“I am a part of the work, the foundation that God is laying for them to do what they’ve been called to do” —Candace Benbow
In this Episode
On this episode, we are joined by Candice Benbow: Author, Essayist, Public Theologian and Eductor. Candice is the creator of the Lemonade Syllabus, the author of Red Lip Theology, which launched to much acclaim earlier this year, and a regular contributor to Essence Magazine.
Candice was asked to join us for this conversation because as we enter 2023, this is a year deeply meaningful for people of African descent on U.S. soil. We commemorate several major milestones this year; the 160th anniversary of the Emancipation Declaration, the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham Children’s March, the 60th anniversary of the 4 little girls, and the March on Washington. Rarely do we center the women when commemorating the march toward freedom, but we have had a march of our own. And the work Candice is doing represents a critical Freedom March happening inside the Black community right now.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet @LisaSHarper or to Freedom Road at @FreedomRoadUS. And, keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think!
Dr. J. Robert Clinton’s book The Making of a Leader – www.goodreads.com/book/show/151739.The_Making_of_a_Leader
Podcast Transcript[00:00:00] HARPER: Coming to you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. I’m Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road Podcast. Each month we speak with national faith leaders, advocates, and activists to have the [00:00:20] kinds of conversations we normally have on the front lines. It’s just that this time we’ve got microphones in our faces, and you are listening in.
And this month Oh, I’m so excited. We are joined by Candace Benbow, author, essayist, public theologian, and educator.
Candace is the creator of the Lemonade [00:00:40] syllabus, and if you don’t know what that is, then you need to find out what that is, it’s like amazing. I was looking at it and I was like, Okay, this is my list. This is my list to read for the rest of my life. She’s also the author of Red Lip Theology, which launched to much acclaim earlier last year [00:01:00] and a regular contributor to Essence Magazine.
I invited Candace to speak with us today because we are entering 2023, and this is a year deeply meaningful for people of African descent on US soil. We commemorate this year several major milestones, the hundred and [00:01:20] 60th anniversary of the Emancipation Declaration, the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham Children’s March, the 60th anniversary of the four little girls dying in Birmingham and the March on Washington.
Rarely do we center the women when commemorating the march toward freedom. We have had a march [00:01:40] of our own right. And I believe the work Candace is doing represents a critical freedom march happening inside the black community right now. So we’d love to hear your thoughts. So tweet to me at lisasharper or to Freedom Road at FreedomRoad.us, and keep sharing the podcast with your [00:02:00] friends and networks and letting us know what you.
All right, so Candace, let’s dive in. We always start with our own personal stories here on Freedom Road, and so in a recent essence piece, you talked about how Beyonce’s Song Church girl on her Renaissance album got all up in your stuff, [00:02:20] and you know, it speaks to a particular conundrum, prevalent within black women’s experience of church and faith.
First, how does your own story intersect with that conundrum?[00:02:34] BENBOW: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here. I am, you know, [00:02:40] I, I tell people all the time my mother first when she was pregnant, the first time she felt me kick was in a church called Mercy Seat Holy Church. And she said that part of the struggle was that she had been asked to stand before the congregation and apologize for being [00:03:00] pregnant because she was a single unwed mother.
Now, mind you, my father was in the choir behind her and nobody asked him to to apologize. Yeah. He was right there and they, that’s, they met in church. and she refused. And so [00:03:20] when she went to this, she told the story. She told me the story that when she went to this evening service at Mercy Seat, she prayed and asked God for something. She had been praying and asking God for a sign. Because the truth of the matter is, is that she was born and raised as a church girl too. And to [00:03:40] be pregnant and unmarried feels like the ultimate sin. And, and she was carrying a baby and she was carrying guilt and she was carrying shame and she just needed some sign, some semblance that God saw her and God hurt her.
And she said, that was the first time she felt me kick. [00:04:00] And she said that as that, as long as she kept the two of us with God, that we would all be okay. And so I, I tell people, I was kinda raised in this vortex of like faith and feminism of black feminism where my mom was like, I’m not apologizing for being [00:04:20] pregnant, like. Figure what figure, whatever else you need to figure out. But that’s not gonna happen. But she also still raised me in the same kind of faith community that required her to repent and apologize.[00:04:35] HARPER: Yeah, I hear you. Yeah. [00:04:36] BENBOW: space kind of always, I would hear like [00:04:40] these crazy sermons about single mamas while also seeing my mother and other women in the church be lit, the literal backbones of our church and our faith community.
And so it really pushed me[00:04:55] HARPER: Hmm. [00:04:56] BENBOW: to, to figure out me in this [00:05:00] space. Like I, it took me a long time to honor to one, recognize and honor that I was born. in those circumstances for a specific reason, at a specific time to do a specific work and living and [00:05:20] stepping into that for me has been really the greatest kind of work that I feel like I can do. [00:05:28] HARPER: Can I just say, wow. Okay. So I am a real believer in sovereign foundations. And that’s something like, it’s, it’s a term that was [00:05:40] developed by a guy who, the guy who wrote the book, the Making of a Leader. Oh my goodness, I’m totally blanking on his name now. And it’s so up here at my bookshelf.
Oh my lord, how can I blank on his name? But anyway, he wrote an incredible book and, and he, he coined this term Sovereign Foundations. And what it means is that God, [00:06:00] Laid the foundations in your life, your, your history, your heritage, the things that happened in the world while you were being Gest date on their first year of life that actually give you signposts.
They’re meant to kind of guide you into the [00:06:20] ultimate contribution that God was dreaming of when God created you. So sovereign foundations are the foundations that God gives you to be able to, to contribute to the world what God was dreaming when God made you. What do you think of that? Because I’m, I’m listening to your piece and I’m going, what?
Like, you were being just [00:06:40] dated when you first kicked, when this was happening, and then the big thing that like really one of the biggest contributions you have given so far to the world is lemonade, syllabus and, and now red lip theology, which I know you were working on far before the book actually came out.
How does this strike you?[00:06:58] BENBOW: yeah. It’s, it’s, [00:07:00] I I had never heard that term and it’s so funny that as soon as you said, I was like, yeah. then I thought about what, what parts of my foundations laid even through my ancestors, right? Like, I found out the other day [00:07:20] that like, well, not the other day, I’m sorry, like I found out.
