How to Judge Your Pastor’s Daughter

How to Judge Your Pastor’s Daughter

Because you will. We’re human. We’re sinners. It happens.

Some Christians desire and expect their pastor’s daughter to be nothing short of the congregation’s symbol of purity and righteousness. Virgin until married. Prayer warrior. Queen of hospitality. Others expect–even without evidence–for the pastor’s daughter to be a rebel; prone to pre-marital sexual exploits behind closed doors to escape the shackles of her father’s rules. There is prejudice and pressure attached to both identities, and no young woman is rigidly one persona or the other, despite the stereotype given in pop culture.

The following are four parameters by which I think one can reasonably formulate an impression of a pastor’s daughter.

Disclaimer: I am not using “judge” in a pejorative sense as in judge to condemn but  judge to evaluate or understand better.

What is the parental philosophy of her father?

The importance of the father-daughter relationship is heightened in the context of a church setting because her father isn’t just a man doing the best he can for his family, he’s the spiritual and moral leader of a community. His approach to fatherhood is – at least to those in his home – approved by God, the ultimate Father. His example has a lasting influence.

So if her father puts church business ahead of family business, what message does that send to his daughter about a man’s devotion to his family? What does it teach her about the compromise of time and attention in a relationship? And how will this sacrifice color her feelings for those who devote family time towards the ministry?

If her father works toward establishing a true balance between ministry at home and ministry at work, then how secure will that young girl be? How secure will she be in life knowing that this powerful, influential man makes time to ask about her day at school or attend events to support her interests? Will she be an extremely confident young girl? Will other women, with a different parental experience, confuse her confidence with arrogance? These are questions to ask when assessing the personality and perspective of a pastor’s daughter.

What type of “First Lady” is her mom?

But it’s not [only] the parenting style that is important, it’s the brand of First Lady exhibited that matters. Why? Because the behavior of the First Lady typically sets the standard for all women in the church. Now you may agree or disagree on whether this is a fair or old-fashioned practice, but it still happens in churches today. So what does this mean for the pastor’s daughter?

It means that her demeanor and personality may be inaccurately judged in comparison to her mother’s. Members of a church accustomed to a dynamic preaching, teaching First Lady who frequents the pulpit may think a more reserved, pastor’s daughter isn’t as “passionate for the gospel” or vice versa. An outgoing, extroverted daughter may be deemed “too much” for a congregation used to a quiet, seen but rarely heard from First Lady.

Even with the Pastor and First Lady urging the congregation not to expect their daughter (or son) to be just like them, some members still do. And for the pastor’s daughter, her role in the church can sometimes live in the shadow of her mother.

To what level is she given special treatment?

This question applies to all pastor’s kids, so we have to include it in this discussion. The downside to special treatment for pastor’s kids is obvious. It can breed selfishness and self-centeredness. Another, less spoken about side affect of special treatment, occurs when pastor’s kids are expected and/or eased into leadership positions in church.

This can make church a stressful and burdensome experience if a pastor’s kid is not a natural leader, but is still pushed into those roles. Conversely, some pastor’s kids may have a false sense of confidence and feel entitled to leadership positions because they were always “given” those responsibilities, though they never had the pleasure of earning them.

What is/was life like at home?

This is the most important and yet the most elusive question needed to judge a pastor’s daughter, and it too applies to all pastor’s kids.

The public versus private life of a believer can be as powerful and many times more influential than words from the sermon or even the Bible. When your parents lead the congregation on Sunday, the rest of the week is supposed to be the gospel lived out right in front of your eyes. This is where pastor’s kids learn whether or not a performance is more important than the truth. But if you’re not in a pastor’s home day in and day out – no matter the hit reality show or candidness of the bestselling book — you’ll never really know.

You won’t hear the arguments or the prayers; feel the love or the tension. And without this most integral element of pastoral offspring behavior analysis, your perception of your pastor’s daughter will always be lacking.

So when you see or meet a pastor’s daughter, skip the judgment and spend the mental calories to say a prayer.

Pray sharing her parents with scores of people doesn’t turn her against the work of the spreading the gospel.

