Dear Corey (An Open Letter to My Former Self)

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Dear Former Self,

Your non-threatening demeanor and disposition created great opportunities for you in White Evangelical churches. They loved that you could sing and play guitar with just enough soul to give them credit for hiring a POC, but not so much that it was uncomfortable for the majority white audience that sat in the seats. You learned so much as a man and a leader because of the spaces you led in.

When you worked at churches, you and the white folks that hired you, celebrated what it meant to have a black man leading within the church. You thought that the optics were important. After all, diversity is the buzzword of the modern church. They all knew that black skin added value to the church daily requiring zero effort. You are black, and every day you went to work, you were doing a huge part of your job. Up top! That’s a hustle! It opened the door for you to work for churches and provide a decent living for the family. You did what you had to do.

Everything was great! You laughed at the same cliche black jokes. “You’re the token black.” “We figured you’d be late.” “Is that your girl’s real hair?” All cannon fodder for humor that the white folks and you thought would help you relate to each other. You even initiated some of the fun to try and amuse your colleagues with your wit and self-deprecation. You kind of thought you were subtly reinforcing the authentic biases that lied beneath the surface of that humor, but also thought they were just jokes. You thought laughing and making those jokes helped you fit in, and for some of them, I agreed. For others, I believed you were complicit in the defamation of our blackness. I felt like our ancestors were somehow disrespected, but you never wanted to think about that too much. You didn’t feel like we could object without becoming a problem for our white partners in ministry. I wasn’t sure, but I went along with the plan. However, humor wasn’t the only area where you didn’t feel we could object.

I remember how many times they used you to do their dirty work. You were asked to have tough conversations with black volunteers or board members about things the white leaders you worked for were too scared to talk about themselves. You found a way to justify their neocolonialism and jumped into a fight that didn’t belong to you to keep your job. Once I started to come alive, I felt uneasy with a lot of what was said and done, but you never wanted anyone to know I was at work with you. You felt like I was the angry side that no one needed to see. How about the time the pastor snapped at you in a room full of people with a tone only your mom and dad had used towards you? I was ready to educate him, but you held me back. You tried to convince me that there was a greater good in being quiet. You felt like you needed to keep a good relationship with the white men who lead you. You believed that your black skin with a leaders salary and title was a giant step for them, and neither of us wanted to put the wife and kids in jeopardy. As examples of racism in culture became more vivid, I could no longer hold my peace, but you still had a job. We agreed I’d be quiet work as long as I got to speak my mind in public through social media and other public forums.

I think we both recognized that what happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castille was heartbreaking. I don’t remember which one of us wept most about what happened, but I do remember it was becoming harder and harder to not see privilege, systemic racism, and bias all around us. But, again, we still had to feed the family. It was emotionally taxing for both of us to suppress feelings of anxiety, anger, disappointment, and frustration for fear of playing the “black card.” Maybe that anxiety is why it was so important that I find an outlet for my truth.

I started to speak up about injustice. I used #blacklivesmatter on social media. Then I realized just how many people had never met me before. How many “I didn’t know you were so black” comments did you get? You laughed. I snarled. You didn’t want to be labeled, miss out on opportunities, or lose your job. I wanted to tell the truth, and I was growing more and more dissatisfied with holding my tongue in the face of systemic racist structures.  You believed there was no place for a “pro-black” message within the gospel. I wasn’t sure either. After all, neither of us had heard very many sermons about racial justice. We had only heard that we are all one race, and encouraged not to see color.

Even in the absence of theology, I felt I had to speak up. Eventually, we found common ground in theology, and everything changed.

You were no longer the godly version and I the angry black version. We found that the New Testament is full of language that encourages diversity and unity. Jesus and Paul both warned about supremacy. Injustice has always been something God opposes, and it’s always been an evil that humans shouldn’t tolerate. Justice is not a curse word, but a word that can just as easily be substituted for righteousness.  In our theological wrestling, we found our voice. The duplicity we thought we needed to keep the peace is now a burden to us. It was cumbersome to try and be two different people. You had to learn to accept me and trust that I wasn’t an evil to despise, but truth to embrace. The world needed me to speak out about injustices as much as it needed you to sing Well Done.

