In 2009, at the New Jersey Governor’s Conference for Women in Atlantic City, I sat under the sound of one of most beautiful voices I had ever heard. She was assisted onto the stage, and into a chair where her body, though frail, sat tall. Her shoulders evoked an eagle’s wings - broad, regal. She was everything I had imagined her to be when I read her work and teary-eyed, I remember thinking I would never forget this moment. Ever. As she shifted for comfort in her seat, Dr. Maya Angelou recounted an old African American spiritual that had meant so much to her through the years:
“When it looked like the sun
Wasn’t gonna shine anymore
God put a rainbow in the clouds.”
She reminisced about the many instances in her life where clouds hung over her, threatening to outshine any spot of good.
“But I’ve had so many rainbows in my clouds. So many people have been rainbows in my clouds." She told of the plethora of times when she entered a classroom to lecture or stepped onto a stage to perform and how in those moments she brought with her every single person who had ever treated her kindly. She brought their kindness, their being with her for help, hope, and strength. She encouraged us, the sea of professional women, students, politicians, and teachers to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud no matter the differences or distances we see between ourselves and others.
Last week, as we - Black Women's Blueprint - traveled to Oklahoma City I was unsure of what to expect. I had never attended court except to sit on a small-time jury a few years ago. I was praying for traveling mercies for us and the gifts of justice and peace for the survivors of former police officer, remorseless monster, Daniel Holtzclaw. I was remembering the way in which my Aunt Gigi used to sit quietly, prayerfully, waiting on a word from God, that the path she needed to travel whether spiritually or physically would yield the fruit of triumph no matter the obstacles sure to arise along the way.
With upwards of 20 years of social anxiety slowly beginning to dissipate, I looked up into the cloud-filled sky, somewhere between Illinois and Missouri and blinked hard. I looked around the van at my co-workers/sistren to see if anyone else was noticing what I was noticing. Around the edges of each cloud - and there were clouds as far as the eye could see - there were bits of color. I squinted. No mistake - there were small rainbows laying themselves down along the edges of the clouds. It amazed me so much that I sat, mouth open, for a few moments. I was remembering every miraculous thing I had ever seen, every divine confirmation I had ever received.
I was searching for a sign. Anything God wanted to grace me with to show me that this trip was blessed and what exactly our purpose would be. Not that I didn’t believe in the work we were going to do but sometimes (most times, for me) I need God to shine a light ahead of me, to draw my attention to what matters most and fade out the background.
Looking up and seeing those beautiful bits of color adorning an otherwise dreary sky transported me back to the Atlantic City Convention Center in May of 2009. A first-year business school student then, I had no idea that those words I heard that day would come full circle to have unmeasured meaning in my life on a justice ride to Oklahoma City, some seven years later. We were braving a 22-hour ride to Oklahoma City to simply but powerfully be rainbows in the clouds of these survivors. We were riding through sleet, passing overturned tractor trailers, and storm-born desolation to simply be present for sisters we knew only in spirit.
Contrary to popular opinion and practice, we didn’t have to know their names or hail from the same county. We didn’t need to know their pedigree or check out their backgrounds. Their religious affiliations mattered not nor did their political leanings. You don’t have to know a sister to be a sister. Sisterhood extends across miles and generations. It binds where blood cannot. These were indeed our sisters and it was indeed our duty, nay, our privilege to stand with them - as Black women, as descendants of queendoms, and as survivors ourselves.
The overwhelming drive to constantly be DOING and CREATING and PROMOTING can force us into a corner of believing that our simple presence is not powerful. That our commitment to being supportive is of no value. I choose to believe that we were meant to be rainbows in this, perhaps, one of the greatest clouds that might ever hang over those women's heads. If that meant traveling 22 hours simply for them to see our faces and feel the love and light we brought with us, we had done well.
A calm came over me as I looked into the sky. No matter what turn of events lay ahead of us, I had a peace that was fairly unshaken. No distance is too far to sojourn when sisterhood is called upon. No battle is too daunting when our kindred are hurting, broken, or dying.
The two days that we spent in Oklahoma City were cloudy, cold, and wet. The morning we packed up the Sprinter to head back East, joyful that 263 consecutive years had given some semblance of justice to our sistren, the sun shone brightly, fiercely, and in all its glory.