Before my grandmother passed that as a child, she wrote, like, she wrote these stories. She wrote, and I always, and she got that from her grandmother who couldn’t write and told her to just [00:07:40] like, to like write, always write what she was thinking, and always write what she was dreaming. And I remembered thinking that this kind of like gift of writing that I had came just from my mind and I was like, wait a minute.
Like I can trace at least four [00:08:00] women, including myself, who the written word was powerful too. And, and then it got me excited about what else it will do further and further generations. Because I, so, like when I think about, you know, these sovereign foundations, what [00:08:20] also makes me hopeful is that I am that for someone else too, you[00:08:26] HARPER: wow. [00:08:26] BENBOW: And like, and one of the things that I’ve, I’ve learned and I, I take from Reverend Dr. Melva Sampson of Pink Rope Chronicles, she’s always like, sometimes we have to be mindful that we are ancestors in training. And that [00:08:40] we, that like what we do, what we do now, right?
The lives that we live now will not only will impact the lives of the people who come behind us, but we’ll also it creates the foundations upon which[00:09:00] [00:09:00] HARPER: Mm-hmm.[00:09:01] BENBOW: energy rest that we’ll be able to give them and extend to them. And so I try to be very like, I try to be mindful of that, that like, I never met my great-grandmother, and yet when I’m in the, when I am in the kitchen, I call on her. [00:09:19] HARPER: [00:09:20] Hmm. [00:09:20] BENBOW: You know, like [00:09:21] HARPER: Oh totally. [00:09:23] BENBOW: and I, there will be some, some girls in, in my lineage, some women in my lineage that will never meet me, but they’re gonna be in the kitchen or they’re gonna be at their table writing and they’re gonna call on me and I need to show up and, [00:09:40] and I am a part of the work, the foundation that God is laying for them to do what they’ve been called to do.
And it changes. It changes how I approach things. It changes how it’s, it has changed how I approach things. And it changed how I move in a lot of ways.[00:09:59] HARPER: It’s funny because I [00:10:00] think that the way that you first showed up with that kick, and also your mother, like your mother, showed up in that moment and laid the foundation for you to be able to say no. Like, you know what I mean? No. To patriarchy. She gave you. a picture of what it looks like to say no while you were in the womb.
And it is striking [00:10:20] to me also that your dad was standing right behind her. You know what I mean? And, and that the church’s name was what? Mercy The name of the church is Mercy. Ugh. Yeah. So, so we say no, we say no to those, to the contradiction of faith, to really the, the twisting of faith. [00:10:40] Now I wanna ask, you know, how did this conundrum impact you and maybe your faith development?[00:10:47] BENBOW: Yeah. I spent, I spent a lot of time really not believing I was worth. Life. Like I, like I felt, I felt for a very [00:11:00] long time, even into, even into young adulthood, that I had somehow like, soiled my mother that like my mother was the greatest, you know, woman that I knew, greatest Christian that I knew.
And here I was this like blot on her like salvation record because I had heard [00:11:20] all of these stories about, you know, basically I tell people, I tell people like this and I had to say it to a pastor and he was like, oh my God. I said, essentially what, what we hear from the pulpit is that if our parents, if our mother specifically had loved God more, we wouldn’t exist.[00:11:40]
And so how am I supposed to move through the world if you are telling me that if my mama loved God more, I would not even be alive? and that kind of[00:11:56] HARPER: I just kinda honestly, like there are no words. [00:12:00] How do you speak to that? How do [00:12:01] BENBOW: how, speak to that [00:12:02] HARPER: there is nothing they can say because that is, and guess what, guess what? They would also be who, they would also be saying that too. [00:12:09] BENBOW: mm-hmm. [00:12:10] HARPER: Jesus. [00:12:11] BENBOW: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like they, like, they, they would be saying that to the very one who came and like, [00:12:20] who, like who, who created, who is the OG of dubious circumstances in birth. Right? Like, like, like, but, I spent so much time feeling like if I was better at this or if I, if I got the good grades, if I was super smart, if [00:12:40] I was all of these things, that it would somehow compensate for what I actually was, [00:12:48] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:12:49] BENBOW: and. I’ve had to, what I’ve had to work through years of therapy and my own spiritual journey, the undoing of that, [00:13:00] because so much of it framed how I saw myself and so much of it framed how I saw God and, and all of it framed how I thought God saw me. And if, all of those perceptions are authority, like you don’t have a clear picture.[00:13:20] [00:13:20] HARPER: Can I ask you to be even a little more specific? Like what were some of the lies that were told to you that you came to understand were not true? Were actually lies by the church. [00:13:34] BENBOW: Yeah, that I was I’ll never forget specifically a pastor told me that [00:13:40] my mother’s refusal to repent from me meant she wasn’t gonna be in hell. And that, so much so that I’d heard that as a child and I didn’t remember it until it was one of those things that you black out, but [00:14:00] it’s still there until a pastor came to the home.
I shared with my mother after she passed and asked me if I knew whether or not my mom ever made it right with God about having me.[00:14:17] HARPER: about having you. [00:14:19] BENBOW: and I, and [00:14:20] I remember [00:14:21] HARPER: Oh my gosh. [00:14:23] BENBOW: my college roommate was, was, was sitting with me and I didn’t have words, like I didn’t have words and she orchestrated some kind of way to get me upstairs and go to my room. [00:14:40] And I’ll never forget, I looked at her and I said, I don’t wanna talk to anybody else that comes in here. And she said, okay. And I remember closing, my mother had died. I was 33 years old. And I remember closing the door to my bedroom. And my first thought was, well, [00:15:00] did she like, did she apologize? Like, because.
because in that instant, and I tell people, I tell people all the time, especially women, to learn how to give themselves an abundance of grace. Cause when you have been raised in, faith [00:15:20] traditions that haven’t always been kind and loving those old tapes play even when you push stop. You know what I’m[00:15:29] HARPER: Oh yes. Oh my goodness. You’re on auto? [00:15:33] BENBOW: exactly Don Otto, I remember Lisa sitting there and being like, [00:15:40] well, did she? And like I had to shake myself because I’m like, wait, like I, like I gotta plan a funeral , like all of these people are in, in this house. And I really would love for all of them to be gone because the only person I want to be here is her.
