reflections: no justice, no peace

lodged in between two worlds. one i have seen with regularity & the other is beyond this pale of current affairs. these worlds sit opposite one another. they frequent the same spaces i find myself, but they never come together. i find myself to be painfully blissful to never have noticed their preeminence until now or notice how much is at stake in coming to terms with what they are. what’s even more remarkable to me, is how long i’ve been pulled back & forth by these worlds. i’ve been asked to choose & no longer masquerade in between & i am also realizing that, choice between the two is given to us all.

on one hand, i have been witness to this world of peace seeking. peace offerings seek to smooth the divide & move past it. peace is where a lot of us want to be – with ourselves & with others in the world. to be at peace is to have seemingly quieted a fierce, unceasing storm. i suppose what really entices me to be peace oriented, is the messaging behind its ambition. we’re told that peace is loving, kind & calm. i certainly aspire to be all three & so, i almost naturally fall into its bosom, because it feels warm & inviting to me.

on the other, there’s the world of justice. justice is thorough & meticulous. it requires a lot of effort to be just, because it leaves no stone unturned. on the surface, justice sounds more rigid than peace & more times than not, it is. justice seeks to identify the issue & where things are said to belong; it then launches investigation on the divide & aims to rectify the matter. i identify with the endgame of justice, but also take stock of the work & the feathers that will be potential ruffled in the process of seeking justice.

peace is ideal, but when peace is offered in a shallow attempt to mend what’s broken, justice is circumvented. i love harmony & hope we find it one day, but, in this time & place, there’s work to be done to achieve it in full, without question. therefore, to call for peace, before or without earnestly seeking justice first, is to thoroughly turn a blind eye to the levity of struggle & even worse, is to passively strike a violent blow upon millions of already marginalized bodies.

in this year i have come to see this as absolute truth. the democracy of south africa is a young & developing 22 years of age. one could drive around one of the country’s beloved cities, travel a relatively short distance & see literal & symbolic images of a country still rebounding from an ugly history. the state-sanctioned segregation of apartheid is no longer legal. however, though some of the essential freedoms, such as: the right to vote, the right to take up residence in one of the beloved major cities & the ability to be gainfully employed anywhere are now available to non-white citizens of this country, it is readily apparent to anyone who spends time here that there’s much left to be done.

in the rural village that i call home, demoralizing poverty, lack of accessible quality education & healthcare, joblessness, and disease still plague the communal body. what’s more, is in the communities such as the one i call home, the experience of these collective traumas have seemingly left lives in bleaker conditions than in times of the apartheid era. there’s work to be done, not only in terms of building sustainable living for all, but also in building equitable opportunity that is sustainable. this work will be long & rigorous – this work must be lead & sustained through an earnest effort to create a society based around justice seeking.

of course, based on what’s at stake, there are those who will continue to call for peacefulness. this stems from the subconscious realization that, if justice prevails, what results is loss of not only the profits of privilege, but also loss of an identity centered around the subjugation of bodies. prioritizing peace benefits the privileged, because, peace, in this context is to ignore one’s culpability & place the hones on the oppressed to forgive & move on. not only is this problematic because of lacking accountability, but also, because in the long run, nothing has changed.

it must also be said that many well-meaning folks prioritize peace-building over justice-seeking, even through a proclaimed desire to work for change. this comes from a short-sided view of the divide that looks at it as only an interpersonal matter. let’s be clear – the attitudes & deep-seeded beliefs of oppressors are indeed what have laid foundation for this plunder, but, there’s carnage that must be accounted for. the interpersonal is only a pillar of the design. the systemic, organizational & institutional pillars have long been the fruits of the labor interpersonal hate has harvested. to neglect this is to be a passive part of the divide.

if we’re really about liberation, this whole thing needs to be uprooted – there’s no two ways about it. justice is needed & long overdue.

interlude iv: june newsletter – moonlit hours

loved one,

there’s something so sacred about the moon as it rests above us. its great pull, the way it guides the waters that have the capacity to rage wildly. the subtle nature, the way it shades itself for days & in its own cycle, fully reveals to remind all of the great wonder. this great beauty it holds from a distance pales in comparison to the accounts of its beauty by those granted a chance to explore it near. a land that lacks gravity, with craters & potentially undiscovered life.