I wish I could tell you that you were wrong about the white folks you were afraid would reject you if they ever met me. You weren’t. Many of those people you were worried about have bailed. You have lost some friends, and some people who once seemed to be fond of you don’t reach out anymore, but life is lived better from a sense of genuine self than from a safe place of oppressed apprehension.

I use my voice freely now.  I write about justice, faith, and culture, and I bear witness to the black experience. I’m contending for a better world, and there are quite a few white leaders who have embraced the message and me. There is opposition and people mislabeling this gospel as political rhetoric, but I live in the peace that comes from knowing that God is with me.

 

Comments(16)

  • Chris
    February 13, 2019, 1:32 pm  Reply

    🙏 i do miss you brother, and seeing eye to eye is hard because our color difference, and your way taller than me😳 i do wish good things for you and your girls you were all a blessing to cornerstone. Keep up the good fight of faith in jesus names

  • SUmer
    February 13, 2019, 2:03 pm  Reply

    Corey this is so beautifully written & breaks my heart that so many experience exactly what you wrote about. I’m so glad that you are willing to step out and shine a light. Love your courage & strength.

  • Josiah
    February 13, 2019, 3:02 pm  Reply

    That was moving and I could tell it was deeply personal. Thank you for speaking up and speaking out for justice. I am curious though. You mention always hearing we are one race. Do you believe that or do you separate people based on skin color or other characteristics?

  • February 13, 2019, 3:55 pm  Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story! I respect your courage and your truth has enlightened me in my own spiritual journey many times! Keep speaking what God tells you to say! This world needs your voice!

  • Chris
    February 13, 2019, 5:34 pm  Reply

    I think racism is on both sides.A white person in a black church may feel the same way. We have to be citizens of heaven first before we are black or white or brown as I am. Jesus was born a Middle Eastern yet He loved the gentiles same as He loved His own. He said, “If you greet only your brothers what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” This applies to all of us. Peace!

  • Scott
    February 13, 2019, 8:27 pm  Reply

    My favorite part about our relationship corey is that I can disagree with you and still respect you. I wish more people understood the truth that it’s not devaluing to anyone to disagree with them but you show value by how you do so. I believe that at your core you are pure in heart and have a true desire to see people come together. You are a great father and husband and I’m faster than you.

  • Laurel
    February 13, 2019, 10:20 pm  Reply

    For your honesty, authenticity, and wisdom, thank you. I needed to read your words, to hear your voice, to take my part.

  • February 14, 2019, 1:14 am  Reply

    Thanks Corey- He is coming soon to restore justice

    Isaiah 51:5-6
    [5] My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. [6] Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever

  • February 14, 2019, 3:07 am  Reply

    Everything about this is bravery, could not be more proud to know you. Thank you for using your words to empower, uplift, and speak the name of Jesus in the tightrope that is Grace and Truth.

  • Lynn
    February 14, 2019, 7:36 pm  Reply

    Hi. I’m sorry. I hope I wasn’t in that awful category you wrote about. I hope you know how much you’re missed. Every day. I liked both of you, btw. Still do.

  • Tim Hill
    February 15, 2019, 10:11 am  Reply

    Very well written. Keep up the good fight! Stay woke!

  • T Floyd
    February 15, 2019, 12:37 pm  Reply

    Appreciate your transparency and the courage it took to share. This letter is ministering to our black and brown brothas and sistas who are in similar spaces. #Woke

  • Amy Lewis
    February 15, 2019, 1:51 pm  Reply

    😭No words except God’s word comes to mind. I hope and pray for God to heal your soul. Gal.3:26-29 and Colo. 3:5-17.

  • Angela Jackson
    February 16, 2019, 8:47 pm  Reply

    This is everything.🖤

  • Mark Mckoy
    February 18, 2019, 8:05 am  Reply

    life is lived better from a sense of genuine self than from a safe place of oppressed apprehension.

    Once again amazing. Thank you for being the role model.

  • Susan TiLlman
    July 2, 2019, 5:25 pm  Reply

    Ok so I am a few month late…Ya can’t really blame a sista who was off social media for quite some time to get into the Bible and really study it once I too was “Woke”. I am so glad you see clearly and understand differently than what we all were taught see…Congrats.

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