On May 19, 2018, Megan Black, Faith In Action’s National Clergy Organizer, was the Guest Alumnus Speaker at the University of Notre Dame’s Service Send Off Ceremony. In her speech, Black recalls an experience she had as a volunteer with Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago. She was having trouble relating to one young male in particular, who was uncomfortable with opening up to her about his experience as a refugee and asylum seeker. Instead of trying to understand his unease in opening up to her because she was a woman, Black lectured him with many “half-formed feminist arguments,” and broke all forms of trust with him in the process. Below, she shares her three takeaways from that first experience. To watch her speech in full, click here (go to the 44:00 minute mark).
“Point number one: a year of service is about cooperation, not competition. I failed to engage the counsel of my community members because in my mind I was competing with them. But you will not be measured for individual success. You will instead be held accountable to your values and ideals. This requires a different kind of strength and intelligence than the one that gets us through college. The kind of strength and intelligence that practices trust and transparency, seeks companionship, and thrives on humility and generosity.
“My second point is related: we must learn to look for stories of abundance rather than deprivation. The communities that you will serve may not look beautiful to your eyes at first. They may indeed have prevailing public narratives of pain, struggle, poverty, and violence. But more often than not that is a story that outsiders tell. Look instead for the stories of generosity, hope, courage resilience and faith that exist in abundance in communities at the margins.
“And while we’re talking about stories, my third point is an invitation: an invitation is to become a particular type of storyteller. In literature we’re all familiar with the protagonist, the main character of a story, and the antagonist, typically the villain or the adversary. Less well known is the concept of the deuteragonist – the second actor, the person in relationship with the main character. Sometimes the deuteragonist is reduced to a sidekick, but generally they get a fleshed out narrative as an important, but not primary, character in the story. Going into my year of service, I believed on a deep gut level that this year had to be about me. A test of my experiences, my aspirations, my gifts, and what I had to offer. And because I internalized this, I made myself the protagonist of nearly every encounter I had at Mercy Home.
“Being a secondary character is not an insult nor a consolation prize. It doesn’t mean we are unworthy of being protagonists. Rather, accepting this role invites us to acknowledge that the world contains mysteries that we cannot resolved. It’s an opportunity for us to honestly assess our place in the story that is being told right now about of all us about who we are as a people, as humans.”
Megan Black is the National Clergy Organizer for Faith In Action.