And he’s [00:16:00] asking me, does she make it right? You know?[00:16:02] HARPER: And basically he’s asking is she in hell or in heaven? Let’s just be, you know what I mean? You just gotta be clear about that. That’s what he is intimating, is that she’s in hell. That’s, can I just say, that’s effed up [00:16:16] BENBOW: Yeah, [00:16:17] HARPER: It’s like totally hundred percent [00:16:19] BENBOW: funny [00:16:20] cause it’s so wild. Cause as I’m sitting here talking about it to you, it took me right back to that moment and I, like, I’m feeling it, but it took me right back to that moment. And I, and I [00:16:33] HARPER: I feel it. [00:16:34] BENBOW: also, you know, there were just so many sermons, and I [00:16:40] talk about this in re theology about how I spent so much time hearing these sermons that really made me question myself and, and question my worth and question my value. And I. one of the things that [00:17:00] I had to press against was the whole idea of being born in sin and shaped and iniquity. Because that idea, when you are someone who’s, who’s the circumstances of your birth are mopped and shamed, you always, you already carry a lot of that. And I was just like, [00:17:20] wait, like, I, like, like this can’t be for me.
And I just had to say, and then when I learned what the context of that scripture was, I remember being like, but it had nothing to do with me just cuz he was out here being trifling. Like, I don’t have to, like, why does it have to be me But I spent a lot of time [00:17:40] in spaces and I mean, as much as I love the church, I think a lot of us have to be honest, we spent a lot of time in spaces where, We were hurt, and what we heard hurt and what we heard wounded and it took root[00:17:58] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:17:59] BENBOW: and, [00:18:00] and it, and it, it took root and it spoiled good fruit on the vine.
And we spent years, we spent decades uprooting and trying to make sure that the soil is better and, and that the seeds that are planted are, are healthy ones.[00:18:19] HARPER: Mm. [00:18:20] It impacts our whole lives, right? Like the words. words are power. And I wrote a play a long, long time ago, back in the nineties, and one of the, one of the lines in the play is that words are power. And you know, in the, in the scripture it says it very clearly, they can cut, they can cut like a double edged sword [00:18:40] now that that is the word, but it’s still the same.
This, this man, you know, said to you basically that you shouldn’t be alive and placed his own shame on you, or at least tried to transfer the shame that he placed [00:19:00] on your mother onto you. And it comes from the same place it came from white patriarchy that he had adopted that actually was not for his good either, I imagine.
He was, he African American.[00:19:12] BENBOW: Yep. He was a black preacher. [00:19:14] HARPER: There you go. Right. See what I’m talking about? So it’s internalized [00:19:18] BENBOW: Mm-hmm. [00:19:18] HARPER: patriarchy [00:19:20] that that still seeks to subjugate black women so that they can feel like there’s somebody in the midst of the hierarchy, the the latter of human hierarchy. So I wanna ask you, what was the moment, if that was the moment, or if there was another moment when the scales fell off?[00:19:40] [00:19:40] BENBOW: Woo. The skills fell off. Another moment for me. [00:19:47] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:19:47] BENBOW: I talk about, I talk about two moments in the book. One was the, was the death of Whitney Houston. And how, just how like formative. And [00:20:00] transformative. That was for me because I, I remember feeling, I remembered feeling hopeless, , like, I remember feeling like, oh, well this don’t work for nobody like that.
It like, like there’s not freedom in this life. Like I, I remembered feeling like that. And I remember being like, well, why don’t, like what is the [00:20:20] point of, faith and being and believing if you cannot be yourself and that the only way that you can be free is to be dead? I re I re I remember thinking that and, and I had already had, because of my own, my own upbringing these questions that were [00:20:40] bubbling in me.
But I watched her funeral[00:20:44] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:20:45] BENBOW: grandmother and with my mom. We dressed up. Watched the gift [00:20:51] HARPER: wow. [00:20:52] BENBOW: And we sat, I, my grandmother kept a, a um, a TV at the corner of her kitchen table. And so we were sitting around the kitchen [00:21:00] table and we watched the funeral and I remembered sitting there for this moment.
My grandmother was just, my grandmother was broken because Whitney died in February, that previous November. Her youngest daughter had died of cancer. My, so my grandmother was feeling sissy and [00:21:20] she was, and she was longing for her daughter. I am sitting there watching it because I am just like, what is, like, I am, I am seeing this as, as. what hope is there for me. And then you have my mother who is, older than WI, who is older than Whitney, [00:21:40] but really of that kind of like generation of like what she stood, she stood very squarely in the middle of me and my grandmother. And I remember it being like, I’m, I’m sitting, it’s three generations of black women here, and this moment means something very different to all of us.[00:22:00] [00:22:00] HARPER: Hmm.[00:22:00] BENBOW: yet the church is what, and our relationship with God is what unifies us. And I remember that was the next day I woke up and I wrote my entrance speech, I mean my my personal essays for, for seminary And then, it was like I couldn’t hide [00:22:20] anymore. Like I couldn’t, I couldn’t pretend like I had, didn’t have these questions and I couldn’t pretend like, I wanted, I.
I didn’t want another three women to be at a funeral, whether it was being streamed or whether it was in person for somebody that they loved with that [00:22:40] same kind of like dread and that same, I didn’t want that. And I was like, and I mean that be might naive tell of thinking that like if I went to seminary I could, I could figure out these questions and create that space, but I needed it.
Like, I like because, because I also had to admit that they weren’t just questions for Whitney. [00:23:00] They were questions for me.[00:23:02] HARPER: Damn. Can I just say one of the things that strikes me, Your process is that a lot of people have a scales fall off the eyes moment where they, they all of a sudden realize they were lied to and they see the truth, but your scales fall off. The eyes [00:23:20] moment was actually a lot more like what a lot of people are going through right now where you realize that you have been fed something as true, but it is not true and it falls and what’s behind it is questions not like a declaration of No, this is true [00:23:40] actually.