that land is vast & incomprehensible to me – so the same with this pending transition back home to the united states.

loved ones, i write to you in the night fall of my time here in south africa – month eight of ten, to be specific.

i don’t write you with any new discoveries. instead, i come before you shrouded in mystery, with a burden of anticipation. i am coming home to you with many stories that i am excited to share, but in this time i feel it necessary to just to sit in awe of the view before me.

my eyes have witnessed many things in this time – sights of love & trauma. they’ve all converged together to make a year away from you that has been full. of course, with the anticipation of returning home to you, there’s also a great sense of loss that has overtaken my being. i am leaving not only sacred land, but a sacred people conjoined as one body, with a sacred story that i will cherish until my dying day.

i get chocked up when i think about life without this body of people. this context has become a daily reality for me. the way of living i’ve come into, though familiar in some ways, has shaped me in new form. a part of me selfishly hopes i’ve done some shaping work also in these relationships.

this darkness hums over me, but do not confuse this darkness for some sort of negative agent. i’ve had to fight a battle within myself over the last month, refusing to let the sentimental way of being that has taken over me, snatch me away from the present – it can’t, though it’s capable of doing so. because the moon above me is guiding me as i be, as assigned by the divine creator.

i am carried in strength by all phases of our moon in this evening hour. from dusk to the approaching dawn of my return home. what i love most about the evening hours, is the space it gives me to create from an introspective angle following the buzz of the daytime. & this has indeed been a time of reflection of all that’s been before me to witness.

what i’ve created in this time of silence is words of gratitude – to you & to this community. in our morning devotions before work, we’ve been focusing on the forming church following the ascension of jesus christ. the themes that sing aloud for me are the acts of not only the apostles, but of the larger community. i think this theme continues on throughout the epistles. each and every single person contributes to the mission.

each & every one of you have been guiding me with gentle whispers as i’ve walked this path of service. i send gratitude & thanks again, because you’ve guided me to new things.

so, as i sit in this moonlit hour reflecting on all that has been, with eyes slowly but surely welling up for a great release of tears, that i hope i’ve made you proud.
i’ve accomplished dreams here – of ancestors, alive or perished & of my own flesh. it still boggles my mind how i made it through this entire year, not merely surviving, but thriving with love & a story to tell.

i sit on this patio, where the wind whips across my face & the stars illuminate the scene around me, with a grin. this moon above me is the same where you are & the sky is as beautiful where you sit & in this, we’re connected. i wonder what has been of your life since we’ve last spoke, if ever. i wish you love & the full experience of life alongside it.

with love & peace,


to be free;
what then,
would then my limbs give way to?
a dance, song, or some other rhythm?

what really,
are the possibilities
afforded to me?

would i saunter,

or would i run,
no longer subjugated?

would the world finally resolve,
or would the sum of it all be inconclusive?

we’ve all been reduced,
we’ve all known pain –
some more than others,
but what could we really be,
if on even plain?

would we be
birds of the air,
or would continue to toil,

the labor is rigorous,
but is what we reap,
the thing?

reflections: freedom day

YAGM in Southern Africa

On April 27th, South Africa celebrated Freedom Day. YAGM-SA participant Ryan wrote the following reflection, shared with permission:

today, april 27th, south africa celebrates freedom day. this day commemorates the first truly democratic election in 1994, in which all citizens of this country were permitted to vote. this moment was achieved through the anti-apartheid movement, spearheaded by numerous sectors of the marginalized community here, most notably, the african national congress (anc). on may 10th, nelson mandela was officially inaugurated as president of the newly free south africa, after a resounding victory that made waves worldwide.

this day carries a lot of weight for me, because of the opportunity i’ve had this year to get down with amazing people in conversation about what it meant to go out & vote, casting their support for nelson. though, many have argued that the anc of that time is not represented in this…

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i see you in lakes

if only you were face to face with me at this very moment.
we’re distant bodies counting scars.

i love you
& i want you to love me just a much
i saw your beating heart
& i treasured it.

we were by the lake
& i just wanted to hold you through the waves.

whenever we’re
eye to eye,
there’s something so sweet i find in you.

the tides bring rest to you
& all the while,
i find myself
tossed & turned by you –

to be disembodied.

i’m weary,
i’ve never wanted serendipity to slip away from us.