Pray that her father’s inevitable failings as a man or minister don’t send her into the arms of Godless men who only have an appearance of what she missed at home.

Pray that she defines herself and her worth according to scripture and not the privileges she did or didn’t get as a member of the first family.

Pray that her family life isn’t flawless, but that it is full of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness, so that no matter what happens in her home, good or bad, she will choose to develop and embrace her own relationship with God.

Ester Weithers is a 21st century storyteller, writing online as well as for film and television, with a frank and irreverent style that reflects her experiences as the daughter of a pastor and Caribbean immigrants. 

We need school leaders who reflect the students they serve

We need school leaders who reflect the students they serve

Gerald Boyd, principal of IDEA Hardy, with some of his students. Courtesy of IDEA Public Schools

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat

Most educators can pinpoint a moment in their lives when they realize what impact they want to make on their students’ lives. Many take inspiration from Nelson Mandela, who once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Those words continue to echo loudly, especially as we take a moment to reflect on Black History Month and celebrate the contributions and achievements made by those in our community and across the country.

Gerald Boyd  Courtesy of IDEA Public Schools

As the executive principal at IDEA Hardy, a high-performing Houston public charter school, I share the same sentiment as so many of my fellow educators: to help students achieve success and change the world. However, what is severely lacking in our education system is leaders in our schools who reflect the population of the students they serve.

Let me tell you why this is so important.

I am from Houston and was the first in my family to graduate high school and attend college. When I got to the University of Texas at Austin, alongside 10 of my high school classmates, I saw first-hand the inequities in access and quality of education. During my first semester, eight of us were put on academic probation, and four years later, only two of us — myself included — graduated. This showed me that we didn’t have the tools and resources to succeed, and without support, most of us had lost faith that we could be successful.

In my second year at UT Austin, I joined the elite Black Greek lettered organization, Kappa Alpha Psi. For the first time, I witnessed young, Black men achieve. One of our brothers graduated from Harvard Law School and another graduated from Nebraska Law. When I saw them succeed, I believed I could, too. This inspired me to join Teach For America after finishing college to teach in my hometown of Houston.

Fast forward a few years, I am proud to have been one of the first principals in IDEA Public Schools to achieve an “A” school rating from the Texas Education Agency, in San Antonio, Texas, at IDEA Mays.

I made the decision to run two schools 15-minutes away from where I grew up. Since this is where I was raised, I understand what many of the students in my community are up against because I’ve experienced much of it myself. Many students in second grade were reading at a kindergarten level, but I knew that with the right support and intervention, they’d be able to succeed. Part of that means being able to show my kids what success looks like, and that it is within reach for them, too.

However, few schools across the country have diverse teaching workforces that represent the student bodies they serve. For instance, recent federal data shows that 79% of public school teachers were white, and less than 7% were Black. Public charter schools in Texas, however, employ significantly more teachers of color than traditional district schools. For instance, about 1 in 4 charter teachers are Black compared to 1 in 25 teachers at district schools.

Students of color need to know that success is possible for them, which cannot happen if we are sidelining educators of color. It should be a top priority to support educators of color determined to pay it forward. That is how we can help the next generation of leaders of color thrive.

We need to make sure that educators of color have mentors who can uplift them and that our leadership teams are diverse. This past year, I was proud to train school leaders on what it means to lead a school and a community. Mentorship like this ensures more leaders of color can succeed and uplift others. Our educators should feel empowered to bring their identities and their stories to their jobs to show up for themselves and our kids. This means that our teachers can talk openly about difficult topics in their classrooms, and our students know that they can turn to their teachers and school leaders for guidance.

Additionally, flexibility around teacher certification — a long, expensive process that research shows doesn’t lead to higher student achievement — would also help more educators of color enter the profession. This would remove the barriers that make it more difficult for people of color to become teachers. Take a look at Texas. Public charter schools here, along with traditional school districts that apply to be Districts of Innovation, are able to hire non-certified teachers in certain subjects and provide them with high-quality training throughout their careers.

