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.