If you were disturbed by the murder of George Floyd and you are beginning to see America and the insidious nature of systemic racism with new eyes, you are probably pondering what action you can take. You may be wondering where you go from here. This morning I found my answer to that question. Perhaps it might be a message relevant to you as well.
Today, I received a text from my mentor. It was a link to a sermon by Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, a prominent Black theologian and preacher. In it, Taylor briefly tells the story of Ezekiel and his call to action.
“Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.”—Ezekiel 3:15 (King James Version)
I sat where they sat. Please reflect on these words as I did and continue to do.
Ezekiel’s action offers a blueprint for those of you who are wondering where you go from here. Find the “other” and those in exile and sit with them. Form new relationships with new people. Period.
That is the message to all of us, and that is the message I wish we had a president who was capable of giving us when he stood outside of St. John’s Church with the Bible held high in the air. Ezekiel’s actions explain why I wanted to see discomfort in the eyes and heart of Robert O’Brien, the gentleman standing next to Trump in that photoshoot (See: Revealing Habits). I hoped someone in that group might have been able to metaphorically “see” the people they had just tear gassed. In an attempt to reclaim the battle space, Trump and his entourage used the church and the Bible as props to dominate the moment—and the protestors. But his call to action missed the mark and the moment.
Don’t let that happen to you as you struggle to decide where you go from here.
In his sermon, Dr. Taylor speaks eloquently about the purpose of preaching. “You and I are part of the guilt and shame we were sent to address,” he says, “and therefore there cannot be any separation of us from that.” Also, Dr. Taylor goes on to say, “It is not a change of Gospel. It is a change of the framing of the language in terms of the time and place in which it is uttered. It is very sad that sometimes we are not in touch with our times. A preacher ought to be timely and timeless.”
You and I are the consequences of the inaction of our predecessors. Some of us, however, have been exiled for 400 years—physically, socially, and politically. Slavery, segregation, and voter suppression are the manifestations of that exile.
Ezekiel models where you can go from here. Sit with those who have been fighting their exile and, together, we can reframe the language embedded in our American experiment. Don’t let the inaction of those who came before you convince you otherwise. If you’re standing on the other side of the gate from the exiled, you can always open the gate.
About the author: Dr. A.J. Robinson is the founder and CEO of Symphonic Strategies, a firm that specializes in collective action, leadership development, and systems change. He’s a strategist, teacher, and activist for policies and practices that elevate. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for Excellence in Public Leadership at the George Washington University and is an adjunct faculty member at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.