Memphis worked it’s way into my blood this summer.
I don’t know if this is a by-product of the absurd Mississippi Delta humidity or a side-effect of all the barbecue nachos, but regardless of how it happened, Memphis is a part of me now. Which means my family has heard too many stories which are much funnier to me than them, listened to impressions of some of my campers’ signature phrases, and looked at a lot of photos of people they do not know. So be thankful you don’t live with me.
As I spend the tail-end of my summer landscaping homes and picking vegetables at the farm, I keep replaying certain Memphis moments and dreaming of certain Binghampton people.
The mother who began to weep out of gratitude as I registered her child for Pre-K classes.
The two boys who won every dance-off, every time with moves I will never be able to do.
The camper who watched his cousin get shot earlier this summer and tried to be brave every day since.
How a camper thanked me for telling him earlier in the day to fix his attitude.
My camper who wants to be a soldier when he grows up.
The six-year old who read his first book ever this summer.
All of the little love notes I have accumulated after a summer being with some of the greatest teeny human beings on earth.
The almost tangible pride and very tangible tears as I watched the kids perform The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in front of a cafeteria packed with community members, parents, Memphis Teacher’s Residency and Cornerstone staff.
I catch myself flipping through photo after photo of these people, wondering what they are up to and hoping every good thing in the world happens to them. My heart usually doesn’t let me get away with not praying for them.
And I think I yearn to pray for them because I know that there is a cap on their value. There is a limit, due to institutional racism and personal prejudice, on who they can become. According to many societal systems, their stories do not hold the worth of others.
I cannot shake these moments, these people, that city because my story is now tied to theirs. One of my favorite words, ubuntu, is a integral piece of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s theology, simply meaning “we belong to each other.” So if there is a limit to their worth, then there is a limit to mine.
I have been graced to see injustice. I have been honored to look at inequality this summer.
I cannot look away. Even now, as I am writing this, some small, terrible little voice is saying “it’s fine! you can just keep on living as you were. don’t feel bad, there is injustice everywhere!” Ah, but that little voice is not Jesus. And Jesus is whom I take my cues from.
The real response to this gift is to leverage my own privilege so that my friends and neighbors of Binghampton, who are the images of God, may have full access to life.
I smile just thinking about it. I want to dance and sing and shout. Because their hope is my hope. Their wholeness is my wholeness. It matters that the weepy mother’s son gets an excellent education. It matters that my camper who wants to be a solider can choose to do so. It matters because without equality, the world will be missing out on all the incredible men and women of Binghampton who have beautiful things to contribute.
I am so grateful to love and be loved by Binghampton.
Sometimes it makes me want to cry and smile all at the same time.