As this year’s Black History Month comes to an end and we think about ways to better foster equity in all parts of society, we cannot forget about the classroom. When our children walk into the school building, they should see themselves reflected in their teachers, their principals, and their school staff. But it is going to take more than individual educators to make systems change. We must all be committed to ensuring that every student has the necessary tools and opportunities to flourish.

The turning point in my college career was when I witnessed other Black students and leaders around me achieving things that I had not imagined possible for myself. We must prioritize our students of color by empowering educators who have walked in their shoes and whom they can look to for inspiration and guidance.

The future generation is counting on us.

Gerald Boyd is the executive principal, IDEA Hardy in Houston.

Can Science and Faith Co-Exist?

Can Science and Faith Co-Exist?

Video Courtesy of Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

So you’re intelligent. You’re a Christian. You love both of those aspects about yourself. It’s not enough for you to just get your praise on, you also get your study on.

You read the Bible, but you also read widely on many other subjects. You are in college and you don’t dread your courseload, except that one class. That one science class.

You imagine a professor opposed to anything that resembles religion or Christianity. You fear being embarrassed or ridiculed because of your faith. I’ve been there. Many of us who strive to represent our faith and use our minds for God’s glory have been there.

For me, it was Anthropology 101. For others, it was physics or astronomy. As science explores the natural world, it is inevitable that questions about who created this natural world come up. The good thing is that science and your faith can co-exist.

They are not polar opposites, and belief and love of one does not cancel out your belief in and love of the other.

In my pursuit of reconciling faith and science, I have concluded that they both have an authority, but their authority is relegated to two different spheres. Science asks, “What’s out there?” Faith asks, “Why are we here?”

Albert Einstein categorized these two questions as questions of fact and questions of value. Although in many ways these two things overlap and play off of each other, I do not believe they cancel each other out.

Science answers questions about what is observable and what we can quantify. In other words, it doesn’t seek to ask questions regarding the meaning of what we observe and quantify. Those things we believe in before we do any experiments or formulate our theories.

We already enter the science lab or classroom with a bias toward belief or non-belief in a Creator. We already have a religious tradition we hold to or don’t. The answers of science bring these issues to the surface, but they can never give the final answer on these issues.

What’s interesting is that the Christian faith helped aid the development of science. Galileo Galilei, who was sadly opposed by the medieval church, was a Christian and believed God had given us our mental faculties to explore the world.

He believed “the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has not intended us to forgo their use.” It was this belief that prompted Galileo to explore the universe and confirm that the planets revolve around the sun.

Ultimately, this discovery would lead to him placed under house arrest by church authorities. Galileo firmly believed in the two categories of facts and value, as he stated, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”

Although not a Christian, Albert Einstein believed in a higher power. His whole goal in pursuing scientific work was to see the mystery behind nature and to “attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.”

Einstein did not adhere to traditional religion, but had a particular disdain for atheists, considering them to be missing out on the wonder of the world and “the music of the spheres.”

Einstein could grasp science and the existence of something beyond our world. It is this mindset that motivated him to say “science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

Then there’s the man that conquered the peanut and saved the whole South. A devout Christian man, George Washington Carver always found time to teach Sunday School to the students at Tuskegee University.

His fervent work into the peanut was fueled by his belief of the outdoors being a “great cathedral in which God could be continuously spoken to and heard from.” Carver’s time in the “great cathedral” yielded over 300 uses for the peanut and 100 uses for the sweet potato, as well as numerous synthetic products like the dye still used in Crayola crayons.

When faith and science clash

So what happens when scientific discoveries clash with your beliefs? Discoveries and theories in regards to evolution, cloning, and astronomy may seem to come into conflict with classical interpretations of the Bible.

Here’s what the great African theologian Augustine of Hippo had to say about it:

“If they [the infidel] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason?”

Augustine here is saying that instead of continuing to promote ignorance in matters of science, we need to be careful with making dogmatic assertions on things the Bible is not concerned about. The Bible contains science, but it is not a science book.

The Bible’s main purpose is spelled out by Jesus in John 5:39: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (NLT).

The Bible is the history of God’s interaction with His people pointing to Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to lead you to Jesus and draw you closer to Him. It is not designed to give you a thorough explanation and summary of physics, biology, or astronomy. It is designed to give you one thing: knowledge and love for Jesus.

