Last Sunday Feb 7, I accepted an invitation to speak at St. James AME in Elgin to kick-off their Black History Month Celebration with a message on Community Advocacy. If I'm honest, it was a casual acceptance based on the fact that I sat next to Dr. Laveta Small at a community leader focus group back in December at Elgin Community College.
We were kindred spirits that night - practically finishing each other's sentences towards the end of the forum, even though we were a generation apart. We connected and vowed to keep in touch but as usual - life gets in the way and almost 7 weeks passed by before we would speak again. Of course, I would speak for Dr. Small. Not a question.
As part of the BHM celebrations - the church was honoring their seniors and hosting a guest speaker each week. I prepared a thoughtful 15 minute talk about how I approach Community Advocacy through my political career as an elected official. I did some online recognizance on the church and was impressed with its 129 year history in Elgin.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the experience I encountered upon entering the church that morning.
Upon entering this tiny church on the east side of Elgin, almost to Rt. 59, I was immediately overwhelmed by the warmth and wisdom of the people inside. The display in the lobby was a basic archive of Black History for our country and for the Elgin area. Then I saw the program for the day and realized - that I was THE speaker, the sermon, the MESSAGE. Before that moment, I was thinking I was just a speaker for the day and not necessarily delivering the message in place of the pastor - Reverend Francis Senyah, who I also met briefly at the ECC event. This terrified me. The sense of responsibility almost swallowed me up right there. Then, I glanced down at my prepared words... a calm overcame me. Instantly.
You see, I was speaking about how I use the lens of Micah 6:8 in all my political dealings. Paraphrased the best way to remember Micah 6:8 is this...
Act Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly.
As I sat and listened to them talk about the heroes and s'heroes of their church - some of whom had been members for over 70 years. I was so humbled. Then Dr. Small introduced me and it really hit me. In my corner of the world, I am Black History in the making. I don't say that with any airs - I say it because it's true.
Right now, the movement that I am leading in our country (perhaps the world) on relational wellness and relational health will change the lives of many. As I spoke to this audience and literally declared to them that they will see me and this cause in the national health care debate really soon - it was as clear that what I am doing is so much bigger than me. By putting the word out there in the small church in Elgin - I started the public discourse on my desire, to enable all people to pro-actively care for the relationships in their lives.
At the end of the service as I shook hands with every person in attendance that day, I felt an enormous transfer of wisdom and leadership from these stalwarts of the community. Many of these people were pioneers in the Northwest Suburbs and members of families that were among the first blacks to settle in this area. Each one looked me in the eye and encouraged me in my movement. Every ounce of the strength and courage from the battles won before were transferred to me for the battle ahead.
While each person told me about how much I touched them - I was without words for what they had done for me. Even 10 days later, I have trouble pinpointing all the positive ways that experience at St. James AME has changed me.
Dr. Small said something the night we were at ECC to the effect that "we were not trying to make history then (upon describing her experience as the only black child in her elementary school in Elgin in the 1950s), we were just doing what we knew was right."
I know exactly what she means.