Brown Girl, I See You
Whenever my environment had failed to support or nourish me, I had clutched at books…
― Richard Wright
“Jason Reynolds is on a mission.”
This is how the New York Times recently described Reynolds’ work as the writer sought to give voice to the lives of young Black people. In their stories, there is complexity. There is anger and betrayal. There is hurt. There are guns and violence.
But there is also hope. There is endurance and joy. Reynolds never could quite shake the joy embodied in the laughter of their beautiful souls as they walked between tragedy and triumph. “You don’t go through what Black and Brown people have been through in this country,” Reynolds shares, “and survive without understanding how to tap into some joy.”
Throughout all of his writing and speaking, he has one goal: “My job is to say, ‘I understand. I see you.’” That is how he loves.
Seen and Loved
I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind as I scrolled and saw the young people gripping his book as if their lives depended on it. In some sense, they do. Much of the meaning and the mission of our lives depend on our stories being told. It was bell hooks who once wrote that “people resist by…telling their stories.”
One of the greatest challenges today is how to feel and know that you are loved when your experience is feeling unloved, unheard, and unseen. Forsaken and forgotten. We must know that we are understood, we are seen, and we are loved. It is our greatest challenge, our greatest opportunity, and also our greatest reward.
As Jason Reynolds has made seeing his mission, so has author Khristi Adams done in her book “Parable of the Brown Girl.” She invites us to see “how God works through the minds of these young Black girls.” And their stories show “how God’s spirit works through each girl to convey a specific message.” In effect, Adams’ work proclaims a simple but healing message: Brown Girl, I see you.
The Power of Story
But there is one who does not forget—Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ of God. He does not forget poor, dark, despised bodies.
—M. Shawn Copeland
There is something powerful about stories. Stories connect us. They engage our senses and blossom our imagination. Stories even challenge us and call us to higher values and moral sensibilities. They disrupt and instruct.
Stories are also powerful because in all their complex meaning, we see ourselves. We are able to recognize our faces, our names, our shadows, through the language of another. Our worlds are opened. We are allowed to ponder the actual and imagine the possible.
Part memoir, part theological reflection, part poetic narration, Khristi Adams takes us back to the memory of the stories of Jesus through parables and into the living parable of young Black girls. She writes, “Jesus did some of his most valuable teaching in parables.”
It was through these stories that everyday people in ordinary circumstances were able to see themselves and God in extraordinary ways. As she reflected on these parables, Adams “wondered what these parables would have looked like with Black girls at the center.”
A Terrible Beauty
It has been all too true that we miss these stories going on around us everyday. We miss the stories that Adams tells of Deborah who is a nine-year-old who often wonders about her weakness as she navigates a world in which Black women have limited space to be human. We miss the story of Leah who is nineteen and suffers from severe anxiety and depression as she lives in a world that doesn’t fully accept her.
Or the story of Ashley who is angry within a society that “assumes Black girls are always angry, but it rarely asks why Black women and girls feel this anger or acknowledge it may be justified.” I couldn’t help but realize as I was reading that we miss so, so much. I miss so, so much.
These stories of pain and hurt, hope and healing are captured in the terrible beauty of what it means to be Black in this world. By capturing the stories of these young Black women, Adams shows us that “Black girls are made in the image of God.” Though we often would like to believe this or even say that we do, it has been all too true that our actions proclaim otherwise.
In our society, as Monique Harris writes, “Representations of Black feminity…have rendered Black girls subject to a public scrutiny that affects their ability to be properly situated in the racial justice and school-to-confinement narrative.” They are rendered invisible and because of this, “Their ability to develop agency in shaping professional and personal futures where they can live with dignity, respect, and opportunity” is harmed.
By telling their stories, by powerfully re-narrating the parable, Adams points us in the direction of where God is at work. It is in the voice of these young Black women that we “experience God in a richer, more beautiful way.” We must listen to the voice of God that is calling out from their lives.
The God of Black Girls
In their lives, we meet Jesus. Though our world often despises and dehumanizes our beautiful and brilliant black girls, there is “One who does not forget—Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ of God.” It is here, encountering their stories brilliantly told through Adams’ book, that we too can say: Brown Girl, I see you.
I was changed by this work and trust me, you will be too. I wish I could put this book in the hands of every person. You will never see the lives of young Black girls the same. This book will be one much like Jason Reynolds book: young Black girls will grip it as if their lives depended on it.
And in the end, it does.