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It’s 2 am. I am still awake. Working on my reading and writing for my doctoral program. Listening to the voices of the women I met while I was at BCDC. Seeing their faces. Their faces haunt me.
For the last two weeks, I have passed a woman on my way to work. She’s at the intersection of Howard Street, right as you exit coming up from the Harbor to get on 395 headed South to Washington, D.C. The first time I saw her face, she looked so familiar. The second time I saw her face, I remembered. She was incarcerated at the Baltimore County Detention Center. While there, she was happy, “well-adjusted,” and truly kind. Now, released, she is suffering. She holds a sign like many other un-house neighbors Downtown. She’s looking for money, food, a place to go, stability.
Uche and I would stay up late at night and talk about what we were going to do when we got out. She would always say “I’m coming to your house first.” At the time, I was still living with Ralikh and often at my parents’ home in Bel Air. We would laugh and talk about all the food my Momma was going to cook when she and Tink got out. But when she did get out, she shared that same sense of hopelessness that I feel and see in the face of this woman. I feel ashamed that I can’t remember her name. Though I may not know her by name, I know her heart.
Today, an odd thing happened. I was headed out the door for work and felt like I kept forgetting something. I was searching all around the house and making sure that I had everything I needed. A little bit behind schedule, no surprise there. I got in the car, turned on the car, and waited to Waze to load. Immediately, I busted a U-turn and got on I-83 South. As always, I took the Pleasant Street exit. The smooth sounds of Earth, Wind, and Fire on a beautiful day accompanied me. Instead of going forward, I decided to make that first right, wait at the light, then make a left pass the Merritt Fitness Club. At that time, approximately 1:15 pm, I noticed a young woman. She was tall, thick, light skinned, hair up, attention to make up, long Black pants, Black leather coat, thick Black scarf, and thick white boots. She was striking. Of all the people I see pass by, she caught my attention. I sat there in the car waiting for the light to change green and wanted to know more about her. She passed by me headed in the direction of Baltimore Street (the Block) and I continued on to work in D.C.
Almost ten hours later, I was on the phone with my dearly beloved as I was driving back home from D.C. Joy and I were chatting, sharing gratitude, and connecting. I was re-routed on my way home from work due to an accident. Note: There have been a ton of accidents and police activity lately. It was imperative for me to use Waze to guide me home.
Nevertheless, I journeyed forward. 295 merged me into Downtown and I was looking forward to getting to Pratt Street. I knew once I hit Pratt, I was just a few minutes from my house and even closer to the warmth and softness of my bed.
I continued down the street and made my usual left hand turn on Gay Street. At this time of night, my curiosity is to always see what is happening on The Block. I look for the faces of women I met while at BCDC. I look on these streets for “Olivia,” the ones who are “lost and turned out.”
As Joy and I were talking, that woman from earlier crossed in front of me. I said, “JOY! There she is again!” Joy was confused and asked me who I was talking about. I explained what happened earlier and she agreed that this was an odd occurrence. Either she was working on the Block or… Or what? This was extremely unusual. Had she been walking all day? Was she struggling with addiction? Did she need help? Who was she? What was her story? Her face. Her face at 2 am is haunting me. I am my sisters’ keeper.
I’ve tried to shake this feeling all night but feel, somehow, connected.
This Spring, I will be taking a course, “Ecclesiology: Public Church and Public Engagement.” For the lay man, ecclesiology is simply, the study of churches. But what is the relevance to a dying church to a people who are dying for real connections? How am I reading these books outside of my community with so many people around me dying due to overdoses, struggling with their addictions, and hopelessness? What is the significance of the church to those who are intentionally unchurched and non-believers? All of these questions are swirling in my head as I watch a friend from BCDC on my couch trying anything to save her life and have a better tomorrow than she did today. The struggle is real.
I put aside the first book we were assigned to read for this class because it is too “heady.” I understand the text before me and the purpose of the reading. I just cannot connect. It feels much too academic. If I were to hand this book to any of my girls from BCDC they would become bored and laugh. It is not relevant. Again, the question of a relevant ecclesiology for the largest missing demographic from religious communities becomes alive yet again.
In this moment of frustration and fatigue, I decided to turn to my notes from my course with Dr. Young, “The Black Theology of James H. Cone.” When in doubt, look to the spirit guides!
I opened my Onenote and pulled up my notes for the class. “Damn it, McCrae” I said to myself. I did not type my reading notes. No worries, I began to look for my notebook where I had all my written notes and then I came across notes I took from my last in-person conversation with Uche as we were discussing my paper and my studies. On that evening, Uche said I have to be mindful of my audience and not to overwhelm them with my big Suga Bear language. If I am writing papers, for them to be effective, they must be transformative for people. Uche all told be that all of the topics discussed (sexuality, addiction, mental health/illness, sexuality and gender) MUST be addressed but in such a way that people inside (incarcerated folks) would not get lost. She reminded me, most of all, to be real and say what needs to be said without holding anything back. I will forever remember that moment. I will forever remember Uche’s face.
I’m writing tonight because it is these faces that encourage me, inspire me, an push me forward to be not just a mindful scholar but a better person. I am grateful for these faces, their untold stories, and the witness. Even still, their faces haunt me, stalk my mind, and push me forward.