No one needed thousands of hours of Covid binge-watching to know that the formula for every good cinematic story includes a “Friday[i]” scene. The moment when every resource seems to be expended, when all the lights have gone out, when the enemy appears to be strong and supported and the hero is fatigued and empty and raw. In the best stories, there is always a moment when the chips are down, and everything is on the line. A moment in which hope appears to falter and stumble or lies bloody and beaten on the ground. Crucified, even.
In the greatest stories, there is always a moment that feels like shattered dreams and epic defeat. At this point, there is usually a pause, the cinematic score stops, creating space for the audience to grieve everything that has been lost… and everything that could be lost if the story doesn’t continue.
But the greatest stories always continue. Sunday always comes. The music climbs out of the silence to crescendo. The impossible hero digs deep into some hidden reserve within, and stumbles forward to complete the impossible task. It is what I refer to as “the moment of greatness.” It is my favorite moment in almost any movie, and I almost always ugly cry.
The stories we believe, receive, and repeat are critical: these narratives define our character, our relationships, and our resilience. Stories tell us who we are and what dreams are worth fighting for. Historical narratives ought not to render the illusion that the hard work is finished, rather, they should carry us forward to the struggle that is now. Small stories begat small dreams. The narration of isolated dreams limit aspirations to individual achievement instead of societal transformation.
Americans tell a lot of stories. The dominant narrative being one of Eurocentric white expansion and exceptionalism. These stories usually focus on what white folk have “achieved,” but ignore the cataclysmic price of these “achievements” on BIPOC bodies and souls. When white people tell stories of BIPOC leadership, we often tell small stories, assimilated stories, historical stories, or stories of individual, isolated achievement. Rarely do we tell stories of BIPOC influence and leadership in societal transformation because small stories help retain the illusion of white power.
In Lisa Sharon Harper’s upcoming book, “Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World and How to Repair it All,” she outlines the history of Black and Indigenous people in the United States by telling the story of her own family. As she powerfully reframes American history from historical margins, she asks white readers to consider where their own families were at these significant moments in the BIPOC narrative. In most cases, even the poorest white Europeans will have a vastly different genealogical narrative than that of historically resilient BIPOC persons. The stories we believe, receive, and repeat matter. These stories can change the world.
For many, the last couple of years seems to have frozen the screen on an eternal Friday. Amidst the deathly stillness and ragged breaths of a global pandemic, the world heard the cries of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbury, Indigenous children, hidden and buried in unmarked colonial graves, and countless victims of Asian hate crimes. With each incident, with each death blow shattering yet another dream of dignity and equality, we have held our breath and waited for the crescendo. Again and again, we witnessed BIPOC bodies and souls, beaten and bloodied by the blows of racism, reach once again into their collective strength, and lead the march forward towards the dim but quickening light of Sunday, and the completion of the impossible task.
This is the moment when shattered dreams become leaps of faith. This is the moment of greatness.
[i] “Sunday is Coming” poem by Rev. Dr. S.M. Lockridge
By Naphtali Renshaw