I can’t remember not being an athlete. From the time that I could walk, I participated in sports and extracurricular activities. During my earliest years of life, I danced. I did gymnastics for several more years, though I wasn’t good at it. (I was too tall and flimsy to control my body.) By the time I was 11, I started racing competitively, and that’s where I found my niche. I was fast and strong with nearly a perfect hurdle technique. I worked hard. I won often. I grew confident.
As I reflect on those small wins in life, I think about the women Olympians I looked up to over the years … gymnasts like Dominique Dawes and Mary Lou Retton. (As a young girl, I actually met Mary Lou at a “Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Winning Without Drugs” event.) I looked up to track stars like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the late Florence Griffith-Joyner (“Flo Jo”), and of course the star hurdler, Gail Devers.
These women athletes are God’s image bearers who display his confidence and character. They remind us with their physical ability and strength that our bodies are good. With their performances, they sacrifice not only for personal honor, the team, or our country, but by disciplining their bodies, they honor their creator who is the Lord.
As they perform with neatly placed hair and perfect makeup (I never did that), they celebrate God’s beauty in the masterful creation that is the human body. They acknowledge that God does care about our bodies and participating in sports is one way we can celebrate its beauty.
Our bodies are created to worship. With so many negative images bombarding our young women today (see the video clip below), it is important that we raise our voices to share a different message. Young girls need to know that they are not simply a consequence of what they wear, their body size, what they eat, or how men (or other women) view them. The airbrushed images in magazines and commercials should not define them.
I am calling now for a release … freedom … a proclamation that young girls everywhere have a choice to take on positive images. I am not implying that we encourage more self-help or self-esteem building techniques. I am rather stating that we should encourage girls to value the mind, body, and soul, realizing that they are not separate entities from each other.
By the time I entered college, I was meditating on passages like the Apostle Paul calling all Christians to approach life as a runner who desires to win a prize. In order to win, Paul says we must all go into strict training (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Strict physical training requires countless hours of focus, dedication, and hard work. It requires personal sacrifice and a reordering of priorities if you want to win. With that understanding, this passage provides a simple truth: focusing to develop physical discipline (particularly early in one’s life) can correlate to the development of spiritual discipline. Disciplining ourselves in mind, body, and spirit is as an act of holistic worship toward God since we are called to do everything as unto the Lord.
God’s image bearers should reflect his character and the reality that his creation is indeed good. God’s image bearers should reflect his desire for creativity and honor and excellence. Encourage girls to honor God with their bodies for “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13b, NIV).
We can honor God through physical conditioning; therefore, in the words of that great motivator Edna Mode from The Incredibles, “Go! Fight! Win!” Let the girls run, jump, spike, throw, leap. Let them sweat, burn, and sacrifice. Let them honor God with their bodies. Let them play sports.
A week ago, I was reminded of something that I didn’t realize I needed to be reminded of. I’m a Christian, so I know that I am loved, that I was created with and for a purpose, that I have power available to me that doesn’t come from this world. But as a Christian black woman, I was reminded that I also rock.
I haven’t had cable television for years, so this was my first time watching the BET broadcast of the Black Girls Rock! awards event. And when I saw previews for the show, old questions like those that have been asked since the initiation of Black History week-later expanded to Black History month-crossed my mind. Questions like, Is this type of show really necessary?If white women televised an event called “White Girls Rock,” blacks would go crazy and call it racist. Isn’t this kind of show racist, too? And finally, any recognition of girls and women automatically includes black girls, so why should the whole society have to especially recognize black girls?
On a more personal level, I wanted to form a faith-based opinion of both the movement and the show that would be airing. So I asked myself, Is it okay for me, as a Christian woman, to accept a recognition and celebration of something created specifically to honor just women of color, particularly black women? Is this an exclusionary event, and what’s the right way to think about it?
Furthermore, I must admit to a little stereotypical thinking. Was everyone going to look like an audition prospect for a Lil Wayne video? If so, I was definitely not interested. So I felt some hesitation. But I am so glad I did watch.
The power of the show comes from the purpose of the movement. Black Girls Rock! was started by former model and DJ Beverly Bond as a way to “build the self-esteem and self-worth of young women of color by changing their outlook on life, broadening their horizons, and helping them to empower themselves.” Her organization does this by exposing girls age 12-17 to diverse arts-based experiences including writing, Broadway performances, and a workshop that teaches DJ’ing skills and techniques. Back in 2006 when she started BGR, Ms. Bond was concerned about young black girls’ likely inability to process and resist the onslaught of negative media images of themselves, and the consequences they were vulnerable to because of that inability. Five years later, Black Girls Rock! has evolved into a meaningful brand which includes the awards telecast.
Check out the video below for background on the movement’s history:
Everything about the show reflected not only BGR’s purposes to uplift and inspire, but also Ms. Bond’s personal commitment to integrity, a visual ethic, and dignity. The overarching themes of strength and resilience were strikingly displayed in Mara Brock Akil’s characterization of black women as those who never give up, and her entreaty to us to make our voices heard in all kinds of conversations at every level in society. This was echoed in Angela Davis’ Icon award acceptance speech in which she challenged black girls to imagine themselves part of a community of resistance. Jill Scott’s bold performance of “Womanifesto,” Estelle’s haunting “Thank You” to a former lover, and Mary Mary’s vibrant remake of “Keep Your Head to the Sky” were part of a memorable soundtrack of the evening.
What pulled the whole experience together for me was the segment highlighting the role of faith in helping black girls experience the strength and resilience they are being encouraged to develop. Seeing Shirley Caesar accept the Living Legend Award resonated with me as a Christian and helped answer my questions about possible conflicts between the movement and the Christian faith.
My hesitations are eased because I see that while this effort to specifically empower black girls and women could possibly be portrayed as a misguided and exclusionary attempt to engender feelings of superiority, it is actually just the opposite. It challenges the exclusionary rhetoric of superiority by strengthening the self concept of those being excluded as inferior, and elevating equality as the basis of inclusion. In fact, this movement could be especially game-changing for Christian women of color by helping us re-frame our identity so that we include ourselves among those creations of God which He called “good,” rather than how others image us. It actually puts ethnicity in perspective. Ethnicity and color are means to an end, not ends unto themselves. They are ways to show the glory, beauty, and wisdom of God; to demonstrate the truth of His claim that He uses the things considered weak in the world’s eyes to shame those who consider themselves mighty (1 Cor. 1:27); and to prove to us that because He has overcome the racism, prejudice, misperception, and oppression of the world, we can too (John 16:33).
So to all the black girls and women out there who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, we rock too!
If you’d like to encourage a girl or woman of color you know who rocks, give her a shoutout by listing her name in the comments section below.
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