Two weeks after the killing of George Floyd, I found myself marching in protest through the city of Clarkston, Georgia along with several church members. Six other Seventh-day Adventist pastors were also in the crowd of maybe a thousand people. As many Americans continue to do so even today, we were there to protest police brutality against people of color in America.
The protest began with a few introductory comments by the organizers. Then it came time to do what we went there for. As we took to the streets, the first few feet of marching were relative quiet. Then suddenly a young lady some 30 feet away from me started shouting, “What do we want?” “Justice”, came the reply. “When do we want it?” she retorted. “Now!” shouted back several more people. The shouts repeated, and suddenly the march became the protest we all assembled for. For the next hour or so we participated in the call and response of this civil rights moment with the rhythm of a gospel choir in full worship.
As I marched and shouted, I made a mental note of what a difference this young lady was making. She electrified those us who were within the sound of her voice. She gave our presence unity and cause. People from all parts of Metro-Atlanta had come to make their voices heard. And, she ignited ours. The diversity of people there was visible. Yet, this one young lady brought us all together with her voice.
Pondering her impact, I wondered, who she was. What did she do for a living? How old was she? What was her educational achievement? What was her experience with civil rights causes? While I wondered, I never asked. And in the moment, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that she was using what she had, a loud voice, to bring people together and vocalize a common concern. Perhaps in the past she may have been called a loud mouth. But, on June 7, 2020 she was the community’s voice.
As I continued to protest, the reality of the moment hit me. This young lady’s voice was making the difference between protesting and just walking. A second realization also occurred to me; we all have “voice”.
When I say voice, I mean so much more than the voices with which we speak. I’m talking about the message inside each one of us that needs to be heard. While this young lady was gifted with an abundance of volume, all of us together raised our voices in response to hers. And then, as if God was speaking to me, the question arose in my mind, “What are we doing with our voice?”
As I repeatedly ask myself, I ask you, “What are you doing with your voice?” Even if we are literally mute, we have voice. Our voice begins inside and comes to life as it finds purpose. It is birthed from a reality conceived in that private space where no one else has access. But, it is brought to life in the public intersection of human engagement. Our voice takes life in expression. Our voice has meaning when understood.
Voice makes things happen. When God said, “Let there be. . ,” things happened. We, who are created in the image of God also impact creation with our voice. Everything that has ever been made, whether by God or by man, is the product of voice. Before any physical object was ever constructed, there had to be a transmission of the idea for its existence through various persons. Each transmission whether, in word or script, involved voice. Voice is the communicating of internal realities to an external environments. Voice changes things by its mere expression.
What are we doing with our voice? What are we expressing? What are we communicating? What are we saying? Our voice, as also the totality of our lives, speaks to what we believe. It expresses how God factors into our existence. It either enhances or minimizes the role of God in our lives. It says something about God’s love, mercy and justice. And, so does our silence.
The absence of voice allows things to happen. A failure to speak out, to transmit the cause of the oppressed, enables oppression. Silence towards injustice is a most welcomed endorsement by its practitioners. We have power in our voice. Our voice can build or destroy, improve or worsen, defend or defeat. When things are wrong in this world, it takes voice to make them right.
The first step to solving a problem is to identify or name the problem. That takes voice. Naming the problem however, does not resolve it. Problems require that we also name possible solutions. While all solutions are not of the same value, it is in voicing solutions that resolutions are found. That calls for us to be part of the conversations that make things better.
In utilizing voice, we enable others to do so as well. As we marched in Clarkston, one young lady gave hundreds of us voice by using hers first. So too must our voice enable the voice of others. Prisoners who are extensively kept in solitary confinement slowly lose their vocabulary. By practicing silence, we too begin to lose our voice. In so doing, we lose our God-given gift of being creators of good and beautiful things.
Voice is precious. Those who have lost it grieve it, and those who value it fight to keep it. Voice was so important to the framers of the American Republic that its protection was the first amendment to the Constitution. Yet, every federal election cycle, by law, voters are removed from voter rolls if they have not voted for two consecutive federal elections. Those who have been silent for an extended period must reapply for permission to exercise their voice (vote) at the ballot box. A voice unspoken, unexpressed, unheard ends up being no voice at all. Hence, the silent lose voice! How often are we too quick to silence ourselves and muzzle our own voice?
It is important for us to exercise voice. It is important to speak up at critical moments. It is our humanitarian duty as children of God, to speak into existence, something better than the miscarriage of justice and mercy. It is our God-given task to make things better when they are out of line with God’s design. Each one of us must find our voice and use it.