Yesterday a young man sat in my office. A young Black man. A young Black man who was recently appointed to lead The Black Student Association on our predominately white campus. He shared his heart with me. He told me that he was apprehensive about leading at this time with all that is happening in our world and in our Nation. His exact words were “I don’t feel prepared.” As this young man recounted for me his trepidation, I thought to myself “Neither do I.” How could any of us be prepared for what is happening in our world? How could anyone foreseen with any clarity how the events of 2020 would unfold? A global pandemic. The murder of George Floyd. Revolutionary winds sweeping across the land.
We talked of the possibilities of real and lasting changes. He shared with me his experiences of protest over the summer in the City. He recounted simultaneous experiences of kindness, physical threat, and epiphany, and how he longed to share these experiences on our campus. And again he said “I don’t feel prepared.”
It is the purview of age to provide wisdom. Increasingly these days I have the former but little of the latter. If wisdom is a collection of experiences and education, I do have those, but applying what I have learned to the current circumstances of our world is challenging. Like the young man who sat in my office, I don’t feel prepared.
The great Christian thinker and author C.S. Lewis wrote “What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.” I possess the ability to both see and hear, but what limits my perspective is where I stand and where I have stood. I did not choose the place of my birth. I did not choose the formative years of my life. I did not choose my church, my school, or my community. Early on all of that was predetermined by the choices of my parents, and their parents before them. And I am grateful for my formative years. But they have determined to a large extent what I see and what I hear.
The same is true for the young Black man in my office. The difference? He doesn’t enjoy the privilege of not thinking about what it means to be Black in America. He can’t walk away from the realities of the daily pressures of white normative culture and its expectations of him and those who share his melanin. I can. At any moment of any day I can choose to think or not think about the inequalities in this Country. But he can’t.
Sometimes I think we mistake wisdom for a GPS, giving us turn by turn directions. In reality it is a compass that serves to help us navigate an ever-changing terrain that is the world. Thinking of wisdom as a compass is helpful because the consistent changes in the world, render the moral maps that we received in our formative years obsolete. But unlike these maps, a compass always points to True North. So that when we are unaware of our location in the world, we can still know our direction.
I thought of this as I agreed to serve as the sponsor for The Black Student Association on our campus. While I can never truly understand what it means to be Black in America, perhaps there is some insight I can offer from years of experience living on this side of privilege. At the very least, I will learn from these enthusiastic young people as we navigate these uncertain times. I don’t feel prepared but I’m ready.
Unprepared but ready. This was the phrase that came to mind. I shared it with this young man. “You can never be one hundred percent prepared, but you can be ready. And if you’re ready, that is all the preparation you will need.” Being ready is simply the passion that must exist to make a commitment to do what is necessary. The impetus for action. And for those who are ready the preparation will eventually take care of itself.
As Winston Churchill once opined, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
Or better yet the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This is such a time.
I’m not prepared. But I’m ready.