In light of the tragic deaths and lack of justice for Mike Brown, Aiyanna Jones, Eric Garner, Yvette Smith and many others within my community at the hands of what I consider to be a convoluted legal system, I felt the need to express my concerns and cries in a meaningful and impactful way. These concerns were more than just cries for justice, but cries as a clarion call for restorative justice of a community, a people, and a family that has suffered in silence at the hands of legislation and protocols which tend to marginalize and oppress an entire community. These concerns and cries were released into non-violent acts of social change that culminated on December 4, 2014 at 11:30 a.m. in Cannon Chapel.

Along with a host of colleagues, in the middle of a worship service, I stood in solidarity and recalled the names of those young men and women who were killed by law enforcement and subsequently not afforded “their day” in court. Before the conclusion of worship I, along with countless others, left Cannon Chapel to lie prostrate in Rudolph Courtyard for a “die-in,” to communicate to faculty, staff, and students alike that black lives matter too. While I understand some may not agree or appreciate my view on the issue of legal force in our society, I am appreciative and commend Candler for providing the space that will teach, encourage, and allow its students to exercise a sense of civil disobedience.

Candler School of Theology prides itself on being a real prophetic witness to the social ills of our society and world. Many would say that Candler, at its foundation, desires that everyone who enters the doors of the school find their personal prophetic voice and critique. I believe on that damp day in December I became closer to claiming my own voice on issues that matter to me. I am learning what it means to exercise my social and academic muscles together. I’m learning how to inhale the ills and social plights of my community and exhale prophetic and nonviolent strategies for social change. I’m learning to inhale the knowledge and exhale the ideals and moral leadership for this next generation.

This Candler experience has also helped me grapple with the significance of community. To effect any change positively, one must have a coordinated effort that is extensive and extended. During the protest I felt like I could breathe because I was not feeling this pain and grief by myself. There was a community of faculty and staff that shared in this extraordinary moment with the students. While not everyone may have agreed with my theology or tactics for social change, I feel confident in saying there was a sense of respect amongst most of the Candler community. Candler School of Theology has allowed many of its students to be comfortable in who they are called to be and, through academia, has sharpen that calling; it have given us a space to breathe.

As the semester comes to a close and the sun begins to set on my Candler journey, not only have I learned to breathe in the space that I am currently in, but I am learning how to make spaces to breathe so that my voice may be heard in the future. It is only through the adequate amount of air in one’s lungs and the use of one’s diaphragm that one’s voice can be maximized. This unfortunate experience has helped to shape my social activist voice and what it means for me to be a moral agent. If standing up in chapel or lying on the ground in the courtyard with tears streaming down my face has taught me anything, it is that everyone’s voice matters. Regardless of skin color, class, gender, or religion, everyone has the right to be heard.  Candler has helped to create a space for me to breathe and find my voice and I believe it is my calling to make sure I create a space for those in my community to find theirs; a space to breathe hope, love, and inspiration. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know I am called to help those whose airways have been blocked by a system that has yet to see their value. Because of the work done in this theological incubator, my prayer is: Lord, breathe into me as I in return breathe life and possibility into your creation.  

Thanks to those who organized the interruptions/ die-in and to Matthew Jenkins13T for helping me debrief this experience.

Photos by Candler faculty and students.