Listening, Remembering, Resisting

Written by Marie Campbell as closing words to the 2014-2015 Belle H. Bennett House fellows at their Celebration Banquet on May 28, 2015.

1“Pain is an event, an experience that must be recognized, named and then used in some way in order for the experience…to be transformed into…strength or knowledge or action. Suffering, on the other hand, is the nightmare reliving of unscrutinized and unmetabolized pain. When I live through pain without recognizing it…I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it.” – Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, on moving from suffering to pain to resistance

First of all, thank you to the supervisors, non-profits, and mentors who worked with the fellows. Thank you for your time, energy, and all you do in Nashville to make it better. Thank you to Claire, our pastoral care intern, to Mary Berlin, and to all the folks who blessed us with their presence and wisdom during our Tuesday Seminars together. We continue to be blessed by your goodness. Thank you to the staff at Scarritt Bennett. Your work makes this program possible. It really matters that we keep opening spaces for young women to explore the work of justice making. If we want a better world, we need women who have come alive. So, thank you.

I started out the year, at the Welcome Banquet in August, describing a vision of leadership that begins with a healing attentiveness to and an analysis of our lived experiences in an unjust world. I said something about how collective and societal justice begins with deep listening, by seeing and hearing ourselves, one another, by welcoming the whole person: our histories, our people, our wounds, our joys.

I said that your task this year, fellows, if it could be boiled down to one thing, was to listen to yourselves and to one another. I said you will struggle, you will laugh, you’ll shape each other – but only if you can figure out how to create a community where each voice, each embodied spark of divinity (that is, each self), has equal worth and if you can tune your ears toward each others’ frequencies. Womanist theologian, Emilie Townes reminds us, “To love is to care about one’s environment, to strategize and anticipate the future, to draw on the community of resistance and solidarity.” I hoped that you would find a way to create such a community, by listening and welcoming each other – even and especially those parts of ourselves deemed ugly, unworthy, unnecessary – the sparks of ourselves snuffed out by a world made violently fiery and suffocating.

At this point, at our ending, as I reflect and listen in a different kind of way – listening by remembering, I want to tell you what I hear most:

I remember that one time when…

Renita Weems told us that our work is about trying to get our daughters off their knees… when she told us that the root of our longing is to gently move ourselves and our people into empowered belonging so that we get up off the floor and refuse to be made less than, refuse to be displaced from our rightful standing up tall with heads held high, with dignity, and so that we refuse to be silent when others are being made small. She told us to refuse and resist subservience, to refuse and resist colonization.

I remember when Emilie Townes told us that part of our work is lament and that to lament is to name/scrutinize the source of our pain– pain caused by injustice and oppression – as precisely as we can so that we can discover and uncover  tools to transform our pain, to make some movement beyond it, and create a new world.2

I remember when Lisa Guenther told us about social death – where personhood leaves the body before the person… when the structures and institutions of our society decide when/where/how/whose bodies no longer matter. In such a world, she told us to create maroon communities, places where those who have escaped from slavery and those who refuse to enslave build up resistance and fight back.

I remember when we marched women and men, demanding that women must be the owners or their own lives – not the State – that all trans* people deserve dignity and respect – and that all people deserve to parent their children without fear that she or he will be hurt or killed. I remember when we marched with low wage workers in Ferguson, Missouri and stood in the place where white supremacy killed Mike Brown. I remember when we lay our bodies down in the middle of the street in Downtown Nashville on a rowdy Saturday night, fed up… disgusted… mourning the loss of black and brown lives. I remember when we stood outside Casa Azafran hoping that the President would notice that we won’t stand for the militarization of the border… hoping that he would notice, or at least that his snipers perched on the roof pointing guns our way might notice, how much we believe that no human is illegal.

I remember when we struggled to talk honestly about class and race and privilege and oppression. I remember how we struggled though and in our struggling how we made some movement beyond… pain.

I said this in the beginning and I’ll say it again because I think it has been realized to a degree and that it will continue to be realized: In this context of deep listening (and now, deep remembering) – You will hear your individual and collective radical power – it will reverberate and send its echoes, like waves, into the world, your leadership, your selves will unfold here. We listen deeply, uncover our truths and then, so often, we are told that our truths create division. Maybe we need a little bit of divisiveness, the kind that cuts to the core of the matter. Because, in truth, truth does not come in neat, pretty packages. The truth of our experiences in an unjust world is no polite, well-mannered thing: it comes raw and it bites. It disrupts. When we listen together – as white, black, brown, queer, straight, questioning — out of our contexts, our stories, our sharped-edged truths, this is how we lead. This is how we make waves.

You have taught me that it is possible to listen deeply this way, to fuel some movement beyond pain… toward building selves that are free, communities that are free, a world that is free. It is possible to sink deep into ourselves and emerge bolder – to work despite the messiness of things, to strategize, to pray with our bodies – in the streets and at our altars, to be stronger and so full of ourselves that our power and goodness overflows and floods this broken world. Thank you for that. My greatest hope is that you will continue to listen and to remember what you have heard from yourselves and each other here. Wherever you are, may your truths – collectively sharpened – embolden you to instigate and participate in acts of marronage and get free. Get all the peoples free, too.

marieMarie Campbell is Assistant Director of Education, Programs, & Connections at Scarritt Bennett Center. Marie coordinates the Belle H. Bennett House, a 10-month fellowship program for young women discerning vocation at the intersection of radical social justice and spirituality. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School and a B.A. in Sociology from Belmont University. Marie is passionate about environmental justice, cultural organizing, and intersectional feminism. Contact Marie at [email protected].