By Aliyah Collins
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
Since February of this year, I have been working with a team of Harvard graduate students to help the city of Jackson think about ways to address increasing rates of gun violence within the community. I learned that Jackson hit a record number of 156 homicides last year. Even more disheartening is that 48 percent of those murdered were below the age of 30. I myself know too well the impact of gun violence on Black communities. In my small hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, I’ve lost several classmates and childhood friends to gun violence. It’s painful to see so many of my friends who I laughed and joked with at the lunch table or on the bus buried before reaching the age of 21. It seems that reaching the age of 21 has become a milestone rather than the norm.
However, underneath all of the pain and despair, I saw something on my Jackson trip that gave me hope for a solution. Although it seems that Jackson is now becoming known for its high levels of violent crime, as shown by media outlets, many people fail to recognize the seeds of spirituality embedded within the soul of the people.
In the face of this battle against gun violence, it is important to place spiritual care as a priority because, without spiritual care, our communities will be unable to build and thrive. The community of Jackson holds a deep spirituality that is rooted in the strength of ancestorial connections. Our ancestors, who were Black kings, queens, and warriors of villages, saw spirituality as the source of their ability to not only survive but to thrive. In African culture, spirituality is everywhere and in everything. From people to trees, African people believe everything possesses a spirit. Through this understanding, they see value and worth in themselves, the environment, and their community because that is how they understand spiritual care.
While the people of Jackson hold such a deep spirituality, we have to understand that our spirit is always under attack. This makes spiritual care vital to the livelihood of the community. When we know that the spirit exists through the body, outside of the body, and no human being can contain it, create it, or destroy it, we would see the importance of spiritual care and how it can be used as a resource. Our spirituality is powerful, yet, when we experience spiritual brokenness, we cannot function in the highest capacity of love and compassion.
Now, what is spiritual care? Spiritual care is any activity or practice that feeds the inner spirit. Spiritual care can certainly be meditating, praying, or fasting. But it can also be simply resting, sitting out on Big Momma’s porch. Spiritual care could look like taking a ride in your uncle’s box Chevy Caprice (with silver 26-inch forgiatos rims, of course). Spiritual care could look like finding ways to explore our hidden talents and develop them in ways that are beneficial to the community. Spiritual care could look like learning about our history so that we understand and become inspired by the past. Spiritual care could look like learning different ways to communicate with each other that are life-giving instead of harmful. Spiritual care could look like pulling together as a community to house the unhouse and love the unloved. We have to work together to help each other see the spirituality that often lies hidden within one another.
The first step must begin with acknowledging that every person has their own spirituality. From the old saints to the murderers, yes, I argue, everyone has a spirit and holds a form of spirituality. At the same time, people experience different levels of spiritual brokenness. Having spirituality doesn’t always mean that you are a regular church-goer, saved and born again. Having spirituality means that you believe and experience a divine presence within your daily life. Anytime you make someone smile, look after a friend, or honor those who have passed, you are tapping into your spirituality. An African proverb says, “God does not have to be pointed out to a child.” Through the repair and nourishment of our spirit, we can begin to see God not only in our churches or religious institutions, but everywhere, such as in the laughter of children, the joy in playing sports with friends, or even dancing, jigging, and celebrating during JSU homecoming.
Without spiritual care, our spirituality becomes weak and confused by money, guns, and other material things. Through consistent spiritual care, our spirituality will be the most powerful way we can gain wealth, prosperity, and happiness for all our people. Our spirituality will push us to ask questions about contradictions through spiritual care. We would begin to understand that fighting for our right to adequate healthcare, better education, clean and safe neighborhoods, and the ability to create our own career opportunities comes from our spirituality and is essential to our spiritual care.
Jackson has a unique opportunity to create a model that prioritizes spiritual care as the foundation of self-determination and community restoration. With over 100 churches in the area and surrounding alone, Jackson has the tools to reinvent what spiritual care means. Jackson just might have everything it needs to fight state legislatures, who don’t understand the spirituality of the people or see it as a threat toward addressing inequalities. Our spirituality is powerful, and it’s really all we have. If we dig deeper, the answers just might lie right before us.