There is a profound difference between advice and truth. Advice is like a hairbrush; a skilled stylist can utilize it in a way that creates a fresh and distinctive look. But after a few days if the recipient isn’t intentional, the impression of the stylist’s brush is quickly forgotten. Truth, on the other hand, is like a baseball bat applied to the same head. Those on the receiving end of a baseball bat are unlikely to ever be the same. Good advice is always welcomed and helpful, but the truth is life altering.
All of us need people in our lives who will tell us the truth. As a middle-aged white male, I needed someone to tell me the truth about the privileges I enjoyed because of my melanin and the residual racism that I couldn’t see because I was blinded by my normative experiences. I didn’t need these uncomfortable truths to be sugar coated, nor did my feelings need to be handled with kid gloves, I needed a rhetorical slap up against the head. Thankfully I knew someone who wouldn’t pull any punches. Her name is Ally Henny. If you don’t know her name, you should get to know her, because we all need to hear what she is saying. Ally is a writer and influencer with over 100,000 followers on Facebook alone in addition to enormous followings on Twitter and Instagram. She also serves as Vice President of The Witness Black Christian Collective and host of the popular podcast Combing the Roots. Every single day she dispenses the challenging truths about racial justice that our society so desperately needs to hear.
I first met Ally several years ago when our paths providentially crossed at a Missouri youth camp. I noticed immediately that Ally had something to say and a powerful ability to say it. This is a combination that speaks to her prophetic persona which she leverages in an effort to make the world a better place, and this is what separates Ally Henny from the rest of us. While many of us may have talents and abilities to put words together in clever ways, what we often lack is the clarion call of a word delivered with precision and power. Ally has a unique gift to communicate with laser like focus, cutting through so much of the noise that is bandied about as conventional wisdom. For example, in June of 2018 she shook things up with a tweet that commented on the inexplicable enthusiasm with which many embrace anything President Trump had to say with little to no skepticism, but in the same breath would categorically dismiss the lived experiences of Black and Brown people.
Also, in the summer of 2018, Ally was generous in sharing her knowledge and experience with me through a series of live videos where we discussed many of the difficult issues involving race in our nation. I learned a great deal about myself through these interactions with Ally, specifically I received the revelation that when it comes to these issues I should not expect to have much to say, at least not in ways that are on par with the lived experiences of Black people.
There is a tendency in white communities to simply read a book, watch a movie, or witness inequality and brutality towards Black people, in the way that all of us did with George Floyd, and allow that to be the end of it, or to quickly move forward with attempts to “Fix things.” Ally taught me that I should flee this temptation, because it is unrealistic for me as a white person to think that I can fully comprehend the daily lived experiences of Black people in one, two, or more conversations, watched documentaries or books read. While this education is necessary for white people it isn’t sufficient in solving or even understanding the depths of injustice against Black people in this country. Ally helped me understand that in this movement for equality my best position is one of a follower and supporter of the Black people who are leading and speaking to these issues. This position doesn’t free me of my responsibility to lead in my spheres of influence or to speak out when I have opportunity, but it does mean that I should always defer to Black voices as the center of authority on these issues. To do otherwise is just another manifestation of white supremacy.
The best teachers are those that insure that the students have learned. In this regard, Ally Henny is an instructor of the highest caliber. If you are willing to listen you will learn. Ally Henny embodies the best characteristics of her ancestors in challenging the status quo with disruptive “good trouble” that upsets the powerful and gives hope to the downtrodden. When Ally speaks the marginalized rejoice, because the truth of their experience is spoken.
Ally’s example amplifies the powerful words of another amazing Black woman, Sojourner Truth when she said, “If there can be anything more diametrically opposed to the religion of Jesus, than the working of this soul-killing system – which is as truly sanctioned by the religion of America as are her minsters and churches – we wish to be shown where it can be found.” Ally Henny has picked up this prophetic mantle to challenge the institutional and systemic racist remnants that remain dedicated to perpetuating inequality in our nation.
Listen to Ally Henny. She tells it like it is. You may be impressed by the advice you receive, but more importantly you will be forever impacted by the truth she speaks.