What, what steps to the four is the, the, the age of not of unknowing.[00:23:47] BENBOW: Yeah. [00:23:48] HARPER: not knowing. And guess what that is? Okay. [00:23:52] BENBOW: Yeah. It’s such a holy space. Oh, I just, I mean, and I, I like, [00:24:00] it’s, it’s so funny because like right before we were talking, I was, I was having a conversation with a friend about this, like, and I was trying to figure out how I was gonna do it as a TikTok or a video, but like of one of my critiques of like the deconstruction movement right now is that like, folks are like, [00:24:20] folks get stuck there because to have a critique of the church is, is very in vogue.
It’s sexy right now. Right? Like, to, to say that everything is problematic and all of that is, I mean, we know that cuz we’re humans and we’re flawed. So, but the danger, right. [00:24:40] is that people come to these spaces and they come to us with real questions. And if you keep breaking down things like you don’t have any, like what have you been building, right?
And like, you know, one of my favorite, one of my favorite lines of literature. [00:25:00] Is Zora know Herrs now. She opens their eyes, we’re watching God. There are years that ask the questions and there are years that answer. and for me the truth is, is that there are moments in our life where those skills fall off and the questions are the only thing [00:25:20] that we have.
And it’s, and, and it takes a season and it takes a moment and it takes a while to, to be comfortable and to, to rest in those questions. Cuz, asking them and discovering that they they exist is part of the journey. But then that also comes a point where there comes a [00:25:40] season where you gotta start seeking some answers.[00:25:43] HARPER: These are our stories.
You’re listening to the Freedom Road podcast, where we bring you stories from the front lines of the struggle for justice. [00:26:00] [00:26:20] Okay. So finish that thought that you were, you were ruminating on just before the break.[00:26:27] BENBOW: yeah. I mean, so, so, so here’s the truth. We are not supposed to spend our years, our lives deconstructing. I mean, for one, [00:26:40] cuz we were resurrection people. So, I mean, like, he did get up. So like, I mean like, we, like, like we can’t, we can’t stay, we can’t stay down, we can’t stay tearing down when the very one that we, we serve said, I’m gonna tear it down and rebuild it in [00:27:00] three days.
Right. Like, like there was a, there was a point of rebuilding. I was telling my friend yesterday, I was like, there’s a, I was like, we throw these books away, but there’s a reason that Deuteronomy and Leviticus come after Exodus. Like, like there’s a reason that we sit there and we, I, I was [00:27:20] a kid in Bible study being like, why, why am I reading about the fact that y’all can’t cut y’all hair?
Like, what does this have to do with, like, why, why aren’t, why you can’t? You selfish. Like, I, I don’t un like why do I have to read this? But the truth is, is that when you have journey, [00:27:40] when you’ve asked the questions, when you’ve, when you’ve torn down,[00:27:45] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:27:45] BENBOW: there does come a time of rebuilding. [00:27:48] HARPER: Yeah. You know, I often, I talk about the fact that, you know, this de I actually, I’m not, I’m not a deconstructionist. I don’t like that whole, I mean, I think to some degree, [00:28:00] I honestly, I think that it’s a very, honestly, I think it’s a very Western project right now. Most of the people who I know who are deconstructing are white folk.
Usually white, well white men, a lot of white men and a lot of white women too. So you might as well just say white. But I think that a lot of this deconstruction stuff is happening still under the assumptions that [00:28:20] come to us through western culture, which is ironic because the scripture is not a Western document. It is actually an Afro-Asian document. And, and a pre-modern document, not modern, not post-modern. It’s pre-modern. So, you know, so to deconstruct. it still leaves the [00:28:40] self. I’ve kind of been preaching this for a while now, but it leaves the self as the center point, the one that actually gets to determine what, what goes and what stays.
But it doesn’t bow to the actual culture and people and the experiences and worldview of the writers.[00:28:57] BENBOW: Yeah, yeah, [00:28:58] HARPER: so the call, I believe [00:29:00] is not to deconstruct, but actually to decolonize. [00:29:03] BENBOW: yeah. [00:29:04] HARPER: decolonize the, you know, the text, we take away that white overlay, that western supremacist, that white supremacist overlay, that patriarchal overlay actually.
And we get to see what these brown colonized indigenous people were actually [00:29:20] saying for thousands of years before they got, before Westerners got their hands.[00:29:25] BENBOW: They got their hands on it. Yeah. And we get to, we get to, to as Bishop Yves wonder once said, read ourselves back into the love of God. And I’ve had to do that, like I’ve had to I had to [00:29:40] read myself back into it, and I had to, I had to sit with the fact of the one space that I love that I am deeply connected to because of my relationship with my mother tried to me outta it.
And, and, and these, these people look like me. You know, they [00:30:00] and, and in doing so I created the conditions under which, I could know God for myself. that to me is, I think, I think when I try to distill what it is that I do and why it is that I do it, it [00:30:20] comes to that like knowing God for yourself and being able to rest in that relationship.
And for the first time,[00:30:31] HARPER: Hmm. [00:30:32] BENBOW: for the first time in my life, I am resting in the fact that I have a relationship with God. [00:30:38] HARPER: Wow. [00:30:39] BENBOW: [00:30:40] deeply authentic one. And like I gotta, you know, run and, and, and get my Bible and read it every morning. When I know it’s in it. Like I, like, it’s the one book that I have written my whole life.
Like, I, like I know it’s in it, but, but I can rest in the fact that. I can [00:31:00] talk to God just like I’m talking to you. And, and I’ve had those moments where I’ve been like, okay, look like this, this don’t work. And then I’ve had, I’ve had those moments where looking at a robes has moved me [00:31:20] deep whales of gratitude that I have had to just, you know, cuz I remember it like, like I, and I talk about this in my book, but there was a really dark period of time for me right after my mom died for like three years.
And I, you know, one of my friends [00:31:40] said it to me on my birthday. She said, I don’t know how to say this to you, so I’m just gonna say it and I’m gonna trust that our relationship can hold it. And I was like, okay. And she said, for so long I was scared that I was gonna lose you.[00:31:59] HARPER: Yeah.[00:32:00] [00:32:00] BENBOW: And she found, she said, every birthday since then, sh I cry a little bit cuz I’m, I’m glad that you’re here.