but fear
came & grabbed my convinced limbs.
i wanted you to grab me,
when you saw me waywardly.

perhaps you were more concerned
with figuring out what your touch
could do for you.
i cannot blame you
for the exploration –
life is short & love is fleeting.

i stand here alone with a stubborn spirit & tangible loss –
what is it to be disembodied?

in feeling removed from you,
i feel removed
from a vital part of myself.
the numbness has
left me wholly removed
from my own humanity –
i only feel sickly.

i miss your skin,
what it was like
to see,
savor & perhaps
touch your precious skin.

drunken babbler prayer

here i am,
drunken babbler,
with a prayer –
i want love to come over me in this life i live.
i never intended to do no harm or hurt nobody,

i’m shackled to regret
& it’s been months
i been sittin’ here depressed.
feelin’ as hollow
as a empty jug container –
fill me up lord.

i’m tired & temperamental now.

i just want a swig of that hope you been passin’
’round here,

i see smilin’ faces right ’round me
& this bottle of hennessy ain’t did nothin’
to help me get what they done got –

i’m just dizzy drownin’ in the doubts.

just give me a chance to be yours,
good lord.
promise i’s take all the right steps towards you,
if you guide me.

see, once i lay this here bottle down,
i lay my life down wit’it.
i’m jus askin for rest,
sweet lord – i don’t wanna be weary no more.

& as you raise up,
bring me with ya.

i wanna take wings
up one of them angels up there
& fly away from here.



in loving memory

roses are red, murder is crimson.
so, when i lose this life,
bury me with a dozen.
show me you love me,
just this once.
place them delicately over my heart,
so i know it’s real.

for all these years, i lived in your cages.
shackled by your vices.
but that wasn’t enough – you needed the visual,
so you knew it was real.
four walls surrounded me as i went without shelter.

four years went by,
& all the tears i shed became tattoos.
freedom was taboo, so i took a little bit from each
& everyone i saw with some.
then i saw it for what it was –
being released into the dream was the real danger.


interlude III – march newsletter: pilgrimage

greetings, loved ones & peace to you all. i write to you in the sixth month of this year of intentional service that i have been privileged to experience here in south africa. i am sending love to you from this side. i hope that your days have been filled with love& light, alongside the fullness that comes with this experience we call life.

as time continues to do nothing but progress, more so than at any point in this year thus far, there’s a need to remain present. remaining present is at the center of many of the challenges in the remaining duration of this year. not so much being alert for the sake of doing so, but keeping an awareness that allows my body to not lose out on the life that is being lived right here, right now.

remaining focused on the collective body that is this community.

this body i am walking alongside has entered into a sacred space – lent.

for as long as i can remember, i have been observing lent with loved ones. if you had asked me before this year how i would describe the lenten season, i would’ve told you that it is our journey to the resurrection. i have long believed that easter was the moral of the lenten story – the culmination that defined the whole.

in my time here, the body has presented a counter-narrative to that long standing belief of mine.

thus far in this time of lent i have come to not only see validity in the journey to the cross, but see that in many ways, the journey takes propriety over the resurrection. to see the last supper & good friday as more of the vital part of jesus’ story to be told is radical to me.

you may remember my conversation with a go-go about how many people of christian faith here in south africa cherish good friday more than they cherish easter. everything i’ve experienced thus far in this journey validates that notion. i’ve also come to believe that this is true, because i find the south african story to resemble the lenten story.

both stories are about a pilgrimage to the fullness of freedom.

this year has been quite the intense lesson in south africa’s past, present & future – none of which can be spoken of individually without naming the way the others have given it shape& form. in this same way, this body i’ve called home for over six months now has shown me that the lenten story is of the same ilk. the lenten story, in all parts, define it’s true meaning & virtue.

i’ve come to see that not only does my community’s story resemble the lenten narrative – they very much embody it. moreover, the reason that this community embraces good friday fully is because they are waiting for a good friday of their own.

good friday is not the end of the story, of course, but it in many ways is it the culmination in the story of redemption in jesus christ. it can never be over looked as a monumental benchmark on the road to freedom.

when i use the word freedom in this context, one’s mind may challenge the claim – if apartheid has come to an end, how then can it be said that the body has not yet experienced freedom?

