As I write this today after news of yet another shooting of an African American man, tears of grief and compassion flow down my face. It’s been a humbling time to be a member of the human race on this planet. From my privileged position as a white woman. I remember that many people of color have had the cards stacked against them from the start.
I grew up going to pow-wows thinking that I had some Native American blood, until a DNA test revealed I’m a Caucasian mutt, like many of my other Pacific Northwest brothers and sisters. There’s a deep history of racism in my home state of Oregon, which was the only state in the country to forbid black people to become residents in the 1860’s and became a hub of Klan activity less than a hundred years ago.
To top that off, I live in a small college town with very few people of color. That’s what makes my introduction to true gospel music so improbable. In the middle of all this whiteness, along came Reverend Isaiah Jones, who was raised in all-black East St. Louis, before becoming a keyboard player for big rock groups like the Fifth Dimension. He had left secular music a few years before to become a Presbyterian college minister, but he still composed and arranged gospel songs.
Isaiah started a choir: the Inner Strength Gospel Choir, 98% white, just like the town. One member told me it took a year to learn how to clap and sway at the same time. I loved this music and started going to rehearsals as a teen dressed in Goth black, chains, and Doc Martens. As a queer youth in the 90’s, I could identify with standing out in this cookie cutter town. All were embraced by Isaiah, just like the Love Hugs he distributed generously whenever we sang. Pretty soon I was singing solos, and I even got to sing on his CD. But Isaiah taught us about more than music and unconditional love. He demonstrated the journey of faith, a path I still try to follow today.
Later I got a college degree in women’s studies with a focus on diversity education and social action theater. At that time, 15 years ago, the world was in need of change. I came to recognize my privilege and began to use my voice to help the silenced many, especially my LGBT sisters and brothers.
When I began singing mantra music ten years ago, the gospel roots kept showing underneath my blond hair. Last year I finally realized my dream of creating an album that blended my love of devotional music from both cultures and called it Mantra Soul. I was so lucky to begin to collaborate with Saeeda Wright of Portland’s Interfaith Gospel Choir, and also re-connected with my friend Angela Davise to create this album that is a prayer for unity honoring all paths, dedicated to Dr. Isaiah Jones and all I learned from him about gospel singing and the power of faith.
The last few weeks I’ve realized how much progress we truly still need to make, and what it will take to create that change. While I blend in more easily than I did in the 90s, our African American brothers and sisters will never have that advantage. The world needs us together more than ever now, black, white, Hispanic, Native American, heteronormative, gender non-binary, whoever you are.
It’s time to stand together in love. It is time to pray. It is time for the dawning of a new day.
Oh, and I’m just gonna keep singing.
My favorite way to pray.