And I told her and said, yeah, I’m not, I’m, I can’t tell you that I thought I was gonna be here either. Right.[00:32:14] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:32:15] BENBOW: And so, like traversing through all of that, getting [00:32:20] to a place of authenticity with my relationship with God, that allows me to be like, okay, God is a symbol and I need you to figure it out. [00:32:28] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:32:30] BENBOW: To sing a rose and being like, thank you for letting me see a rose. [00:32:36] HARPER: Wow. [00:32:37] BENBOW: You know, thank you for letting like, [00:32:40] There are days my grandmother gave me this thing because I was diagnosed with severe anxiety after my mom passed and a lot of stuff happened and my grand, my grandma was like, I dunno, all about this medicine stuff.
And if that’s what you feel like you need to do, who’s her? Her and my granddaddy used to say, who’s never, what’s never, that was they, [00:33:00] whatever. Do what you wanna do. She was like, who? What’s[00:33:03] HARPER: gosh. Wait, can I ask you a question? Where, where are your grandparents from? Where was your family from? [00:33:08] BENBOW: so my grandfather was from Sumter, South Carolina, and my grandmother was from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Yeah. [00:33:15] HARPER: See, now I’ll know, but I, I had a sense that they were from the Carolinas. My grandmother was from South Carolina [00:33:20] as well, Camden, South Carolina. And, and she would’ve said something like that too. That’s really funny. who Never, [00:33:28] BENBOW: what’s Nevin? That’s that how she did her hands. She said, when you feel that, when you start, when when your world started to get to rocking and you, you feel a little shaky, [00:33:40] she was like, take your shoes off and go outside and recite the 23rd song. And when I tell you, even to this day [00:33:50] HARPER: Hmm [00:33:50] BENBOW: when I need to steady myself [00:33:52] HARPER: mm-hmm. [00:33:53] BENBOW: and get steel, I take my shoes off and I go outside and I say, the Lord is my [00:34:00] shepherd.
I show not.[00:34:02] HARPER: can I just, oh, no. Go on. Go on . Go on. [00:34:05] BENBOW: And, and, and I, and not only it’s in those moments where you can’t tell me I don’t know God and God don’t know me. And it’s in those moments where you can’t tell me [00:34:20] that I don’t come from a people. [00:34:22] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:34:23] BENBOW: that knew how to get to God when the white structures racist, overseers, and, and masters told them that God did not know them and that God was not for them unless God was, [00:34:40] was telling them to stay bound like you.
It’s in those moments where you can’t tell me that, that I, I don’t belong to God and God doesn’t belong to me.[00:34:52] HARPER: Right. [00:34:53] BENBOW: And it, and it’s that, it’s that mother with right, that she, that, that I have. That [00:35:00] also reaffirmed and shifted even the way that I approach the work that I do. [00:35:10] HARPER: Hmm. [00:35:10] BENBOW: Cause my grandmother comes from a completely different time than I do, but we serve the same [00:35:20] God. [00:35:20] HARPER: Hello. And you live in the same world. I mean, it’s different generations, but it’s the world has ways that it works. I wanna go to your essence piece. The same essence piece where you talked about Beyonce’s journey of liberation and how we all journeyed with her. And I think that your readers have journeyed with you as well.[00:35:40]
And you know what? You were just talking. How your grandmother literally passed on a strategy for resilience[00:35:50] BENBOW: Mm-hmm. [00:35:51] HARPER: to you that she likely got from her grandmother who was likely enslaved or at least one generation from it. [00:35:59] BENBOW: Move. Yeah. [00:36:00] She [00:36:00] HARPER: Right. So not that far from slavery like we are talking about. We are literally talking about being passed down.
The strategies of spiritual resilience from people who were born unfree,[00:36:17] BENBOW: Yeah. [00:36:17] HARPER: born oppressed. I [00:36:20] mean the worst depression that on the face of the earth ever, on the face of the earth they experience for 246 years. And so their, the faith of people of African descent on American soil was born out of this struggle, and they could not have survived it without.
Strategies of resilience. So I’m [00:36:40] wondering, I’m wondering, you know, in addition to what your mother, your grandmother, rather taught you in your research in, as you have been on this journey now of flourishing and into liberation, have you found authentic African or [00:37:00] untainted African American understandings of goodness and wellness and flourishing that have helped you to make the shift?[00:37:10] BENBOW: Oh, absolutely. , I, you know, it’s, it’s so funny because one of, one of the things that I believe, and my, my grandmother as a, [00:37:20] as a little girl told me that we have a knowing that belongs to us that doesn’t, that nobody else can touch. And so, [00:37:31] HARPER: Wow, [00:37:32] BENBOW: I remember I remembered having a Dr having dreams [00:37:40] and I would voice them to my grandmother and I would voice them to my mom.
And I remember that took me to my, my Aunt Gert because you know, in our communities and in our families, when somebody got the gift, you put them around the ones that also have it. Cause[00:37:59] HARPER: That’s [00:38:00] right. [00:38:00] BENBOW: you, you know, they know what to do and they know how to nurture that. And they know how to understand. [00:38:06] HARPER: Hmm. [00:38:06] BENBOW: And I remember, I be like, this is the weirdest, these are the experiences.
But these are also women who were on like the usher boards of their churches. [00:38:20] And like if you, if, if you would walk in my house or at home in that moment, you would be like, wait, do y’all believe? Do y’all not, you know what I’m saying? Like, do, like, what is, what is happening here? But I remembered one day my grandmother, one, when it was an one day, my grandmother said to me,[00:38:39] HARPER: Okay.[00:38:40] [00:38:40] BENBOW: Jesus walked with black folk before Jesus walked with white folk. [00:38:43] HARPER: Hello? [00:38:44] BENBOW: And, and I like, [00:38:47] HARPER: Yes. Yes. Jesus, in fact was black folk. [00:38:51] BENBOW: that’s exactly what she like. And I remember, and I got in, I went to a, I went to a private white Christian school in middle school for a [00:39:00] year. And I got in trouble because I said that Jesus was black. and my teacher said, how do you know? And I said, well, my grandma said he hid in Africa, like you can’t be white and hide in Africa. [00:39:15] HARPER: Hello, somebody. That’s for real. [00:39:16] BENBOW: and so I was like, well, he got it. And, and then I was [00:39:20] like, in the scriptures, say he got nappy hair and he got skin in my complexion. Like, and so and so like, I always grew up in a space that affirmed the other, that was other, [00:39:40] but was always inherent to us. what complicated it. And I have you and I have those conversations with my mom and I think, and it goes back to what you said about living in the, we live in the same world.
