This year I had the amazing opportunity to be the keynote speaker for my city's official Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. The annual event was in a beautiful historic hall full of an assembly of hundreds of diverse people. I spent months working on the speech, and I'm honestly very pleased with how it went over (full video below). While I did work on the speech for months, I must admit that there was something else that troubled me as I prepared to deliver the address- WHAT TO WEAR!?!?!?!?!
Admittedly, attire is one of the first things that I try to figure out before I prepare for a presentation/speech/event. It is not a shallow consideration, but in this line of work I understand the importance of image and that what I wear is part of my presentation. I have a very bold, energetic, and direct style of delivery, so my attire must also support these truths. Every photo that is snapped and shared on social media, as well as the impression that people feel/get when they meet me sends a message and I want that message to be accurate. To that end, on MLK Day I wanted to make a bold move and wear something that would be completely different than what people were expecting and so I designed my own fabric!
Since junior high school I have designed all kinds of stuff from my 8th grade graduation invitations, and my grand parents 40th anniversary invites, to posters for clients advertising their new service/business and church t-shirts and banners. I have been designing stuff for so long that I remember when it was called desktop publishing (now- it's graphic design) lol. Designing the fabric was different because I would be wearing it on stage in front of 1,000 plus people as well as on the news and in newspapers thereafter. I thought that I wanted it to look muted so I pulled 10 mostly black and white MLK photos that meant something to me and arranged them in a square that I had a fabric printing company repeat on cotton fabric. Of the 10 photos that I used most of them were black and white, but I used a couple with red to just add a little interest. What I didn't think was how bold it would look once that square graphic was repeated over and over and over again in a long sleeve button up shirt with a collar. JulianCreates did an amazing job tailoring the shirt from the fabric; however, in the final product the little bit of red was actually very bold- BUT I love it! On the day of the event I wore the shirt sans a tie and under a grey suit. Because of the suit, most people just thought I was wearing an abstract graphic shirt, but once you were close to me you could see iconic photographs of Dr. King and Coretta.
The shirt was a smashing success! I've only warn it twice but I was complemented repeatedly when I did. I did have someone on social media tell me "no, don't like it! Too much going on!" After reading that I politely informed her that I wasn't taking a survey lol. People on social media drive me crazy thinking that they can just critique and criticize everything and everyone- even complete strangers! I mean you wouldn't walk up to a stranger and say, "nope, don't like your shirt! Too much going on!" Sadly, people feel they have a right to do that online tho- UGH! But I digress...
I love my shirt! It is the most expensive shirt I own. I think the fabric cost me $150 and the tailor charged another $150 to create it. All in all, it was totally worth it and I cant wait to design more stuff!
I recently had the amazing opportunity to sit on a panel with four distinguished professionals to discuss intersectionality at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I am very blessed to be able to travel throughout the country to share my thoughts and experiences on a variety of topics (race & social justice, ministry, LGBTQ issues, liberation theology, and the like). Whenever I am invited to speak or preach I am surprised and humbled that anyone cares to hear what I have to say, AND that they are willing to pay me to say LOL. Today as I drove up to the Freedom Center to attend the reception before the discussion, I saw my photo, along with the photos of the other panelists, glowing on a large sign on the sign of the building. Seeing my mug illuminating the the front of that beautiful national museum blew my mind. I just could not help but think about how far I have come in life.
This year the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrates its 15th year in existence. I remember when it opened. I remember traveling the 100 miles from Louisville to Cincinnati with people from my church to visit the museum for the first time. Since then I've been there half a dozen times for receptions, fundraisers, presentations, and exhibits, and even one speaking opportunity. After all of my visits to the Freedom Center seeing my big 'O head brilliantly depicted in lights across the front entrance of the building I couldn't help but stare.
I am just amazed at how God continues to use me. When I was a child I was painfully shy- I rarely even talked to people in my own family. I was nervous and often had no idea what to say when people chatted with me. Eventually through my upbringing at Young's Chapel AME Church of Louisville, KY (now defunct) I developed my public speaking skills and helped me to discover and strengthen my heart and mind for history. race, and social justice. While in undergrad I accepted my "calling" to preach and for the last sixteen years I have preached/delivered countless sermons/presentations. The first church that I served as pastor was 286 miles away from my house, had a salary of $80 week, only met once each month, and only had two members. Since then I have preached five night revivals to congregations of less than 15 people and earned less than $100 for the five nights of preaching. A few years after I started preaching I was traveling to deliver a sermon just a few hours away and my car died halfway there so I was half an hour late and had to ride back in a tow truck. Once I recall heading three hours down the highway to talk to a conference of young people and the transmission went out in my car on the scariest stretch of highway with almost no space between the cars zooming by and the guardrail keeping me from plunging into peril. To go from such humble and struggling beginnings to speaking to thousands at any given time in any given city on college campuses or hotel ballrooms across the country is just amazing. Lord knows I am not famous, or rich, or without struggle but I am grateful that God is using my life and my voice to educate, inform, and inspire positive change in world. Seeing my mug on the front of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center not only humbled and blessed me, it also reminded me that I need to keep working, keep moving, keep working to create, influence, and encourage positive change in the world.