i would say that holding humans captive is not always overt – it also can be subtle denial of the promise that true liberation holds. when looking at the narrative told of christianity before the life of jesus, we see that while humanity appeared free, bondage still held a captive vice over the body. on that good friday, when the spear was placed in the heart of jesus & he exclaimed “it is finished,” freedom was then released. in that light, while some may look at apartheid as the metaphorical good friday in the south african story, it can be said that the fall of that empire 23 years ago was a step in the pilgrimage to freedom, but not the culmination.

the witness is in what the eyes see when traveling throughout this country. issues of food & water deprivation, poor medical care, disease, racial caste, etc. all point to the fact that the culmination has yet to come. full culmination is found in the equity in all lives. humanity is not a privilege – it s a right.

the death of jesus on the cross was the direct statement from god that all humans deserve the grandeur of relationship to god – not just pharisees, chiefs & high priests – the entire scope of humanity, including the marginalized body.

this journey has humbled me thus far. to experience the folding posture of bodies as they enter the sanctuary, the trembling in the voices as hymns are sang & sermons are preached, & the grief that fills the room during times of worship has caused me to do as such – not out of resignation, but in an appreciative solidarity to what this pilgrimage means to the body here. i would be selling this time short if i weren’t to say that this season has shown me the heart that gives this community life – the life is the pilgrimage to freedom. not to say that the body looks at life as a problem to be solved, but instead as an experience to be felt in full.

the good friday that is scheduled on the calendar this year & the metaphorical good friday for this body will come & will be met with thankfulness & remembrance. i look forward to this day anxiously, but strive to join this community in just being here in the midst of right now.

the culmination of my pilgrimage here will also come, but on this day, i’m in the midst of it & there’s no need for me to be anywhere else, but in the embrace of these arms that have clinched me tightly thus far as i witness alongside the body this beautiful struggle.

as we continue to journey to the cross, i pray that you find peace in the entire story also. not only in the story of lent, but the story of your life. if anything i have found here, it is to experience the entire process that is this life. this life is a pilgrimage,& though we many not know in full where this path is leading us, the journey can never be solely summarized in the goal, it must be known that the journey has as much to do with the story as anything else. grace & peace to you as continue to walk. though your feet may get weary, there is rest beyond the river. amen.

chapter III – afro

chapter III – afro

“i’m good to go, ma!” in the midst of packing on an blistering hot day in mid-august, i was off task for a moment when i stumbled upon what i interpreted to be a great something. “ma, look at this! is this a dashiki?” a beautiful burnt orange cloth with circular brown imagery. it fit the curves of my biceps & ran down past my torso & found a fitted rest right at the top of my thighs – love at first glance. “ma, you think people who are originally from africa will appreciate me wearing this or is this appropriation?” i’ve always been over-careful, but yet somehow, still dangerously naïve to the world & how wide it was. my mind still set out to employ courage & fail out loud, if it were to be so.

the excitement i felt was bone-deep, it had passed through the textile of my skin & permeated every corner of my heart – i was africa bound. a boy from cleveland descending upon the majesty that is the motherland – the cradle of all humanity. what a gift it was for me to be embarking on this place, i, a black man, who wanted to quest in order to know myself more deeply & the royalty that i inherited all by way of my pigmentation. kings, queens, the history of the first civilized society, the lost prophecies, the ground that gave way all religions. nas, tupac, kendrick lamar & bob marley guided my visions of a mystic land. when i came home, i would be a balanced rock, with africana as my center.

of course, it wasn’t all serendipity in my dreams. i deemed myself aware of these famine like conditions i saw images of too.  i heard africans were hungry & so we needed to make them a mission trip, but i rejected that notion & still do. instead i subscribed to the secrets of forgotten royalty & highly under-publicized places where civilization existed. this needed to be revealed & i was coming to be the narrator to fundamental white folks that weren’t looking deep enough. i needed to organize people here on the ground, too. my notions were enough for me to believe myself a prophet coming home to become a radical, afro-centric. these labels theoretically fit me seamlessly – just like my dashiki. i had a clear role.

