Five Lessons We Can Learn from Antoinette Tuff

Five Lessons We Can Learn from Antoinette Tuff

Since Tuesday our eyes have been on and hearts set ablaze for Antoinette Tuff, the school bookkeeper who courageously talked Michael Brandon Hill out of going through with a shooting rampage at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia. In deflecting Brandon Hill from going forward with the shooting, she not only saved the lives of hundreds of school children and adults but she showed many what faith looks like, even in the midst of fear. Antoinette Tuff was courageous, which is a testament to how she got over, but it also shows how everyday, faithful people can be agents of change. Here are some lessons gleaned from her courageous and faith-filled actions.

1. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

Tuff is honest about being terrified during her interaction with Brandon Hill. She has no delusions of superhero grandeur. But instead of letting that terror stunt her ability to respond in crisis, she worked through it. In connecting with that feeling of terror she may have also connected with Brandon, a young man whom we have some reason to believe felt some terror of his own and was fearful. Here we see Mandela’s words in action, indicating that courage is not the absence of fear but triumph over it. It is okay to acknowledge fear but after that we must push through it with courage.

2. The tools we need in a time of crisis are sometimes within us.

In an interview with WSB Channel 2 in Atlanta, Tuff said that she reflected on a current sermon series on anchoring that her pastor is preaching to help her engage with Brandon Hill. She remembered how it taught her how to console people who are bereaving and, through this reflection, she discerned that Brandon-Hill was a young man who was hurting and in need of care. Sometimes we think that we need particular credentials in order to affect change in someone’s life–and sometimes those credentials are necessary. But at other times, we have what someone needs within us, be it a scripture, a sermon, or as we will see in the next lesson, our story.

3. Our story could pull someone else through, if we are willing and able to share it.

Following the reflection on her pastor’s sermon, Tuff mentioned that she shared her story with Brandon Hill. Tuff recently lost her husband of 33 years—the only man she has ever known, has a son with multiple disabilities, and a daughter who is preparing to head to law school. Given this, she felt like she was at a low point and that nobody loved her, but last year she experienced a turning point and shared with Brandon Hill “Life can still bring about turns but we can live from it, in spite of what it looks like.” Upon hearing this, Brandon Hill began to open up to her, confessing that he hadn’t taken his medication and sharing his concerns about the consequences for the crime he was considering committing. Brandon Hill didn’t completely surrender at that moment, but he was comforted and calmed through the realization that there was someone going through similar struggles. Tuff reminds us that we never know how our stories might connect or change someone else’s life and we have a responsibility to share that story. As some might say, “Our testimony is not our own.”

4. Make your judgment but decide to give people the benefit of the doubt.

When Brandon Hill came into the administrative office at McNair Tuff’s stated, “He had a look on him that he was willing to kill.” He stated as much as he warned Tuff and her colleagues that this wasn’t a joke and had Tuff announce the same over the school intercom. But rather than treat Brandon Hill like a common criminal, she treated him like a normal person or, better yet, her neighbor. She seemed to espouse Jesus’ second great commandment in Mark 12: 31, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (NRSV)” Despite what she knew Brandon Hill was possible of, she chose not to let that define the way she treated him. This too is our responsibility, to not let our behavior be dictated by who someone is or what they have done–or will do, but be guided to love them because of the common humanity we share and the fact that we are all created in the image of God.

5. Be humble.

It seems that Tuff has been humble from beginning to end in this situation. She is not interested in being called a hero; rather she wants to give God the praise. It is through God’s grace and mercy that Antoinette Tuff believes and knows she “got over.” It is that humility that guided her through it, acknowledging that this might not have been something she could do on her own. It is that humility that is taking her through the countless interviews and making her a living testimony of what faith in the midst of fear can do. Tuff’s humility leads her and us to God and reminds us that God is with us, working through and among us. We may not always see it or understand it, but God is still working.

Churches Raised Funds, Encouraged Crowds at ’63 March

c. 2013 Religion News Service

(RNS) For weeks leading up to the March on Washington, the Rev. Perry Smith urged his congregation to join the landmark civil rights event happening a few miles away.

“We felt it was something that needed to occur because of the absence of the rights of African Americans in this country,” recalled Smith, 79, who recently retired as pastor of First Baptist Church of North Brentwood in Maryland after more than 50 years. “We wanted to emphasize the need for change, jobs and education.”

Smith, a native of Mound Bayou, Miss., and a former Freedom Rider, knew the sting of segregation firsthand. He and other religious leaders called on churchgoers to show up that August day 50 years ago so they could let the nation know.

“They came from everywhere,” Smith said. “The crowds were larger than many of us expected. It certainly said, if I could use Fannie Lou Hamer’s term, ‘People were tired of being sick and tired.’”

Through passionate pulpit sermons, religious leaders — black and white, from North and South — helped bring busloads to Washington. Fifty years later, organizers are again turning to churches to rally attendance at a week of events marking the anniversary of the march, including a march on Aug. 24.

Activists say recent court rulings could spark a sizable turnout. The Supreme Court recently struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and, in a separate case, raised the standard for race-based admissions policies at colleges and universities.

Many may come to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin, which has focused new attention on race relations.

“They’ve got something to fight about, to stand up to,” said the Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta, who urged ministers to join the 1963 march. “It’s not too much to think it would be a good-size crowd.”

Vivian, the Rev. Martin Luther King’s national director of affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, traveled throughout the South in the early 1960s asking ministers for both participation and help funding bus trips to Washington.

“The church was the only institution we had that could raise money,” Vivian said.

But some religious leaders didn’t endorse the march and weren’t publicly supportive of the movement. Fear was one reason. “Some of them thought that was the only way to protect their congregation,” Vivian said.

Many ministers involved in the movement were jailed, beaten and even shot. Some churches were bombed. Despite those dangers, many answered the call to march.

“There were buses coming from clear down in Texas and coming up from the Deep South,” Vivian said. “Somebody had to speak out against the way we were treated.”

As sites of strategy sessions and as a means of grooming leaders, the black church’s role in the civil rights movement was critical. Charles Hicks, a longtime activist from Bogalusa, La., said black churches were vital links between communities and activists, especially in small Southern towns. During the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, he said, churches distributed picket signs and provided rides for protesters.

Churches with white congregations also stepped up, activists said.

Jewish congregations, Quakers and Mennonites sent participants to the march, and churches in the American Baptist Churches USA helped raise money for the movement.

The National Council of Churches, which represents more than 100,000 churches nationwide, organized buses, mostly from the Northeast, to carry people to the march.

Glen Stassen, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, recalled feeling anxious that the march would fizzle. “Would people really show up, or would it be a flop?” he said. “Would somebody do something violent which would mess up the message?”

He soon saw evidence that allayed his fears. “As we came in on a curve on one of the expressways into Washington … all kinds of buses came in from the other direction — just pouring in,” he recalled. “It was obviously going to be a success.”

Some of the churches that participated in 1963 plan to return for this year’s march. Organizers also are targeting first-timers.

“It’s more important that they come now than they did in 1963,” said the Rev. Reginald Green, pastor emeritus of the Walker Memorial Baptist Church in Washington and a former Freedom Rider. “We’re talking about remembering the march, but still we don’t have equal rights.”

(Deborah Barfield Berry writes for USA Today.)

Copyright 2013 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.