What often complicated it was that the churches that I was a part of [00:40:00] demonized that[00:40:01] HARPER: were the churches, I’m sorry, very quickly. The churches were, were they, were they black churches that were part of a black denomination, or were they black churches that were part of a white denomination that came out of a white denomination, or were they not black churches? [00:40:15] BENBOW: No, they were black churches. I grew up in black churches and traditionally black [00:40:20] denominations. But we know how we carry patriarchy and we know how we carry white supremacy. Like we, in the words of, of Dr. Katie Cannons, we can do white folks work for them sometimes. And so, so I would always be confused.
You know what I’m saying, that [00:40:40] like here we are doing, like having these very organic, that feel the most natural to me, and then I go into these worship spaces where it not only gets demonized, but you get demonized. Right?[00:40:59] HARPER: [00:41:00] Yes. [00:41:00] BENBOW: And, and it took. Realizing, and I, and I, and I mean, this is, this is what this is. I hate that.
I only realized it after she passed, but I mean, wisdom comes, wisdom is needed. My mama was a single mom raising a black girl in the nineties, [00:41:20] and she felt like the church was the safest place to do that. And I had to, and I had to be, and I had to give her the grace of like, she did what she thought was right, and she did the best that she could.
While also making sure that I stayed very close to what literally would [00:41:40] be what could sustain me. Right? Like even, even stuff like, I mean, I am, I am big on ritual, so even stuff. I need, and that’s what I’m telling you, like, I’ve never met my great-grandmother, but, but I, but when I need to feel her, I get close to her.[00:42:00]
I got my great-grandmother’s pot that my grandmother cooked greens in,[00:42:06] HARPER: Oh my God. [00:42:07] BENBOW: but it was her mama’s pot. [00:42:09] HARPER: Wow. [00:42:10] BENBOW: And when I need to feel her, when I need to feel them, I get that pot out [00:42:20] and I cook greens like I, when I need, and I just like, and I, and I, I literally, and I’m playing my James Cleveland Pandora station, and I, and I got a white candle on my, on my ancestral auster lit.
And I tell them, I say, and I, [00:42:40] and I literally say, Whoever can come see about me. and, and I was taught, I’m getting chills thinking about it, but I was taught that when you call on them, they come,[00:42:53] HARPER: Oh, yes. [00:42:54] BENBOW: when you call on them, they come. And so in the moments where [00:43:00] I, like, I am thinking about, and it’s making, this whole conversation is making me think about this line and the song that I heard my whole life differently, this joy I have, the world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away. [00:43:15] HARPER: Yes. [00:43:16] BENBOW: there is something here [00:43:19] HARPER: Mm-hmm. . [00:43:20] Mm-hmm. [00:43:20] BENBOW: I didn’t get from there [00:43:22] HARPER: yeah. [00:43:23] BENBOW: that can’t be taken from me. That even when, when I feel. The most fiercest wins, of racism and sexism and gender oppression. That [00:43:40] intersectional oppression. Even when I feel the worst wins of it, there’s still something in here that it didn’t, that there’s a fire there, that those winds didn’t blow out and it can’t blow out.
And I think I’ve, I’ve learned, I’ve learned [00:44:00] in recent years to hold fast to it,[00:44:05] HARPER: Hmm [00:44:05] BENBOW: protect it. And now in 2023, as I enter the first year of my life without any physical maternal presence in this world, [00:44:18] HARPER: hmm. [00:44:19] BENBOW: I [00:44:20] am having to learn even more. What it means to hold onto that fire and to hold on to what it is in me that my grandma, that my mama put in me, that my grandma put in her that my great great, that my great-grandma put in her and that my [00:44:40] great-great grandma put in her and not let it, not let it burn out. [00:44:45] HARPER: Walking Freedom Road from coast to coast and around the globe. This is the Freedom Road podcast. [00:45:00] [00:45:20] So Candace, you were talking. I mean, I just gotta say, I’m like, I’m like seriously sitting here worshiping . I’m like, I’m in church. I’m, we’re having [00:45:40] church [00:45:40] BENBOW: Yeah, we [00:45:40] HARPER: us tonight. We really are as we talk. I swear to you, I’ve been on a journey myself and, and, and the thing is, is.
The reason I’m sitting in the house that I sit in right now where we are having this conversation, you know, via Zoom, in the pod, in the casting is because my [00:46:00] ancestor showed up and said, if I can do it, you can do it in terms of owning my home. And he owned a block of homes about a mile away from here that were taken from him by eminent domain.
And then he bought a home two blocks from here, which is where my family lived for several years. And then they moved to a one block, just a block away. [00:46:20] And I was, I felt called to this land as I was actually, as I was riding fortune. I, and it literally, I was writing the chapter on him when I started to look for the place where his land had been.
And that’s what called me to the place where I am right now. And I felt like he showed up. While I was touring homes and he said, if I can do [00:46:40] this, you can do this. And that’s when I began to understand, okay, this is true. They show up. Also the thing where I, you know, you hear, you hear, I’ve heard in in white Evangelical religion, cuz that was my, my real faith back.
I was baptized Black Episcopal, my family was black Episcopalian going way back like, I don’t know, [00:47:00] couple hundred years I think. And so we have a very deep, rich history in the Black Episcopal church here in Philadelphia, but also in the south and so in South Carolina. And that said, My experience though, was really, I came to know Jesus through the white Evangelical church.
So I was told, you know, all that stuff is [00:47:20] synchronism. That’s the word they used, synchronist. Right? You can’t trust it. I mean, really, you know, and I hear, the first time I really started understanding like what this, what was happening here was when I heard Richard Twist talk about it from an indigenous perspective.
And then Terry Leblanc and Randy Woodley and, you know, and, and Mark Charles, they, like, [00:47:40] they’ve all talked about the colonization of our faith the ratification of people in the name of Jesus and Right. And so they, they call, they would call the candles or whatever, or the, even the greens as a, [00:48:00] taliman or some kind of, Ooh, could you be good?
You know, like kind of a thing. But actually all it really is, is an instrument of faith.[00:48:09] BENBOW: Yeah. [00:48:09] HARPER: Help us to connect. And the whole reason for being on this earth is to connect. And Jesus, this is thing that blew my mind. Jesus in the [00:48:20] moment before he turned to the cross, as he’d been traveling around for years. And then finally, one moment just before he turns and faces turned his face to Jerusalem, knowing that the cross is waiting for him there, what’s he do? He connects with his [00:48:40] ancestors in the tabernacle. He calls on them. He calls them forth, and they show up. [00:48:49] BENBOW: Mm-hmm. [00:48:51] HARPER: Can I ask you this? Can I, and this is a little bit jumping tracks, but it’s not. It’s, you know, we’ve been talking as [00:49:00] black. We’ve talked about Beyonce, we’ve talked about you know, our mothers and great-grandmothers. We’ve talked about the greens. But we’ve also talked about the internalized white patriarchy that exists oftentimes in black church spaces that are usually [00:49:20] run by black men. And so I wanna ask you, do you think that there is a decolonizing journey for black men? [00:49:29] BENBOW: Absolutely. You know, I think, I think that black men particularly and especially [00:49:40] have been dealt a very severe lie. And I have believed this a very severe lie that our uplift as a people. is solely and only at their, at reflected in them. And it is at the expense of black girls and women and at the expense of the [00:50:00] other of marginalized black people.
And that is whiteness. You know, when, when you believe that other people have to get behind you in order for you to elevate that is white supremacy all day long[00:50:19] HARPER: [00:50:20] That’s how whiteness works. And they’re operating according to it, [00:50:23] BENBOW: Exactly. [00:50:24] HARPER: the laws of whiteness. That’s good. [00:50:26] BENBOW: they are. And so it denies them the beauty of truly flourishing. [00:50:34] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:50:37] BENBOW: and blackness and, and in the [00:50:40] fugitivity as, as, as Jay Cameron Cardo would say of blackness, it denies them the opportunity to really know God in ways that are deeply transformative.
You know, I, I was, I was, I was telling a, I was telling a guy that I was seeing at the time,[00:51:00] [00:51:00] HARPER: I love how you talk about your men . Can I just say, cause you said earlier I had this guy, you know what I mean? And then now you’re talking to this guy. Alright. That guy knows who he is,[00:51:12] BENBOW: Yeah. [00:51:13] HARPER: but we don’t need to know who he is, but that’s really great. I love how you bring them into the conversation, [00:51:18] BENBOW: I was talking to him and [00:51:20] I was like, you can’t really be as faithful as you claim to be. [00:51:26] HARPER: Oh [00:51:27] BENBOW: he got really offensive. [00:51:28] HARPER: wow. [00:51:29] BENBOW: And I said, because if you really worship a God who is, whose love ethic for humanity [00:51:40] is rooted in liberation and freedom, you not gonna tell me that you can do what you do and not feel convicted.
Like you’re not, you’re not gonna tell me that, that you don’t wake up some days and be like, God, make me better like God. God put up bridle my tongue . Like, like, like, like [00:52:00] put my hands behind by my side and don’t let me move. don’t allow me to make a decision. Help me not to make a decision that hurts my sisters, that that doesn’t give them space.
And so[00:52:12] HARPER: Wow. [00:52:13] BENBOW: the spiritual journey that black men can go on. [00:52:20] One, we definitely can benefit from it. because we’re commun, I’m womanist, so the whole got to, got to get, you know, healed. So I believe in wholeness, right? So if men, if black men go on this journey, I know I can even be more free than I am now. [00:52:39] HARPER: Mm[00:52:40] [00:52:40] BENBOW: But more than that, they can too. And I think that like, it’s always, it’s always, it’s always we say like, the world doesn’t know what to do with a free black woman. And that’s true. I don’t think that we have seen the true freedom of black men[00:53:00] [00:53:00] HARPER: Mm. [00:53:01] BENBOW: a way that. [00:53:02] HARPER: Wow. [00:53:03] BENBOW: That really allows them to flourish.
For so many of us as black women who have chosen freedom, we have chosen it at the expense of saying if they come, they come. If they don’t, they don’t. I’m gonna be free regardless[00:53:17] HARPER: that’s for real. [00:53:18] BENBOW: because we’ve had to make that [00:53:20] decision. [00:53:21] HARPER: that. [00:53:21] BENBOW: but I don’t think we’ve seen what it means for black men to enma say, I am going to move away fully from these systems [00:53:40] that support my undoing in my demise, that support my destruction and, and my demise.
And also by, by proximity, support the demise of my people. Yeah.[00:53:58] HARPER: say I, cause I can think of a [00:54:00] few black men who actually I can say yes, they are on that journey, but when you say we haven’t seen, it’s like, are you thinking like, we have the woman king, you know, and we have an image of this in our, even in our popular imagination. I think the closest, we probably come to that as Black Panther and [00:54:18] BENBOW: And even, and even there’s [00:54:20] some, there’s some, some complications there because I remember sitting and watching Black Panther Wakanda Forever and was like, Well, kind of might have been wrong both times, like there’s, there’s this moment because you have this beautiful movie I don’t wanna talk about it all the way, but like this [00:54:40] beautiful movie that deals with black and brown relationships and like the, the community underwater.
Like, when he came to them, I was like, okay. Like I don’t really see, I don’t really see what he said wrong. But, and so, so you have, so you, but you do have this image of this very like, [00:55:00] powerful this image that for so many black men and black boys, particularly like, that’s why, that’s why losing Chadwick was heartbreaking for so many of us.
We felt like we knew him. because he was our hero, like he was our Black Panther. [00:55:20] And when you think about the roles that he chose, like he was ours and he wanted to, I remember I wrote, I wrote that Chadwick was ours and he wanted to be like, he wanted ties. And so, and so, when I say that we haven’t seen it in mass, one of the things that, I’m [00:55:40] very worried about is because I can, I can sit here and I can name brothers that are safe place, right?
And who are, don’t work to be safe and who are healthy and who, who show up for us. And then can [00:56:00] also wish that they’re. Presence and their impact on some of their own colleagues, and on some of their own friends and some of the younger generation extended far beyond what it does. Because I [00:56:20] am, I am scared, I’ll say that when I think about, when you just look at the way black men and black women, younger black men and black women talk to each other. And you see it a lot on social media. So much so that I’ve had to, I had to make a cogni, a cognizant effort to [00:56:40] change how I respond the socials to other black women and to brothers that I felt like Jin. Because, because there’s something about, right, the socials that if you respond in a certain way, you can’t interpret tone.
Right? And I may not [00:57:00] mean it to be snarky. I may not have meant it to be rude, but you might have took it and been like, well dang, you didn’t have to say it like that. And in a world where if you disagree with people, they find that the ugliest thing to say with, to say to you, I had to say, I gotta be a part of the people that talk [00:57:20] to folk.
Nice. Black folk. Nice. Right? Cause, cause I was seeing, and I am seeing entirely too much ugliness.[00:57:31] HARPER: Wow, do you think that when you look at the journey of black men toward their own [00:57:40] liberation, I mean, we, all of us can name, we actually all, we all can name figures in American history of African American men who have stood up and actually have led the community out of suffering or, or at least tried people like M L K and Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass and, you know, Sidney [00:58:00] Portier.
I mean, the, the list goes on and on. And yet when I’m, I’m actually challenged to imagine black men’s me too movement. Like what would it look like for black men to stand up and say, me too, with regard to the ways that they [00:58:20] have been subjugated by white men and white women. I mean, what, what does that look?
Is that, is that movement actually the mass incarceration movement, that, that’s the closest thing I can think of. It is like, that’s the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s actually what that is.[00:58:37] BENBOW: Yeah. It’s, it’s, I, I, when you [00:58:40] asked that question, I was like, whoa, because I never, like there’s something about the way that it requires a vulnerability that we have literally beaten out of black men. [00:58:57] HARPER: My God. [00:58:59] BENBOW: Like, [00:59:00] like I like, I [00:59:02] HARPER: Wow. [00:59:02] BENBOW: like that there’s, that, there’s something about the fact that black men are not taught or told that they can be tender, [00:59:14] HARPER: Hmm [00:59:14] BENBOW: you know?
And like I, like I remember, I remember one year praying [00:59:20] that, and I was like, I wanna, I want to be for the brothers in my life, a call to tenderness[00:59:31] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:59:32] BENBOW: and. and I want them to see and get in and be able to be in space with me and know [00:59:40] that it’s okay for them to be that [00:59:42] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:59:43] BENBOW: because they’re not often told that they can be that. [00:59:46] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [00:59:48] BENBOW: And I remember feeling, oh my God, like what would it look like for brothers to just have [01:00:00] that space to say like, and to, and, and not, and to, and to be able to say like, I was wounded by this [01:00:12] HARPER: Yeah. [01:00:13] BENBOW: and not have the manhood, not have the masculinity, not have all of these things [01:00:20] caught into question because they talked about their wounds. [01:00:24] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [01:00:25] BENBOW: I recognize that as a black woman, I embody a certain level of privilege because I get to talk about wounds in my community and no one dare [01:00:40] question my humanity. They might not have believed me, you know what I’m saying? Like, like, cause we know black women and always believed, and they may dismiss me as that’s what emotional women do, but I am not shunned to the point that there’s [01:01:00] no space for me to go and talk about my wounded men.
And I feel like there are black men and I mean, they’ve said it, who in the world tell us they can’t go anywhere and talk about their things. If they try to go home to their own [01:01:20] family, it’s, well, you know, you’re a man and I mean, you gotta, you gotta just suck it up cuz that’s what we do. And so, what then?[01:01:30] HARPER: You know, the thing is, is that if that is the case and it is, [01:01:36] BENBOW: Mm-hmm. [01:01:36] HARPER: then black men are being forced [01:01:40] to live according to the logics of white patriarchy. Like, so that in itself, I mean, it might be a very successful black man, might be a very powerful black man, but if that black man can’t be soft, then that black man has actually found their success or maintaining their [01:02:00] success under the thumb of hyper. Masculinity, which comes from, which is white supremacy. That’s, it’s one of the marrow. It’s like the marrow in the bone of white supremacy [01:02:15] BENBOW: It is. [01:02:15] HARPER: and white patriarchy. What is your hope for the black church? [01:02:19] BENBOW: . [01:02:20] I hope it, I hope it stops making women stand up and apologize for being pregnant. So that’s first. [01:02:25] HARPER: That’s a good one. [01:02:28] BENBOW: um, I hope that it, I hope it decides sides to live up to [01:02:40] the belief so many of us have into it, [01:02:42] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [01:02:43] BENBOW: having it. it, I hope it wants to do whatever it can to honor the trust and the faith that so many of us have put in it, you know, like to raise families, [01:03:00] to get married, to get married, to get baptized, to work.
and to give your money in these institutions. That is the breadth of a whole life.[01:03:13] HARPER: Yes it [01:03:14] BENBOW: And, and, and some of us, some people have [01:03:20] intentioned to give, to share their lives with these institutions. [01:03:26] HARPER: Mm-hmm. [01:03:27] BENBOW: And that deserves a certain level of commitment and care. That an intention and growth and maturity and vulnerability.
That I hope that the black church [01:03:40] one day, the black churches one day decide as an institutional power, we are honor.[01:03:47] HARPER: And what is your hope for black women? [01:03:51] BENBOW: oh. my hope for us is that we, is that we know a world where we are loved. where that love is [01:04:00] is not only deep wells from inside of us, but we are surrounded by people who love, believe in and support us. I hope that we can, can find that place where we just abide in peace and that we always [01:04:20] have soft places to land.
And that those, that those landings enable us to not only abound in resilience, but in creativity and strength and wit and humor. I just wanna, I just want us to be able to live with hope.[01:04:40] [01:04:41] HARPER: The conversations leaders have on the road to justice. This is the Freedom Road podcast. [01:05:00] Thank you for joining us today. The Freedom Road Podcast is recorded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and actually all over the country as our guests come from all over the country and sometimes the world. This episode was engineered and edited by David Dalt of Samberg Media, and produced by Corey Nathan. Freedom Road Podcast is executive [01:05:20] produced by Freedom Road, LLC. We consult, coach, train, and design experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment, and common action. You can find out more about our work at our website, freedomroad.us. Stay in the know by signing up for updates.
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