Rev. Traci Blackmon

Confession of a Woman who Preaches

I haven’t done one of these in a long time.
Please indulge me.

As a senior in an exclu­sive pri­vate high school, Ivy League recruiters were not strangers to me. As sopho­mores and juniors, our small class of 32 took time off from class­es to tour first the east coast Ivy Leagues and then the Southern ones the fol­low­ing year. In our senior year, as we pre­pared to make our deci­sions, select schools were invit­ed to come to us.

In high school I was the only Black per­son in my class, a real­i­ty that accom­pa­nied me every year of my edu­ca­tion from 4th grade to col­lege. In addi­tion to being the only non-white stu­dent, it is also true that I nev­er had anoth­er Black teacher after 3rd grade until Seminary, and I didn’t have many there. I received an excel­lent for­mal edu­ca­tion, made good friends and, because I also received an excel­lent infor­mal edu­ca­tion from my vil­lage, my wounds were not life threat­en­ing although I do bear some scars.

I was admit­ted into every school to which I applied. Every one. From Princeton to Yale to Swarthmore to Duke to Emory to Vanderbilt and to the one I chose, Birmingham-Southern because I want­ed to stay close to home.

During my senior year the Harvard recruiter came to our cam­pus. We’d vis­it­ed there our sopho­more year and some in the class were plan­ning to apply. I was not. I did not like the air of Harvard. But no one knew that. During the recruiter’s pre­sen­ta­tion he went on and on about Harvard’s excep­tion­al rep­u­ta­tion. He raved about the high IQ of its stu­dents and told us Harvard received enough 4.0 appli­ca­tions with out­stand­ing SAT scores to ever set­tle for less. He stressed that we would need that, plus extracur­ric­u­lar activ­i­ties, to be “cho­sen” for Harvard. I found him as nau­se­at­ing as I’d found the school dur­ing my vis­it. (Recruiters can make or break a vis­it.) After his pre­sen­ta­tion there was a light recep­tion in the library so stu­dents could min­gle with the recruiter. I had no inter­est and head­ed for the cook­ies. But the recruiter head­ed straight for me.

 

Do you want to attend Harvard?

Yes. Of course (lying to be polite).

Well, don’t wor­ry about what I told your class. If you can main­tain a C in this school, you will get in.

I don’t know why I was so dev­as­tat­ed by his assump­tion con­sid­er­ing I didn’t want to attend Harvard in the first place. I don’t know why, at age 57, when­ev­er I allow myself to remem­ber that moment it still hurts as though it is still that moment. Why did I care? Why do I care?

After all. There was absolute­ly NO rea­son to believe I wouldn’t have got­ten into Harvard had I applied. Not because medi­oc­rity would make me an excep­tion but rather because I’d done work wor­thy of admis­sion.

 

This recruiter knew noth­ing of my aca­d­e­m­ic record. Nothing of my ora­to­ry skills. Nothing of my ora­tor­i­cal awards in English and French. He didn’t know I’d already com­plet­ed my first year of col­lege before I grad­u­at­ed from high school. He didn’t know I’d starred in sev­er­al plays and musi­cals, worked, and still made the nec­es­sary scores for SATs.

And he didn’t care.

What he knew was that I was black.
And my Blackness. Alone. Disqualified me to be on par with my class­mates.

And what I knew is there would be noth­ing I could do, includ­ing actu­al­ly going to Harvard, that would ever make him see me.

I made the assump­tion that if this is who Harvard sent. This is who Harvard was. I still believe that to be true. I still believe it is incon­ceiv­able in the hearts of many that a Black stu­dent could actu­al­ly deserve to be there. Whatever there means.

I also knew Harvard didn’t deserve me.
And yet. The sting of those words still stung.

This morn­ing. I spoke for Harvard’s Medical School. And when I learned CEU’s were avail­able to those who lis­tened to me, I remem­bered that moment from so long ago again. And for a moment. I found plea­sure in know­ing the words of that arro­gant, pre­sump­tu­ous recruiter wound­ed my heart but he did not shape my iden­ti­ty. Nothing about me is defined by that moment.

 

Then I learned that the grand jury in Louisville thought noth­ing of Breonna Taylor’s life. They decid­ed that she was expend­able. And they dis­missed her rel­e­vance from their minds.

And I remem­bered. They don’t hold that pow­er. No one does. Nothing about her is defined by this moment. The only rev­e­la­tion today is about how deeply depraved our sys­tems of jus­tice remain.

And so tonight I sit in mourn­ing for Breonna. Still.  And I’m tak­ing the rest of the week off. Because I’m sick. Sick and tired of being sick and tired. And I’m not going to rush past this gen­er­a­tional weari­ness that is wash­ing over my soul right now.
And I’m remind­ed. It is our duty to fight for our free­dom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect/respect one anoth­er. We. Have. Nothing. To. Lose. But. Our. Chains.

~

Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO. Initially ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Blackmon served in var­i­ous min­istry capac­i­ties for 9 years, pri­or to becom­ing ordained in the United Church of Christ and installed as the first woman and 18th pas­tor in the 162-year his­to­ry of Christ The King United Church of Christ. A reg­is­tered nurse with more than 25 years of health­care expe­ri­ence, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Birmingham — Southern College (1985), and a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (2009).

A fea­tured voice with many region­al, nation­al, and inter­na­tion­al media out­lets and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to print pub­li­ca­tions, Rev. Blackmon’s com­mu­nal lead­er­ship and work in the after­math of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, MO has gained her both nation­al and inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion and audi­ences from the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican.