no one else has ever told you so
But you’re golden, baby
Black Gold with a diamond soul
Think of all the strength you have in you
From the blood you carry within you
Ancient men, powerful men
Builders of civilization
They’ll be folks hell-bent on putting you down
Don’t get burned
‘Cause not necessarily everyone will know your worth
This Queen stood flat-footed in a sea of white faces and proclaimed our worth, our existence, our part of history. With the expansion of her truth and the stringing of her instrument my soul began to swell with pride.
Esperanza talked about how we are all—whether we like it or not—family. Not only family, but related. She talked about the origin of Eden, the inspiration behind her song, “Black Gold.” She told the Arlene Schnitzer audience that they were Black too.
That Eden was in Africa and that Africa was the origin of mankind, human kind.
Biblical scholars have debated her research for years. Cush, near Ethopia, has been named the Garden of Eden.
Her courage to be all of herself, for herself and for the few 10 out of the 1000 that looked like her in this audience—moved me. Her unapologetic voice and delivery to the majority left the room hushed and silent—accept for those of us that accepted her message.
We the ten stood up and danced out loud.
We the ten cried and sang with full voice and exploding spirits.
Taking in her lyrics, her words, the complex, unique, pure beauty of her journey—lifted my weary heart out of itself for awhile.
For years I have carried my cross. I have denied myself oftentimes by always including others—following hard the ministry of reconciliation. But I had done it with a sense of duty, not dignity. In my calling to be “my sister’s and brother’s keeper”—I had been reaching out to others, but had forgotten to pour back into me.
Racism is a silent and subtle poison—it creeps quietly into the cracks of our churches, Christian publications and establishments.
At times I can handle it—even thrive with its effects barely touching me. During these times I spread my arms out wide to my very white Northwest world with hope and courage all in the name of Jesus and unity.
I come boldly to the table offering my unique lens and creativity. Unashamed. Unapologetic. Unstoppable.
But then there are times my heart gets shattered again into pieces by another murder, inhuman brutality or betrayal of close allies-and my courage and hope shrink back up again. These are the times I’m convinced that God is playing favorites. I am abandoned and alone.
And I long only for Granny’s kitchen and the secluded circles of tight knit bonds where only brown skinned family and friends can help and patch me up again. I want only Mommy’s fried chicken and Daddy’s peach cobbler to nurture and soothe my soul . . . or a night like this. . .
A night when Jesus came to the Schnitzer, disguised in an Afro, playing a double bass—reassuring me that He is still near, He still heals and He still sees me.
I am not Esperanza Spalding, nor will I ever be the legend Maya Angelou—but I am me and I am still here. I have a soul that is struggling to stay healed and whole despite the hate and rage I see.
I may never reach the 1000’s in the room or be asked to stay at the table, but I will search long and wide for the 10. The 10 who need to know that their lives still matter.
- Post-Reflections on the Buffalo, New York Shooting Massacre - May 25, 2022
- A Poem Called Freedom - February 26, 2021
- America Looted The Black Body: (RIP George Floyd) - July 30, 2020
19 thoughts on “The Night Jesus Played a Bass and Rocked an Afro”
V, oh sister. Your experience, your gritty and gracious truth telling — I can’t find words enough to let you know how much this has touched me. It is the story of generations, and I feel the weight as I read this. I’ve seen you do the reconciliation work for years, and how I want you filled, love — how I long for you to know again and again and again how much your life matters. I love you.
Thank you Ashley. The “filling” is coming as I ink my page to the larger story of my beautiful people while keeping my identity in Christ as the standard. It’s a tight rope balancing act-some days I glide and some days I fall. I am surprised by the ways the One who loves me pursues as one of His “10”. The tailor made ways He is quilting my culturally specific community and my kingdom-filled family is a reflection of new healing, redemption and beauty. You are a part of that Sis. Love you too!
Oh my gosh, V….that last line. You keep writing, sister. SO beautiful….
Here’s to the 10! Thanks Sis.
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
Thank you Esther. <3
I love this so much, Velynn. Thank iyou for your grace and boldness and truth. So much good in here: of sentences, of justice, of your heart. Your voice is needed. Keep writing.
Thank you Ashley. I’m here. And I’m gonna keep on writing. <3
This is beautiful! Thank you for the raw honesty!
I’m so glad you’re writing into this space both here in the mudroom but also just into the space made for those 10. I love your truth telling, friend. Don’t ever stop, we need your voice to keep reminding us, we’re not even close.
Yes yes yes.
This really moved me, Velynn. Thank for the painful honesty.
Oh my, this is powerful, Velynn. I would love to have seen the 10, celebrating that night.
Dear friend V-your voice, your raw vulnerability touch me again and again. Continue to share your heart -As you quote, “Hold your head as high as you can-High enough to see who you are”…and God sees who you are and so many others really do see. – cornelia
Velynn, I just want this to keep going and going. I found myself wishing I could highlight on my laptop screen to remember your words, like “my Big Sis Doreen is a planner and maps out her life in seasons—while I nibble off chunks of today as it comes” – which is me and my husband, but I’ve never said it so well.
or “Tapping on the door of 40 with a manuscript and a dream half done—I drunk in deep gulps of this “phenomenal” legend. I have continued to sip from that cup of inspiration.” I’m sipping too.
and “A night when Jesus came to the Schnitzer, disguised in an Afro, playing a double bass—reassuring me that He is still near, He still heals and He still sees me.” Thanking Jesus that He comes all the time in all kinds of ways and shows up where we need him.
Beautiful piece, it was my pleasure to read it and you reached me today.