Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: The Courage to Change the Things I Can

aretha franklin & jasper williams
Aretha Franklin – Rev. Jasper Williams

*Aretha Franklin’s family and some black people have criticized the pastor who delivered her eulogy for the same reason some white people have criticized Colin Kaepernick and NFL players: Because these men used their platform to bring attention to social injustice. NFL players want to stop needless violence against black men by police. Rev. Jasper Williams, Jr., wants to stop needless violence against black people by other black people. Different messenger. Same message. Stop the violence.

You can’t be for NFL players using their platform – kneeling when they are expected to stand during the national anthem – and be against Rev. Williams using his. I don’t understand how people don’t see the parallel between the two. Critics of pro-athlete protesters say refusing to stand during the national anthem is disrespecting the American flag. Yet the best way to honor what the flag stands for is to be willing to insure the freedom it represents is extended to every American.

Everybody knows about the life and legacy of Aretha. Having the pastor recite it one last time at her funeral wouldn’t have made a difference. Instead he chose to talk about the preservation of life. Not wasting words on the dead, instead speaking life to the living. His message: R-E-S-P-E-C-T yourself before you expect others to do the same.

What’s more surprising to me than criticism from outsiders is the family’s reaction to the pastor’s message. He is a Franklin family friend. Aretha’s father, Rev. CL Franklin, was Williams’ mentor. Williams eulogized Aretha’s father, sister and brother. This pastor has been known to deliver fire and brimstone sermons. If the family expected Williams to stick to a script they should have discussed it beforehand.

Instead of criticizing what they did, we should ask why they did it. Why would a pastor risk his image and position in the spotlight? Why would a professional athlete risk his popularity and paycheck to do what most people consider as professional suicide? Maybe because desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe because when they read the Prayer of Serenity they got stuck on the part about ‘having the courage to change the things I can.’

Steffanie Rivers

Most of us have been at that fork in the road. The place where we have presented ourselves as having certain skills, and people come to know us for that one thing at work, at church or in our community. Yet the moment we apply for a better job, don’t follow the crowd, refuse to be a stereotype or simply speak up when others are more comfortable with us remaining silent, people get uncomfortable. Most times it’s our own insecurities that keep us from stepping out of the box in which we feel most comfortable, because we don’t want to risk our image or income. But for those who dare to be different it can be a lonely road, even if its the right thing to do.

Americans are becoming more intolerant of those with opinions different than their own. The only ideas we tend to listen to are those that confirm what we already believe. It’s a problem that’s getting worse instead of getting better. And it’s time we find the courage to change the things we can to keep us moving forward.

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist based in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. Email her at [email protected] to send comments, questions or for speaking inquiries.

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