EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout October, we have been engaging in an online book study of Kathy Khang’s Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How We Speak Up. Read this closing reflection based on Chapters 6 & 7.
My eyes filled with wonder and creative energy as I walked around my city neighborhood this past week. The trees had finally turned to their bright yellow autumn colors, and I watched the leaves fall to the ground softly like snow. Images like this have always brought me closer to God, and photography has been my tool to capture and share these moments with others. In her book, Raise Your Voice, Kathy Khang encourages us to use our gifts to speak up for ourselves and others. For me, this voice is within visual imagery. Images have always moved and transformed me. Be that in written word or those seen through my camera lens, imagery is how I carry and share my voice.
We each have a unique voice, experience, and value to share with the world. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the body of Christ as a physical body and each part has an important role to fill. Kathy Khang challenges us by saying, “We can’t all be the hands or the feet or the eyes of the body — we all certainly need each other. And we all need time and practice to find our unique voice and learn to use it.” We also learn from the distinct and diverse voices that make up the body of Christ and our world. These voices bring us beyond our homes and away from our culture. They challenge us to consider the vast diversity and lived experiences of those who are different from us.
The voices and talents of others have inspired, provoked, and taught me how to see the world outside of my straight, white, Christian circles. Through a variety of platforms, I have witnessed the creative ways people have used their abilities to shape the world. Whether religious or not, they have given me eyes to see a gospel of faith, hope, and love that reaches to the ends of the earth by fighting for justice in this world.
The first woman whose brave and powerful voice began to teach me was my birthing class instructor, Micky ScottBey Jones, a contemplative activist, writer, and justice doula. Her Facebook posts, as a Black woman in a small Southern town, pulled the veil of whiteness off my eyes. She began to show me a world of racism I was ignorantly unaware of. I first learned about Black Lives Matter through Micky and began to see a gospel message that was much richer than I knew was possible. Through her eloquent and challenging words, I witnessed the humbling changes that could take place using the tools of social media.
My friend, Beth Mathews, shines in how she uses social media to bring about change. Beth is a graphic designer and is a fantastic example of using skills to raise her voice in the digital age. Beth speaks up on behalf of refugees in this country by creating beautiful graphic posts with simple facts that combat lies surrounding the issue of immigration. She also uses her hospitality and creative skills to run The Mom Bag. The Mom Bag is an organization she started in Tennessee, now in several states, which provides daily necessities, welcoming friendship, and a sense of community to newly arrived refugee mothers in the US.
As a photographer, I am inspired by a project created by a friend in my industry. After the 2016 election, Amber Vongsamphanh crafted a series of portraits and interviews of millennial American women, each with a diverse background of religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Amber stated “I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that people hated each other because they didn’t know each other. While I couldn’t personally introduce multitudes of people to each other, I could use my skills as a photographer to take portraits and do interviews. That’s how this project was born.” Amber used her voice to empower the voices of others.
I have also seen businesses raise their voice in how they operate in the world. A new restaurant in my home of Minneapolis was founded through people raising their voice. Three friends formed Trio Plant Based after Sarah and Dan Woodcock fought for Louis Hunter who was faced with false charges while protesting over Philando Castile’s death. Even though the felony charges were eventually dropped, Louis had lost his apartment and the truck that he used for his landscaping business. A friendship was formed and a business partnership was made as a means to ease Louis’ hardship of finding work stemming from his arrest. Their restaurant not only speaks for the values of plant-based eating through delicious food, but they use their business to advocate for justice in the food industry and beyond.
One example of how Sarah, Dan, and Louis use their influence to raise their voice is through who they choose to do business with. A local coffee shop contacted them wanting Trio to carry their coffee in their restaurant. Trio knew of an incident where Spyhouse Coffee racially profiled a man and had never offered reparations to him or the community. Trio reached out to them with steps for restitution from the man who was racially profiled, and Spyhouse turned down the opportunity to make things right. Trio then refused to work with them, and they chose to vocalize why publicly. Even if you are not a business, the places you decide to spend or not spend your money is another way to fight injustice. Kathy Khang states, “We can support talented individuals and organizations that are doing the work about the issues we care most about.”
Each of these individuals have helped in paving the way for finding my voice as I create images and writing about mental health awareness. There is so much pain and suffering that we can speak to in this world, and we can’t expect to do it all. Kathy Khang shares that “Some of us are the feet, or hands, or eyes, or ears, and thankfully we all are moved by our hearts and souls to figure out what role we will play.” Finding what moves you is what Kathy Khang calls the voice in your heart. For me, the voice in my heart drives me to speak about mental illness since I have suffered from it since I was a child. I desire healthy communities in the church and in our country where mental illness is discussed freely and access to care is available to everyone.
God has given us a voice to share truth and to speak love into a world where injustice is rampant. What talents, skills, or support do you have to raise your voice in this world?
As Kathy Khang writes, “May we all be faithful, and may we all honor and lift one another’s histories, skills, and opportunities to speak up for faith, hope, and love. We were not meant to be silent.”
Read the other reflections in this series: