I meandered recently through the streets of downtown Nashville, Tennessee, as a curious newcomer.
I paused before the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, contemplating what to explore next.
As I stood thinking, I noticed a haggard, undernourished man approaching me. His name was Willie, and our encounter started with a small request.
“Ma’am, can I sing you a song?” he humbly asked, clutching a small notebook and pen in his folded hands. He said he did not like to ask for handouts but wanted to work.
“Perhaps you can help me out, only if you think it’s good, of course,” he proffered.
Being serenaded in Nashville is no anomaly, but this man’s songs were different. With remarkable rhythm and songwriting craft, Willie started singing testimonies about Christ.
He contextualized the gospel creatively, sharing raw perspectives from life on the streets.
Reminiscent of the gospel account of the repentant sinner who struck his breast as he prayed, Willie used his sternum as a drum, beating his chest as he publicly confessed his need for Christ and called listeners to “be ready to meet the King.”
We sat on the curb. He talked as I listened and fumbled around in my backpack for some cash and snacks to share.
Willie communicated his hurts and brokenness, but he also emphasized his hope in Christ.
By worldly standards, this man has nothing – no home, no job, no family, no future. However, he is rich in Christ. He also has a voice; each of us does.
This encounter has become my favorite memory from my day touring Nashville. It reminded me of the importance of using our voices not only to share Christ, but also to illuminate injustices in society.
We are called to speak words of life and to speak up when our neighbors are not flourishing.
I used to think the only way I could be an advocate was if I had a career in public policy and government relations.
While these are commendable ways to create social impact, it is important to remember that we all have spheres of influence and spaces to advocate for the marginalized and oppressed.
Often, one of the best places to start using your voice for advocacy is within relationships.
Conversations happen around the table, so generously share a meal, listen and use your voice to reshape misconceptions, create awareness and cultivate empathy.
This spring, I attended a graduation party, joining a table of individuals I have known my entire life.
They were engaging in a seemingly surface-level conversation about the royal wedding.
The women facilely criticized Meghan Markel’s wedding dress, complimented her poise and made remarks about the ceremony. It did not take long to identify their biases and implicit racist attitudes.
“Did you see that choir?” one lady asked the group. “The wedding was just too black for me,” she continued.
Appalled, I wanted to leave the table. However, this was the perfect opportunity to use my voice to advocate for minorities and reshape perspectives.
“I thought it was beautiful,” I said, softly smiling. “Can you imagine how black people have felt for years, being underrepresented and excluded?” I asked.
Sometimes, a thoughtful question is needed; other times, a pointed statement is necessary. That conversation helped show me the importance of advocacy through everyday conversations.
Like Willie, we all have a story that shapes our perspectives as well as giftings to express our passions.
I am encouraged by my generation’s boldness in broaching topics and engaging social justice issues. I invite you to take inventory of your passions, relationships, neighborhood and city.
Come to the table and use your voice. In Willie’s words, “be ready.”
Editor’s note: This article is part of a new series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. Learn more about EthicsDaily.com’s “Emerging Voices” and “U:21” series here.
Jaclyn Bonner is based in San Antonio, where she works as a communication specialist for Urban Strategies and Baptist University of the Américas.