I love Ruby Sales. She’s taught us a lot. You can google her story, see how she lost the ability to speak for a spell at seventeen when a white man squeezed the trigger of a shotgun and blew a hole in the body of a young white seminarian named Jonathon Daniels who had thrown his body in front of Ruby, saving her life, but it’s difficult to understand the enormity of who Ruby Sales is unless you’re willing to just sit at her feet and listen to her, which I’ve been lucky enough to do. So tonight when I couldn’t sleep, still holding onto the anger inside of me at a man who gassed protesters to clear a path in order to brandish a bible he hadn’t read in front of a church he didn’t enter and later went to Tulsa to cause more trauma, and at a nation that seems to know no bottom, I went to her Facebook page and here is what I found:
From my front porch
Tonight is here, and your company inspires me to put my hands on my hips and stare the world straight in the eyes. When I was a young girl, older Black women of a certain age perfected the art of standing back in their legs. Most southern Black girls of my generation or older could hardly wait to stand back in our legs.
This tradition died with my grandmother’s generation who was born in the mid-19th century and who still carried the memory of Africa in their stance and rituals.
It took a great amount of courage and risk for Black women to stand back in their legs. It required them to have the courage to be elastic and flexible and not be afraid of falling or losing their balance. I like to think that standing back in their legs is a metaphor for the audacity and flexibility that are key and significant postures in Black women’s history that allowed us to create for generations a mountaintop consciousness from a valley experience.
Ruby Sales is the founder and director of the Spirit House Project, a non-profit that works towards racial, economic, and social justice. As a teenager at Tuskegee University in the 1960s, she joined the Student Nonviolent Coördinating Committee (SNCC) and went to work as a student freedom fighter in Lowndes County, Alabama. A social activist, scholar, public theologian, and educator, Sales has preached around the country on race, class, gender and reconciliation. She has degrees from Tuskegee Institute, Manhattanville College, and Princeton University. She also received a Masters of Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in 1998.
Gary Percesepe is the author of eight books, most recently The Winter of J, a poetry collection published by Poetry Box. He is Associate Editor at New World Writing. Previously he was an assistant fiction editor at Antioch Review. His work has appeared in Christian Century, Maine Review, Brevity, Story Quarterly, N + 1, Salon, Mississippi Review, Wigleaf, Westchester Review, PANK, The Millions, Atticus Review, Antioch Review, Solstice, and other places. He resides in White Plains, New York, and teaches philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx.