“I told the darkened faces about my struggle with black skin and black community. I told them about the shame I’d carried as a black woman over my own warped idolatry of white skin.”
The dark, elegant auditorium at Fuller Theological Seminary covered the faces of onlookers and eager listeners. Creativity fused the air as palpable anticipation charged the atmosphere. Forcing my leg to stop bouncing, I tried to relax, but that didn’t keep my stomach from clenching. Having courageously chosen to be first in our cohort presentations, Diana Wilburn was at the podium gracefully speaking about the limitation of only viewing “darkness” as a negative concept. I was up next. Logic told me there was nothing to be nervous about; I was mainly amongst friends and fellow students who were wishing me well. I had also spent the last several months preparing for this moment under the guidance of artist theologian, Maria Fee. However, what the audience didn’t know is that I had never sang before a crowd of people before. What they didn’t know is that I’d never shared such a personal story before. All that they didn’t know loomed in front of me as a most ominous task. Nonetheless, I was here now and couldn’t back out.
As Diana neared the end of her presentation I signaled to my bandmates that we were up next. When applause filled the auditorium, my team and I stood. Diana gave thanks and made her way to her seat, and we took hurried steps to take our places center stage. I stepped behind the formidable microphone, wrapping my fingers around its smooth neck to steady my shaking hands. There truly was no going back. So, I opened my mouth and sang.
There was silence as I sang about the grotesque treatment of black and brown bodies and as I despaired over the negligence of sacred personhood. I felt my confidence soar as the sounds of Josh Hill and Erin Choi-Durain’s voices surrounded my own. Harmonies blended as we sonically lamented. Chris Min’s guitar wove in and out of our voices, steadying our tempo, egging us on from note to note.
As the four of us ended the first song and poem, I took a deep breath. I’d stepped into the first challenge, but how would I make it through the next? My hands were no longer shaking- they were stiff with fear. I lowered them, willing the blood to flow more freely through my veins. Here, in this moment, was the crux of my anxiety. Would the audience be willing and able to accept what I had to share? Not knowing the answer to this question, I began to speak.
I told the darkened faces about my struggle with black skin and black community. I told them about the shame I’d carried as a black woman over my own warped idolatry of white skin. I told them about the journey God took me through to get me to the point where I could celebrate dark skin - my dark skin - and black communities.
The irony of my talk following Diana’s was not lost on me. Though she wasn’t speaking directly about black bodies, she set the stage for opened minds to consider that darkness is not always synonymous with evil or ugly. Her piercing insight made way for me to be vulnerable in exposing the inadequacies of my former ideologies around blackness.
Blk Halos was birthed out of a bed of twisted perspectives. It became the platform through which I share how I had lived within what theologian Dr. Willie Jennings calls “whiteness”. It is the tale through which my bandmates and I convey how the denunciation of white idolatry can morph into a celebration of blackness, that harrowing reality that has historically been institutionally and socially reviled. That night in the auditorium at Fuller Theological Seminary became my dawn of sharing personal narratives. It marks a critical point in my journey as I increasingly trust God to lead me into the joy of discovering the healing that can come from sharing my story.