When faith and science clash, we have to begin questioning our interpretation—not our faith. When we fail to do this, it only serves to cause those who don’t believe to mock and ignore us.

For example: In Psalm 19, David talks about how the sun revolves around the earth. It rises from one end and completes its course at another end like a runner in a race. We know from science that it is actually the earth that revolves around the sun.

This is what got Galileo silenced and put on house arrest by the church. Instead of insisting that we need keep up the belief that the sun moves around the earth, maybe a different

interpretation is needed. David was not a scientist, but he was a poet or a psalmist. Psalm 19 is an example of Hebrew poetry, and we know poetry is never to be taken literally.

So what can we say about David’s assertion that the sun revolves around the earth?

That the psalm’s point is not to assert that the sun revolves around the earth. It was, instead, David’s way of being in awe of nature—something that scientists and Christians can both agree on.

Science and faith are not opposites. They are just different ways of pursuing different types of knowledge. One deals with facts and the other deals with the meaning of those facts.

They both are needed and can help in our pursuit of truth. So instead of dreading interacting with your professor or hanging out with your really smart friend, maybe you could engage them with humility and an openness to see where science and faith can connect instead of clash.

It just might open up a new understanding and love for God for the both of you.

How public schools fail to recognize Black prodigies

How public schools fail to recognize Black prodigies

Editor’s note: Amid numerous articles about how Black students lag behind others in educational achievement, occasionally you may hear about a young Black “prodigy” who got accepted into college at an early age. According to Donna Y. Ford, an education professor at The Ohio State University, there could be far more Black prodigies. But it would take the right support from families, who may not be familiar with some of the characteristics of gifted students and the existence of gifted programs, and educators, who often overlook the talents of Black students. Indeed, while Black students represent 15.5% of the student population in the U.S., they represent only 9.9% of all students in gifted and talented programs. In the following Q&A with education editor Jamaal Abdul-Alim, Professor Ford – who has been a consultant for Black families thinking about sending their gifted children to college early – argues that public schools are holding back Black talent rather than cultivating it. The Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim: Why do public schools so often fail to identify gifted Black students?

Donna Ford: The No. 1 reason for the underrepresentation of Black students in gifted education is the lack of teacher referrals, even when Black students are highly gifted. I definitely think stereotypes and biases hinder educators from seeing Black students’ gifts and talents. In most schools in the U.S., if you are not referred by an educator, you will not move through the identification pipeline for gifted education programs and services, as well as Advanced Placement. It starts and it stops with teachers.

This is why Black families have reached out to me. They’re saying, “This predominantly white-female discipline” – meaning teachers – “is doing my child an injustice.”

They’re saying, “I’m frustrated, I don’t know what to do other than pull my child out and home-school.” You don’t see a lot of Black home-schooling. If the parents are able to do it, they have the means.

Abdul-Alim: Are these children really prodigies or do they just have parents who are just really actively involved and concerned about their children’s education, and recognize the public schools are doing them a disservice?

Donna Y. Ford is a distinguished professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. The Ohio State University

Ford: There’s a lot of controversy in the field about how children become gifted, no less a prodigy. To me, it’s not just nature or nurture. It’s both. So nature is they have the capacity, the potential. And then nurture is they have the experience, the exposure, the opportunity, access. And that includes the families who have the means and wherewithal to advocate for their children or to nurture whatever potential is there. But personally and professionally, I believe that the most important factor – for students being very gifted and prodigies – is the environment. That means their families, and their cultural, social and economic capital.

Abdul-Alim: But doesn’t that kind of point away from the idea of these children being “prodigies”? Because if the thing they have in common is well-educated parents who have high incomes, it seems like almost any child in that situation could achieve similar educational results.

Ford: A prodigy just means that you have children who are performing at the level of an adult; that’s the basic definition of a prodigy. So that has nothing to do with their income and families, education, etc. It is about how they are performing. They’re playing the piano like an adult who has taken lessons. They picked up on these skills and skill sets very easily. Or they are inventing mathematical formulas that you would only see adults doing. They’re in middle school and can do the work of college-level students. You can have this potential, but if you don’t have these opportunities at home, at school, even in the community, then the gifts and talents that you have may not come to fruition at the highest level.

