Living and Leading Change for Good: Meet the Disruptors
The Forum for Theological Exploration series, Living and Leading Change for Good,invites you to meet the disruptors – theological explorers and visionary architects inspired by their Christian faith and fueled by courage. These leaders are actively addressing civil and human rights issues and the anxiety about the rising tide of color in the U.S., along with creating social entrepreneurial ventures that respond to issues our communities face today. Our hope is that their voices and stories toward peace and justice might inspire you to be the disruptive change you’ve been waiting for. You can find the full series, here.
My siblings’ laughter reverberated throughout the house as they played in our room upstairs. I sat at my white laminate desk, diligently working on my homework. “Quiet down, or else!” the voice of the Stranger bellowed, as I had come to call my mother’s boyfriend. Then angry footsteps ascended to the second floor. I wanted to keep this abusive man away from my brothers, so I stepped into the hall and said something to distract him. At the age of 12, I knew exactly how to re-direct the Stranger’s anger.
“What did you say to me, you Mexican piece of…?” His eyes were full of rage as he rambled through his typical racial rant. I continued to provoke him while my siblings made their exit. The Stranger picked up my schoolbooks and threw them with a furious ease across the room. With similar ease, he struck me as if I were an adult capable of defending myself.
The last thing I remember is him picking up my flailing body by the neck. I tried to fix my eyes on someone or something to save me. No one came.
Today I am transported back to that moment every time I hear slurs about the Latinx community. And these days, I hear them more than ever. Consider the violent ICE raids, mass deportation threats, violent political rhetoric, and continued lack of access to education and health services for our country’s poor and disenfranchised. As I write in my book, Nobody Cries When We Die, I feel as if I am “still up against that wall, suspended, with the weight of my family’s suffering tugging at my feet.”
I am not alone in my fears. Whether one’s fears are caused by addiction, domestic violence, abuse, poverty, lack of access to health care and education, gang and youth violence, or any other host of pains people are wrestling with, Howard Thurman offers these words in Jesus and the Disinherited:
Fear is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited … Our homes, institutions, prisons, churches, are crowded with people who are hounded by day and harrowed by night because of some fear that lurks ready to spring into action as soon as one is alone, or as soon as the lights go out, or as soon as one’s social defenses are temporarily removed. (1976, p.74)
Fear and violence are those persistent hounds of hell for many communities like the one I come from: an undereducated, impoverished, and farm-working Latinx community. This fear is felt not only from our vulnerable position in society, but within our very bodies.
Because my job is directing doctoral initiatives for scholars of color at the Forum for Theological Exploration, an institution that has been providing support to scholars of color since 1968, one of my guiding questions is “What role does the academy, and theological education in particular, have in addressing these fears?” To help me answer this question, I look to scholars of color who are addressing violence and fear mongering in our histories and current day.
Dr. Angela Sims’s work in her book Lynched recounts the oral histories of lynching. Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s book Our Lives Matter reflects theologically on the violence done to black, queer women’s bodies. Dr. Leah Gunning Francis’ Ferguson and Faith focuses her scholarship and role as a Dean of a theological institution on her commitment to those on the ground in Ferguson, MO. In Nobody Cries When We Die, I discuss how to discern life in the face of death.
I am inspired by Dr. Brian Bantum’s, The Death of Race. In this time of fear and lies, Dr. Bantum directly address alternative facts and remembers our lost ancestors:
The story of America has been a persistent lie of individual courage and strength, ingenuity and faith. We remember the arrival, the conquest, but we do not remember the conquered, the used, the bodies whose labor built so much of this nation. (2016, p. 100)
Through our collective faith works to support individuals and communities of color as they address fears, and as we create conditions to help them thrive, I hope the stories scholars preserve and share will inspire the next generation to seek out life beyond fear, even in these fearful times. This is sacred work.
Dr. Patrick B. Reyes is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Doctoral Initiatives at the Forum for Theological Exploration, a leadership incubator for the future leaders of the church and the academy. He is author of the book Nobody Cries When We Die (Chalice, 2016).
 Since 1999, 362 doctoral fellows of color have been in one way or another asking critical questions of our texts and histories to address the pain and suffering of the day, carrying forward the work of FTE Fellows who in the 1960s were working for civil rights through their scholarship.