Today, a major brand, one that gave us one of the most popular commercial jingles of my lifetime, gave me hope that the dismantling of patriarchy is fully underway. Gillette’s latest commercial is modern day PSA greatness. As I watched, I cried at the thought that I might see real relief from the violence, oppression and terror that results from patriarchy in my lifetime. I know, I know – dreaming big here. But please keep reading.
I really hate clichés. I mean, water is wet, right? Many folks do; especially those that seem to justify not really doing what’s necessary to transform a situation we find problematic. Whenever some political or social crisis rises to public attention, overwhelms us emotionally, and boggles our mind the most common cliché we speak, hear, and are coming to detest is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with…” [fill in the family, survivor, community, et cetera].
As an advocate and community leader, the mantra for “policy and change” became one of my favorite responses in a few years ago in response to continued mass gun violence. I am aware of so much of the transformation our neighborhoods and cities need to experience. I’ve been a part of the professional work of community and political change for more than 20 years. The need for change runs deep and wide. Even some of the most privileged children and families in our country find themselves unsafe, neglected and abused in their homes, schools and neighborhoods because the policies of our country leave women, children, poor and non-white folks vulnerable.
A consequence of my work was battling cynicism and depression. It didn’t surprise my therapist or close friends that five years ago when I found out I was pregnant, though newly married and at the top of my career, I was devastated. The world wasn’t in good shape; we hadn’t done enough work yet.
A few months later when we found out the baby was a boy, the anxiety that set in was palpable. Despite the best families, upbringings and opportunities so many boys and men held beliefs and made choices that lead to bullying, rape culture, misogyny and toxic masculinity. Add to that the fact that our son would be a black boy and then a black man in this world. Whew! As much work as I’d done in my life to change the world, I was fully aware of the need to transform the hearts and minds of folks for real social change and true racial, gender and economic equity to be the way of the world.
After a few days of dramatics, I realized my anxiety wasn’t healthy for me or for my unborn child. So I left my job as university faculty and administrator and ran for political office, just as my second trimester got underway. I narrowly missed being successful in a very crowded race. I came to realize that the solution was not to do MORE community and local work than I was already doing. That was nearly physically impossible as the baby would be here soon. I needed to add something supernatural to the recipe. So I began to pray for clarity.
Thoughts and prayers alone will not bring about cultural and political change. Yet it is definitely my belief that to do the work of justice and equity without God in the equation is to live on the proverbial hamster wheel that goes nowhere. In the final weeks of my pregnancy I began to write. What came from that time of reflection and preparation was a book of prose and prayers. These thoughts and prayers were informed by what I knew was at the core of healing brokenness — both the brokenness that leads to inequity and the brokenness that results from it.
At the time that For Our Boys: A Mother’s Prayers was published very few powerful and public people and organizations were talking about toxic masculinity and its consequences for our culture and society. Along with the continued work of advocates, activists, and the bravery of survivors of abuse, rape, bullying, harassment, stalking, and hate crimes, the thoughts and prayers in For Our Boys has led to some very public and palpable cultural change. Including this new ad campaign released by Gillette. This change would have been inconceivable five years ago.
Activism and advocacy do work, especially when paired with the power of our thoughts and prayers. This is partially true because when we put them together we have the hope to sustain our work for as long as it takes. Yet it’s also true because the seeds of our activism and advocacy can only change hearts through the power of the Creator that shaped and set those hearts in each of us.