Naming the Truth
“Let us not value a false peace over a righteous justice. Let us not be afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, and the pain that is life in community together. ” —Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce
In 8th grade, my English class was encouraged to enter an essay contest put on by the North Carolina Bar Association. It was a 50th anniversary commemoration of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ruled that having “separate but equal” segregated schools was unconstitutional. The prompt invited us to consider how things were different between 1954 and 2004. I was pretty sure that what they wanted was an essay marveling at how much things had changed: how much better life was today than it was in 1954.
And even though a lot had changed since 1954, I couldn’t write that essay. Instead, I wrote about the lunch tables at my extremely diverse middle school, which were segregated by race. A self-segregation, yes—there weren’t laws or school rules preventing people from sitting anywhere in the cafeteria, but nonetheless, everyone sat in the same places: with their friends of the same race. Social pressures and implications can hold as much weight as rules and laws—sometimes more.
I wrote about how even though things had changed, they hadn’t changed nearly as much as we would hope in fifty years. I wrote about how I hoped that in another fifty years, the change would be bigger, but that I was really worried it wouldn’t be. Even though I knew it would make people uncomfortable, even when I knew it wasn’t exactly what I was being invited to do, I named the truth as I perceived it, because it didn’t feel like there was any other option.
I won third place in that essay contest, and I’m not at all upset with that outcome. I would be proud of what I wrote even if I hadn’t placed at all. Writing that essay was about naming the truth as I had experienced it, even though it was uncomfortable, even though people might have preferred that I didn’t. I might have done better in the contest if I had written the essay they wanted—but I wouldn’t trade living my values for anything.
Holy one, when I wonder if it would be easier to simply go with the flow, help me to remember that grounding myself in what I believe gives me strength. May I continue to find ways to live my values in a complicated, messy world.