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.