I can’t say when it happened exactly – that proverbial snap of the finger that informs you that…
This is it, this is what you are supposed to do and it is incumbent on you to start on that path and remain true to the task at hand, pushing past the obstacles that would serve to dissuade you from heeding the call that…
God doesn’t have to shout when whispering is enough.
I’ve had a number of ethereal inclinations before, but I always proved adept at escaping from the range of their siren song, but the realization that you can’t run forever is a spirit that I’ve wrestled mightily against, only to be placed firmly on my backside time and again.
And – I’m tired of running…
Eating a diet of cowardice and fear offers nothing but a hollow illusion of solace and I have finally grown weary of its bitter fruit.
To quote my Grandmother: “For what?”
Earlier this month I found myself wrestling with the entity of insomnia, so I headed to my desk, opened my laptop and started searching away on my Ancestry.com account. Over the course of the past 18 months or so, I have successfully traced the maternal line of my family back to the early parts of the 18th century which will culminate in a collective of over 300 family members convening later this year in the largest scale family reunion in our history.
My genealogy effort started innocently enough, being infused by the force of oral histories that I procured over the years from discussions with my Grandmother, Aunts and Uncles was part and parcel of a family history that has always supplied me with an intense sense of pride.
As I combed through the hints on my tree I came face to with an ancestor, my 3rd Great Aunt Fannie Austin-Morris who was married to the Rev. Elias Camp Morris.
Elias C. Morris and family, ca. 1900. Back row, left to right: Elias A. and Frederick Douglass. Front row, left to right: Mattie E., Rev. E.C. Morris, Sadie Hope, John Spurgeon and my 3rd great Aunt, Fannie Ella Austin Morris. (Photo credit courtesy of: http://www.arkansasties.com/)
My Uncle Elias was a consequential person in his own right with many historians likening him as the precursor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At the turn of the 20th century he was as recognized as one of the most progressive African-American ministers in the country, serving as the 1st President of the National Baptist Convention and a co-founder of the Helena (Arkansas) Business League.
As humbled as I was to have found a host of information about the influence that he wielded on a national scale. Seeing the church he founded, the Centennial Baptist Church, recognized as a National Historic Landmark filled me with an even greater sense of pride.
This pride was tempered by the reality faced by Centennial Baptist Church today, as it stands on the cusp of being lost to history. I came across a 2009 article written in the Smithsonian Magazine about the role that my Uncle Elias played in history and the church that he pastored for over 40 years being, endangered.
If that wasn’t enough I then came across a report that National Public Radio did in 2014 that expanded on challenges faced by the church and it brought me to the point of tears – as I thought about the cold reality of people being more inclined to empower themselves with the trivial (Reality TV, the cult of celebrity and etc) than in cloaking themselves with substance.
I took the liberty in reaching out to Phyllis Hammonds, the Executive Director of the E.C Morris Foundation, which owns the church. Ms. Hammonds and I spoke for 45 minutes and I was left mesmerized by her selfless dedication to the preservation of the church, its history and keeping it in the hands of the community that facilitated its growth.
She described the challenges that the Foundation faces as “a climate that is politically charged” and this being the culprit behind the delays in moving forward.
I won’t bore you with confines of our conversation, but we agreed to stay in touch as the Foundation will be starting a new push in 2016 that will feature greater community involvement.
Being able to bear witness to the shoulders that I stand on has been a narrative that has inspired me to make an even more concerted push to be worthy of the sacrifices they were made on my behalf.
Not aspiring to be worthy is nothing short of sinful and I owe the shoulders that I stand on so much more than complacency.
I will not let them down.
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