Abdul-Alim: When families come to you about whether or not to enroll their young child in college, what do you generally advise them to do or to consider?

Ford: There’s a lot of variables to consider. One is the child’s emotional and social maturity. I think their size is important. Are they small for their age? That can contribute to some social and emotional issues, in particular bullying or isolation. Do they have siblings who are older who might be intimidated or negatively affected by their younger sibling being accelerated?

Abdul-Alim: What is your advice to families who can’t afford to home-school, but who have children who could very well be higher-performing if given the opportunity? How does society provide opportunities for children who fall in that category?

Ford: I want the families to become familiar with what the barriers are. So when Black families have contacted me about their child not being identified as gifted or not being challenged like their white classmates, then I point them to the Civil Rights Data Collection website, which is run by the U.S. Department of Education. I have them look specifically at what the data says for representation in gifted programs and Advanced Placement classes. I ask them to look at suspension and expulsion by race and corporal punishment, if that exists in their schools, which it does in some states, and very last, take a hard and critical look at all the data.

You can go straight to data for your child’s district or school building. And so, they can come armed with these demographic data showing underrepresentation in gifted and Advanced Placement, but overrepresentation in certain categories of special education as well as discipline, such as suspension and expulsion. And when they come informed, then sometimes – not always – the educators are put on notice. And they do what they’re supposed to do anyway, which is share information with families about how to gain the resources and opportunities that their children need.The Conversation

Donna Ford, Professor of Special Education, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

On Being a Woman of Power and Purpose

On Being a Woman of Power and Purpose

Video Courtesy of Michelle McKinney Hammond

Honor her for all that her hands have done and let her work bring her praise at the city gate.

Proverbs 31:31.

Women have been charged with the rigorous tasks of being the backbone of their homes and dare I say it, of nations. Throughout history their contributions were undermined in the church, their communities, or the corporate world due to the ego of the unevolved men who claim that women are just not good enough. It does not matter if the woman is a trifecta of power by giving life through her actions, creations, or children; there is still a glass ceiling that does not honor Proverbs 31. Women have paved their own roads toward success, which has earned them the titles such as billionaire, mogul, revolutionary and so forth to the astonishment of unevolved men. Consequently women of power give off the illusion that they are able to fulfill all gender roles and therefore the rib stands alone and not as an equal partner.

Who Run The World…Girls

Vice President Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, Shonda Rhimes, Bishop Vashti Mckenzie, Dr. Joyce Banda, Ellen Johnson-SirleafBeyoncè Knowles-Carter– masters of their industries, leaders of countries, spiritual heads, and influencers that are touching lives around the world…all women! These women rose above rickety floors built by their respective governments and institutions then smashed through glass ceilings to achieve their greatness on behalf of all women everywhere. By their influence they contributed to the change of how the world views women. It is an uphill battle, however progress is being made through events like Chime for Change, organizations such as Young Women Leaders Network, efforts such as Let’s Move, and displaying how versatile a woman is in her power one stage at a time. Brute strength may not be a part of their genetic makeup, but their power lies within the gift of life through their efforts and it is to be honored.

Dr. Barbara Davis Founder of the Practical Living Institute and Project Destiny offered her thoughts on how women of color are affected in their hierarchal climb and womanhood balance.

“As an African American woman, I always believed that I received preferential treatment from senior management because of my sex and my race,” Davis explains. “I don’t think that I was perceived as a threat to the establishment as compared to my African-American male co-workers. However I experienced the most discrimination in the Christian community. There are roles I am not allowed to hold and have faced demeaning tones because I am a woman. Nevertheless, I keep pressing my way to fulfill the call that God has placed on my life.”

Dr. Barbara J. Davis


Dr. Barbara J. Davis has over 25 years’ experience in technology and has worked for IBM, Westinghouse, Booz Allen & Hamilton, and GTE to name a few. She also serves as head over the non-profit missionary organization Practical Living Institute which includes the Project Destiny Program. Project Destiny teaches Sudanese and Egyptian women how to own and operate their own businesses based upon Christian values. Additionally she holds a doctorate in Church Leadership and a Masters of Arts.

