WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

An Awful, Magnificent Truth

By Carol Thomas Cissel

"We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
—Son of Baldwin (Robert Jones, Jr.)

Near the end of my sophomore year in high school, I decided to run for junior class secretary. Talked to my guidance counselor, grabbed the required form from the wooden tray on his desk, and took it home for a parental signature.

My Dad was sitting at the kitchen table polishing his shoes. A retired Green Beret, he always made sure his shoes were spit shined. I hugged him, gave him the form and said, “I’m running for class secretary. I need you to sign this.” He scanned it and handed it back.

“Carol, don’t set the bar at Secretary. Run for class President. Bring me that form and I’ll sign it.” That was it. No speech on how smart or valuable I was. No Dad Talk about girls can be leaders, too. Just a level gaze, a slight “I Know You” smile, and a lifted eyebrow.

Day after day, my folks reminded me and my brothers that we were capable, intelligent, equal, beautiful, and free. We were not worthless; we were worth more. That’s how the Thomas parents prepped their black daughter and black sons—gently, but relentlessly—for the Real World.

Fred and Loretta could be tough too. A no-nonsense pair, they knew that the Real World, the America they were sending their children out into, was violent and vicious. America was a steel-studded fist ready to crush our bones and suck out the marrow of self-esteem they had spent years nurturing. A world of nodding and smiling white folks who morphed into back-biting coaches and bosses, venomous landlords, and spider-like loan officers whose webs caught you on Monday and left you homeless on Friday. My parents knew that much of America—chiefly White America—was waiting to tell us we were useless, vile, paltry, stupid, dirty, unwanted, disposable, or pathetic. They respected authority, but also told all of us that the world lacked Justice, Equity and Compassion for Black Folx so we better be careful. My mother and father armed us with this truth: The world is awful, magnificent, and belongs to you as much as it belongs to anyone else.

I have armed my children as I was armed: Yes, you can go to dance camp—but not that one. No, you cannot walk home from school alone. Yes, you can go to the homecoming lock-in, but I’ll be chaperoning. Yes, you can date anyone you want to, but don’t ever forget you are a young Black man, and others will be upset that you are with a White girl. You are not worthless; you are worth more. That’s how this parent had to prep her biracial daughter and son for the Real World: I told them the awful, magnificent truth that awaited them.

When I lost the election for President by a handful of votes, I cried. My father stayed true to form. He simply said, "Run again next year."

Source of sources, Giver of life, Divine one. Lift me to the light. Magnify the whispering, sweet voices of my ancestors: You are loved. You are essential. You have the right to the beauty and pain the world offers us all. Remind me that I, too, belong. Amen. Ashanti. Blessed be.

About the Author

Carol Thomas Cissel

Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel, (M.S., M.Div.), is the settled minister of the UU Fellowship of Centre County in State College, PA. She is passionate about homiletics, crafting exuberant worship, travel, and small batch bourbon. Carol collects the masterworks of both Native American and First Nations...


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Two black children run, blurred, in joy and freedom down the street.
A small baby perches on the stomach of Carol Cissel's father, who's gazing into her eyes.

Carol's father, Fred Thomas, with his granddaughter Ari.