when i arrived, i instantly saw the beauty. the stench of the air to me was like the smell of cotton candy & funnel cakes. the curvature of the mountains were thrill rides. this was my culmination. if i was brave enough, i would’ve stopped to kiss the ground, but instead i just grinned like a boy up to mischievous deeds. as i looked upon people who shared my pigment & began to notice myself the majority, i felt emboldened. i walked by these pedestrians eargely nodding my head, sometimes even throwing up my right fist clamped with exclaimed passion – this was the code of ethics i already knew to live by. the initial days here are both vivid & yet still feel like an illusion i vividly created – i can’t call it yet. what i do know is that i was called to move out of slumber & into the actual rhythm that was developed long before me.

a rhythm of disharmony, terrorism & corruption of the mind. in my first day here in this community, baba told me to adjust. he said that i was in the third world – amongst a people who were type-casted &  then edited out for a more appealing character that the world has loved many places over.  conceptually, this was the call to wake up, but at second glance, the reality existed in an even larger organism. i remember stepping out a few days later on heritage day. still dreaming, i was in another dashiki i had purchased back in the states. this one more loose around the body, allowing the wind to sneak up underneath so it could hum on my chest. when i stepped out, i was disenchanted by the sight. it turns out i didn’t see dancing bodies in tribal gear. no parades led by drum, not even a chant. instead, i saw human beings who were being human – trying to cope with the weight of groceries & an certain evil that has spoken before. young humans new to the world who played in the fields as they were assigned to do work. the elders, however, let them run free: they enjoyed watching the children, because they missed naivety. i miss it now, too.

being a dreamer & also being undyingly stubborn, though, forced me to hold on to the image. it was just too good not to be real. where were the elders with zulu tales, the fire lit circles & the damn drums? my body has slouched from time to time, now that life had kicked in. the everyday life of those forced to live in a system of marginalization that has changed the language to sound inclusive, but still deep down is excluding. i, the now dreadlocked prophet in question, sat powerless, locked in devices of abused idealism. so, i began sleep walking, though my body somewhat awake, still i was trying to fade back into the dream.

that was until i saw something my eyes couldn’t escape. not too long ago, i sat at a table with two others enjoying a bite, in this time more comfortable to be in part slumber. a man who had brown skin like me approached us. he wanted money to drink & be for the night. we refused him & so he went on to others to continue his barter. not too long after leaving us however, his body was taken, arms placed behind his back, now under control of the system.  i couldn’t help but snap back into memories of loved ones who were taken under for similar or of less consequence. the reasons of plunder justified by the habit. no hope for rehabilitation & community, just more isolation, granting him more chances to binge. he wasn’t free.

that moment served a reminder, but yet still in part slumber, i grogged on, still looking for the afro-centralizing, that cultural moment – still, i thought myself to be simba.. so, i used a computer again to feed me a more concrete image to tuck in my mind. this only caused more of a chasm between me & the world i was invited into. i had no choice but to stop hitting snooze & be here, ten toes firmly planted on the ground.

i stepped outside my flat again & went with a new lens. with this new lens, however, i’ve noticed old things. a food desert, with a folk who were told they were free for the system now, but still somehow relegated to living standards below human dignity. a community that suffers from stigmatization of crime rates & the assumption that they are the primary plunderers.  a community lacking places that supply physical resource for living, but has a plethora of spiritual ones, in the form of churches nearly everywhere – places of refuge for those who were looking past the human threshold for hope – i saw my home.

i’ve never felt enlivened & deflated all in a swoop, but in this time, i knew it inside. what i was looking for by way of a homecoming wasn’t to be a parade, but instead a march in solidarity against a familiar foe.

this isn’t just home in the sense of struggle, but also in love, too. i experience the care of sweet women who take care of me as if i am of their womb. a community of men who are fighting just to avoid the system catching them. the system here doesn’t currently hinge on police militarization & the black body here sees a different abuse, but maybe that’s the point. in this day of veiled racism, you can’t ever make yourself too obvious. i see so much of home that i don’t even feel like i’m away sometimes. the language barrier, however, serves as ample reminder.

there hasn’t been serendipity found in waking up. i still think about the dream & wonder, can it ever be? i’m starting to take issue with the dream, though. what feels certain to me is that my desire for afro-centrism can’t be rooted in the dream. yes, the ancestral context & culture matter deeply, but there’s more to our connected story. this time has led me to believe that afro-centrism must also be rooted in the reality that though it shows it’s face in different ways, we are in bondage. our history & our present are just as diverse & complicated.  our core spread all-around this world, suffers & yet is still fighting for basic human freedoms – that’s connection.  though we fight battles that hold different things at stake, we fight for a common core. so, yes, let’s love, but let’s approach love in its fullness, not just its pleasurable dimensions. that’s being centered.

