On January 27, 2023 at 9am Central Standard Time I heard the doctor say, “Your mother has dementia.” She went on to say that my mother’s form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. I must be honest; I learned the latter during my reflection. All I heard in the moment was that my mother had dementia. I knew that diagnosis. It was that same diagnosis that was at the root of us losing her mother ten months earlier. With this known unknown in mind, I attempted to continue moving forward with life and work. I failed miserably. At the time of hearing her diagnosis, I was sitting in a hotel room in Montgomery, AL attending a very important funders retreat. I knew that I was in trouble when I was in the company of Bryan Stevenson of Equal Justice Initiative, and I could only think of my mother. My life was in a tailspin. I tried to hold on but I was losing all grip on normal. Life was “lifing (sic)” and it was out of my control. As an introvert, I needed isolation to heal and recover. I withdrew. I removed my voice and presence as best I could. The cares of life evoked my silence.
Meanwhile, the world is on fire! My voice has been silent, not my lens. While I felt a need to isolate my voice and presence, I remained engaged through my camera lens. Spring through summer of 2023, the People’s Justice Council did a tour of the Gulf South states. We partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida, Gulf Coast Creation Care, Alabama Interfaith Power and Light, Mississippi Rising Coalition, Green the Church Louisiana, and Texas Impact to work with communities to develop resiliency and restoration plans for their communities and states. I cannot wait until we finish developing and releasing the documentary. I pray that it will be informative and inspiring. During our visits, we spent time with The Vessel Project Louisiana and The Smile Trust. We experienced communities that deal with some rough conditions. We spent time with heroes of their communities who are meeting these rough conditions head on. They provide solutions that are tangible, effective, and beneficial.
The thing that I came to realize during our tour was that the answer to our climate crisis is community. If we are going to survive this crisis, we must learn to be a community. This is not a new notion. People like Lawanna, Roishetta, and Valencia have figured out how to operate as a community. Jesus understood this. This is the lesson of the feeding of the multitude. This is the lesson that Jesus gives the disciples as he commissioned them to be amongst the community. This is the lesson that we too must learn. When we are a community, we see one another. When we are a community, we feel one another. When we are a community, what happens to you, happens to us.
When I use the term community, I speak of the beloved community. It was a community that held and helped me when my world was shattered. It was a community that spoke life to me when all I could see was sickness and death. It was the community that resourced my service in ministry as I learned more about the thing that I was passionate about. I engaged in the fight for environmental justice because of my call to serve the community. I remain engaged in the fight for liberation because of my love for my community.
The Unbuntu understand humanity to mean, “I am because we are.” This is the understanding of the beloved community. It is an understanding that speaks to us as a collective. It denotes that my survival and being is shaped in the narrative of my neighbor. How I live in humanity dictates my life and legacy. Embracing this understanding of how we interact in society is our cure for everything. Our embrace of individualism destroys it all.
Individualism ignores the happenings in Gaza and the Congo; it allows us to choose sides instead of truth and feelings over facts. Individualism manipulates us into tribalism to the detriment of democracy. It robs us of our voice to speak out against Cop Cities and believe a narrative that we can lock away our problems instead of dealing with the poverty that causes them. It pollutes, degrades, and destroys our communities while blaming us and forcing us to pay for the polluting, degrading and destructive facilities that are the source of this toxic cycle. It convinces you that your utilities and health are an option instead of a right.
As I sat in reflection, I realized that I allowed my isolation to slip into individualism. I have been silent too long. I need to use my voice and presence to explain to you what my lens saw. I need to tell you what motivated me to take the shot, grab the still, and record the sound. Welcome to my first series called, “Silent No More.”
Pictures in this series “Silent No More” were supported by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and medicine under award number 200013216. This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Gulf Research Program or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.