A few years ago, I visited a church at the request of a friend. At the end of service, the impassioned minister opened the doors of his church with the plea, “Is there anyone here today who is willing to accept our Father God into their lives, come forth at this time and give yourself to the Lord.”
As if on cue, three congregants stood up and moved down the aisle. Among the religious-renewal crew was a young man, who appeared to be in his mid- 20’s. He was tall in stature, easily over 6 feet with long eyes, arms and legs. His skin was a caramel macchiato mixture, topped with cinnamon sprinkles. As he lobbied down the aisle, I noticed he was wearing jeans, a short-sleeved white t-shirt and workman’s boots—hardly “church-appropriate” attire. This fact was exacerbated by his actual walk itself. As he strode past my pew, it appeared that he actually leaned down the aisle, the way someone would if the world was turned sideways and they were still upright.
When he reached the minister and turned to face the congregation, he suddenly looked hesitant. It was though he regretted his decision to seek deliverance. However, just when the minister wrapped up his message on salvation, which was swaddled in saliva, the former signaled his desire to speak. The minister acquiesced.
“I’m not really sure why I stopped in here today,” he stated softly.
“Go on son,” the minister encouraged.
“I want to say something that’s been on my mind though,” he continued. “I know you looking at me and you see a person who you don’t know if you can trust. I understand.” He paused and shifted his body weight from one leg to another before he spoke again, this time a bit more quicker, in a staccato-laced fashion. “Even though I’m a grown man, I remember growing up and constantly being told by SOMEBODY what NOT to do.”
“Don’t do drugs.”
“Don’t get anybody pregnant.”
“Don’t go to jail.”
So guess what I did? I did each and every one of those things.
I’m not standing up here saying that the ONLY reason I got in trouble was because of me hearing those words, but what I AM telling you is hearing them all the time sure didn’t help. If you want to make a difference, stop telling young people what they SHOULD NOT do. There is something called a self-fulfilling prophecy and when people only focus on bad things that’s what they’re going to get.”
The room was dead silent.
He went on. “I’m not a smart man. I dropped out of high school right after my girlfriend had our son because I needed money to support them. I ended up stealing and got busted and ended up in jail. I know I made a lot of the decisions myself that got me where I am today and I take responsibility for that. But I also know that a lot of what I was told as a young man growing up also led to those bad decisions in the first place. And I was fed a whole lot of garbage. So I came up to the front of the church today to share what God put on MY heart today.
“It’s time to start building our young people up and it starts at home. They will become what you tell them they can be or they will become what you constantly tell them NOT to be. People’s minds absorb the words they hear most often. Pretty soon the ‘don’t’ part falls away.”
I sat back in my seat, stunned. His message hit home for me, because it gave me a perspective I had never considered and one that made perfect sense. It reminded me why I consistently share one of my favorite Marianne Williamson quotes with my own two sons, and which I will now share with you, dear readers:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, ‘who are you not to be?’ You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Let the church say, Amen.
Shanita Baraka Akintonde is an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago. She is also President and Chief Visionary Officer of Creative Notions Group, a professional speaking and consulting company. Professor Akintonde will release two books, Hear Me ROARR and The Heart of a Leader in 2018. She’s for hire to inspire and will gladly share her rates for each of her uniquely crafted workshops, keynote addresses and/or seminars. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her @SHAKINTONDE and http://www.linkedin.com/in/shanitaakintonde/