Throughout the history of the church, women have been known for taking on subservient roles; it was not until the last 30 or so years that the church has welcomed women in leadership roles in the church. Sometimes, however, these women must also fill the heavily-pressured role of being an acceptable wife, mother, and minister/pastor. Being a church leader has its own pressures, however Dr. Davis does not believe that being accomplished defines what womanhood is.

“I definitely do not feel that my accomplishments diminish my womanhood as reflected in scripture. [Referencing] Proverbs 31 as a cornerstone of a Christian woman’s womanhood, every woman would be a great manager, business person, care taker, and leader,” Dr. Davis stated.

With that said, women of power must learn how to be partners, although they can survive very well on their own.

Wearing and Sharing the Pants

I love her ‘cause she got her own.

These lyrics from R&B star Ne-Yo are an example of an evolved man who honors how a woman can take charge of her life without the consequence of losing her ‘womanhood’. When a woman takes on a leadership role she is symbolically ‘wearing the pants’ to ensure the realization of her goals. By doing so she takes a commanding position of power in whatever she’s doing, taking on what is historically viewed as more masculine traits. However, rather than these traits being masculine, they are universal examples of dominance and assertiveness that allow those who possess it to go farther and achieve more than they ever could with a different mindset. These are women considered to have Alpha qualities.

A woman who embodies the strength of an Alpha is more in control of her own fate and what choices are available to her. This in no way limits her to being the powerful, career-driven woman who never has time to make a family, or the family woman who never has time for her career. She is capable of juggling five different career-related activities while simultaneously satisfying the needs of her family, friends, and significant other–if there is one. Having that significant other adds an additional burden to the Alpha woman as she must cater to the needs of her man, especially when it comes to satisfying the male ego. Having a woman who can do for herself what a man typically does can be a challenge to some men who lack the fortitude to deal with an independent woman. Seeing her make as much (if not more) money than him, maintaining home, and looking good while doing it adds fuel to the feminist fire of ‘Who needs a man?’

For centuries women took the back seat to their husband’s/partner’s success while navigating their journey to the top and having dinner ready by 5. The truth is some men cannot fathom marrying Superwoman, they want Lois Lane; someone professional, accomplished, but more willing to be docile and submissive to his power. But does that make them worthless or powerless? No. The power lies within the support of their partner; being the mind, body, and spirit for the man they love when he is too weak. They too must be honored as their husband’s equal. It may not be ideal for the ever-evolving feminist, however it is still an acceptable role for the modern woman to allow the man to ‘wear the pants’ while she stitches them together.

A man AND woman should be willing to embrace roles of support as a gladiator and a goddess. In these roles they will interchange actions that will nurture their respective endeavors as they grow as individuals. By doing so the woman does not lose her identity and becomes equal with her ‘Adam’.

A note to Women of Power

As a woman of power, understand that your gifts are God-given to conquer an unforgiving world; whether alone or coupled. In biblical text, God formed Eve from the rib of Adam. However it is the woman who continues to give life through mind, body, and soul. Recognize and honor your power, you are equal.

End-of-Life Decisions an Act of Justice

End-of-Life Decisions an Act of Justice

Updated from UrbanFaith (2019)

Not long ago, I was sitting at the bedside of my mother as she lay in a hospital bed in the critical care unit on a ventilator. With a tube in her throat, her voice was silenced. We had no idea who she wanted to make decisions for her. We didn’t know her wishes should she experience a decline — we didn’t even know if she wanted to be intubated in the first place. In this case, her right to make decisions about her healthcare was not stripped of her but rather was not exercised.

As a justice-seeker and end-of-life spiritual care practitioner, I often bring up advanced care planning to my family’s dismay. My mother had been reluctant to have any conversation about it, shrugging me off, quipping, “Just make sure they don’t put any makeup on me in the casket.” Thank God, she has recovered and is doing well, but the reality is that she, like many African-Americans, do not participate in advanced care planning and making end-of-life decisions.

