As a little girl, I imagined becoming Whitney Houston. Not just singing like Whitney Houston but actually being Whitney Houston. See, I had not yet come to understand a nuance: imagination. I imagined the type of songs I would sing, the type of life I could provide for my family and I, and all of the things that my 5 year old brain could understand. Nothing seemed impossible. However, I did not realize that if I literally became Whitney Houston, I would cease to be myself. I could not be me and Whitney Houston simultaneously.
There’s something special about the 5 year old version of imagination. 5 year olds inspire us because they believe anything can happen. They do not understand red tape, bureaucracy, policy, budgets, council meetings, none of that. 5 year olds live in a world where you do or you don’t. That’s it. It’s that simple. And my, what could we accomplish if we only had the imaginative spirit of a 5 year old.
My father was 5 once, though I cannot even imagine what a 5 year old Larry would have been like! At 5, my father had two older brothers, and one younger sister. It was a full house! He and his family grew up in a very small and modest 2 bedroom house. Mind you, by the time my father left his South Carolina home to head across the mountains to college in East Tennessee, there were 8 humans living in this small space. Neither my father’s father nor mother had degrees, much less a high school diploma. But, they had a dream, a vision, an imagination… that their children could do more. My father, as a 5 year old, had an imagination that would take him to places and into a life that a Black, Southern boy could not have imagined.
But just a few months after my father’s fifth birthday, Emmett Till was murdered a few states away. This was a message for all Black families and all Black boys: beware. This gruesome and grim reality shaped the world and ponds in which my father and his brother played. It was a dangerous world.
And that dangerous world called people into action. Throughout the country, Black families, professionals, and communities began to organize. Just a few short years after Till’s heinous murder, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would begin his work with the Montgomery Improvement Association. This work would change the course of our country forever.
Black young people had a dream, a vision, and used their prophetic imaginations for justice and justice-making. These were young people who had families, like my father, that were first-generation sharecroppers. There were young people who knew there would be a better way. These are young people who dared to dream in a context and society that would lynch dreamers on trees to suppress the dreams of others. But they dared to dream anywhere. Not only did they dare to dream, they dared to share their prophetic imaginations with anyone who would listen.
Yes, January is the month where we officially celebrate the life accomplishments of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As you celebrate King, we invite you to consider celebrating the achievements of others who also engaged in prophetic imaginations and justice-making. Who are those that are creating change by utilizing their prophetic imaginations? What are the manifestations of the prophetic imaginations in your congregation? How can you engage young young people in their prophetic imaginations as you break open with emergent possibilities for a new world?
Unfortunately, I have realized that I can never be Whitney Houston. Also, I am not sure I ever had the vocal capabilities to even be considered. However, I now know the power of dreaming, visioning, and imagining a future that is better tomorrow for all of us than it is today for some of us.
Allow yourself to be broken up to the possibilities of prophetic imaginations without limitation.