interlude II – january newsletter

loved ones,


we are now 5 months into this journey. to me, that’s unbelievable. i can so tangibly remember the time & space leading up to the beginning of this year. i feel very removed from what my expectations were in that time, but yet & still, a sense of nostalgia has already crashed over me when i think about the road that led to this very moment as i am writing to you at the end of the first month of a new year. this writing comes from a place of a lot of unanswered reflections meandering around all of my body. indeed, it is a new year & that has put this time, a metaphorical mid-point to this year, into focus. there has been glory & grotesque & all the humanity found in between, but to be here, able to experience any of it, is still remarkable to me.

in this frame of time, i imagine that my fellow peers in this program are also circling around in the quiet of their minds about what has & hasn’t been upon this time – there’s something unique about a story that we are in the middle of. our bodies can feel the subtle & overt changes, but there’s still a road just as long as the one you’ve traveled left to go, with things you’ve yet to encounter or fully wrap your mind around.

in this middle, i’ve been fussing with this question: am i centered? is my mind, body, soul also positioned in the middle? surely, time has informed me of what is present, but do i find my being there also? in the thick of this story being written in community. it is very plausible that we can reside somewhere physically, but be so removed from that reality that, the fullness of who you are, is not present. i’ve had to ask myself what then does presence mean & how do you bring your full self into a space?

umphumulo is my present – indeed a present that has nourished me with love, fun & undying hospitality. i’m in a community of humans who want me to be human with them, for better or worse.  there’s been rich lessons found in this rawness i’ve been invited into.

umphumulo has shown me what it is to commune with people. sharing everything, down to the bare-bones resources you have as a means of investment in the humans around you. that’s radical for me. this type of investment is teaching me what real solidarity looks like. to invest in a person’s journey so deeply that you give them your last roll of toilet paper when the shed is too far away & they have to use the toilet immediately, in my eyes, is great sacrifice.

this middle point of the year has also brought forth new challenges as well. i’ve began work at the primary school just down the road from me. it’s an endeavor i’m anxious about, mostly because i really love children & i wonder if they will be able to focus on their work when they spend most of the class time allotted staring at me, because i’m “probably the tallest person ever!” i’m also anxious, because, again, we are in the middle of time here. umphumulo is a close knit community & practically everybody knows 5 things about everybody, but to start a huge part of this journey in this mid-point will be different.

we are also entering a new church year. at the offices of the church centre. we are moving on from the wonder & glory of advent & we now transition into the humbling pilgrimage that is the lenten season. i’ve come to enjoy a lot of the things i’ve learned about umphumulo’s perspective on lent. during a conversation i was having with a go-go (grandma) here, we were talking about good friday & easter. i was sharing how i grew up in a context that enjoys good friday in solemn reflection, but, in my opinion, is an easter church. the culmination of a prophecy fulfilled; in this, i said, christians, (of course i failed to be specific in naming my context) experience a feeling of liberation that would cultivate love.  go-go explained to me that for the most part, if you surveyed south africans who practice christianity, most would tell you they cherish good friday more so than easter. she didn’t elaborate on why, but i sense it as wisdom on her end to let me discover this myself. so, i’ve been wrestling with what fuels both culture’s perspective on holy week. i’m excited to journey in the lenten season with this community & see a new angle on the sacrifice of jesus.

five months signifies a lot for this journey. it’s a time that has also shifted my thinking into what’s next after i’ve completed this year. the challenges that are ahead & the overwhelmingly wide uncertainty of tomorrow in full. when i think about presence in this time, i again have to fuss with what being centered is, both personally & in community. i’m beginning to wonder if the ability to sense that the knowledge that you’ve been witness to a lot, but also knowing that there’s a lot of great uncertainty ahead is middle ground enough. in fact, maybe this is what life is as a whole. i can’t lay that down as a universal truth, but for me to know that this year has been full & that yet i am continuously being filled by this community is a place where i can draw some contentment from. time indeed is a reliable friend & untrustworthy enemy all at once.

continue to be in it while you can.

love & light & lavender,