Poet and social activist Langston Hughes wrote, “There is no color line in death.” Yet, when it comes to advanced care planning and end-of-life care, the color line is obvious. African-Americans disproportionately engage in advance care planning and utilize hospice and palliative care at lower rates than whites, thus affecting the quality of life as death approaches. The reasons are myriad: cultural factors, economic concerns, negative perceptions of hospice and palliative care, and mistrust of physicians and the healthcare system. African-Americans have a strained relationship with the healthcare industry rooted in historical facts such as the exploitation of Black bodies for medical research throughout American history, such as the Tuskegee experiment, a decades-long “study” on African-American men with syphilis performed without informed consent and leaving the disease untreated, even after an effective cure had been found. Also, embedded in this lack of advance care planning and underutilization of hospice and palliative care is the theological understanding that pain and suffering are part of God’s plan for our lives. There are many people I have encountered in my work in hospice and in church ministry that bear unnecessary suffering, whether physical pain or emotional burdens because they believe that is their cross to bear. This is not solely my experience, but a widely held belief that hinders patients from managing their pain and families from receiving the additional services that would ease their burden of care.

Besides, we’re living our best lives and who has time to plan for healthcare crisis or think about death?

But what if living our best lives means considering healthcare decisions and end-of-life planning? What if making healthcare decisions is not merely a matter of physical health, but a matter of justice? In addition to racial, gender, economic, and educational equity, quality healthcare is a justice concern. And I would argue, given my particular role as a hospice chaplain providing spiritual care and emotional support to patients and families during end-of-life, that advanced care planning and comprehensive end-of-life care are part of quality healthcare. In the National Hospice and Palliative Care “Outreach to African Americans Guide,” Dr. Richard Payne, Professor of Medicine and Divinity at the Duke Institute of End of Life Care wrote, “Hospice offers the best hope not to be alone, to be with family, to have pain controlled, and to be connected to your faith and beliefs. We are as entitled as anyone else to have these hopes fulfilled.”

If Black lives matter, and they do, then one way we proclaim that we matter is by exercising agency in our healthcare, including making decisions about who can speak for us when we are unable, whether or not we want aggressive treatment such as resuscitation and intubation, and how we want to be treated at the end of life. Given the historical exploitation of Black bodies in medical research—often carried out without our consent or after death—raising our voices and making our own decisions related to healthcare is an act of resistance, declaring our dignity and worth in a country where our personhood is devalued a daily basis.

I hear you. People of a certain age should engage in those conversations and make their healthcare decisions known. But I’m young, I’m healthy, and I’m living my best life. I have plenty of time before I have to think about advanced care planning.

Just as there is no color line in death, there is also no age line. Crisis, disease, terminal illness, and death can come at any age—including in your twenties and thirties. And while healthcare decisions can be made at any time, the best time to make healthcare decisions is during times of calm, clarity of mind, and relatively good health.

Not sure where to start? Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Consider: Reflect upon what quality of life and a good death means for you. Think about the person who would best speak for you in the event you cannot make decisions for yourself.
  2. Voice: Use one or more of the many tools available (living will, power of attorney, advance directive, or the Five Wishes document) to put your healthcare decisions on paper. If you have a chronic health issue, consider completing a Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) with your physician. When choosing a healthcare proxy, but sure to dialogue with them about your wishes and their ability to carry them out.
  3. Engage: Share your decisions with your loved ones and friends and encourage them to have the conversation and make their choices known. Move the discussion beyond your immediate circle to your congregation and community. As a matter of justice, the conversation on advanced care planning should be had far and wide.
  4. Revisit: Healthcare decisions will evolve as we do. It is important to note that these are not static documents, but that they should be revisited and revised as our lives and perspectives change. A general rule of thumb would be to revisit the document every ten years and with major life changes (marriage, children, the onset of disease, etc.).

Making healthcare decisions is not only wise for personal quality of life, but it also bears witness to the power of agency, advocacy, and the humanity of African-Americans. For some, it may seem like just a document, but for African-Americans, it is an act of resistance, and an act of freedom, and an act of justice.

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