Anna Deveare Smith is an actor with a career that spans from Broadway to television. She is wise and funny and can upstage others because you find your eye drawn to her and want to know more about her role and what makes her tick. She is an African American who grew up in Baltimore in the 1960’s. Her mother was a teacher and believed the best education could be found in a Jewish neighborhood, two bus rides away. In an article March 18 in the Culture Column for the Sunday New York Times, Smith talked about how hard it was to be a child in that school. She felt invisible and never really known.
For High School she enrolled in a Girls High School closer to home and everything changed for her. The first day she met Essie Hughes, a Latin teacher who had taught generations of Negro children, including Smith’s parents aunts and uncles. Miss Hughes approached young Anna and addressed her, “Aren’t you a Smith? You look just like your mother…and your father.
The high school was integrated racially and religiously including Blacks Whites, Roman Catholics and Jews. As it turned out Anna Smith’s best friend was a Jewish girl whose mother played in the symphony. They bonded and maintained a deep affection.
Smith says that the difference was fostered at the leadership level. The principal and vice principal were intent on creating a community for learning where children were seen for who they were.
When Rev. Susan Valiquette visited us two weeks ago she said that when she first arrived in South Africa she had to learn the African way of greeting one another with the word Sawabona. It means “I see you”. Susan said that word creates a culture where people are seen, known and appreciated. Somehow that premise changes everything.
We all need to be seen for who we are. One way to explain why Jesus was crucified is to recognize the people in power in Palestine 2000 years ago never “saw” who he was. They did not see that his radical way of loving everyone was not something to fear, but the start of a new kind of human community.
When Anna Deveare Smith was seen she blossomed and became a brilliant actor. We all need to be seen for who we are.
Here is my Holy Week Challenge for you. Try to imagine you are in South Africa or in that high school in Baltimore. Through your words and deeds say “Sawabona” to someone you know or to a stranger even. It might just change your week.
TOMORROW’s MARCH FOR OUR LIVES
The new Social Justice and Peace Committee is encouraging people to have a Pilgrim Church presence tomorrow in Hyannis for the March for Our Lives. It starts at 11 on the Village Green. If you want to carpool meet at the parking lot at Exit 10 at 9:50 am. If you decide to travel in your own car I would encourage folks to wear RED. If we are wearing Red, we may find one another easier on the Green.