Small Acts of Creative Empowerment
Never underestimate the redemptive impact of a small act of creative empowerment. No one person can take credit for the formation of the world-changer that is Frederick Douglass, but he (like us) was a result of both his antifragility and the benevolence of others with power. Allow me to showcase a few vignettes.
In childhood, and against all norms, his master’s wife, Lucretia Auld, first taught the young learner the alphabet. When her husband, Thomas, learned of this “atrocity,” she quickly regretted her actions and ceased the lessons, but nevertheless,
her small act of empowerment helped catapult this wordsmith into a lifelong journey as a learner. Douglass will assert that from that starting point he taught himself to learn to read and write, tricking white children into fragments of lessons along the way.
As Douglass was gathering words in his arsenal, he was steeped in passages from Webster’s dictionary, The Columbian Orator, the Bible, and a Methodist hymnbook (Blight, Prophet of Freedom, 55). Climbing into the loft with a flour barrel as a desk and the use of the small chair, he began his religious devotion to the power of words. While he purchased The Columbian Orator with fifty cents he had earned around the shipyard, those odd jobs were paid directly to Douglass against the norm of slavery at that time. A small act, indeed.
As he was developing his gifts, Douglass found welcoming arms in the small black congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, pastored by Thomas James, who was also a former slave. James saw the potential of this young man and licensed Douglass to preach. Later in life, Douglass looked at AMEZ church as a place that “offered his first chance to ‘exercise my gifts’ and launched him in his ‘new vocation. (93). Show me a church that would allow an unpolished 21-year-old that same chance today!
Upon escaping from slavery, Douglass encountered William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. The young fugitive was too poor to pay for a subscription, but the agent Douglass had recently met, sent him the weekly newspaper nonetheless. Perhaps nothing stoked the fires of abolitionism and rhetoric more than this printing. In Blight’s biography, this agent of the Liberator remains nameless.
In this post, I allow these examples to speak for themselves with little extra commentary. Let it suffice to say that it is incumbent on those with relative power to steward that power by finding creative ways to commission and empower others to make something of the world. And in so doing, maybe, just maybe, another world-changer will be formed.
Photo Credit: Sutori
David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018).
4 responses to “Small Acts of Creative Empowerment”
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Your statement concerning small acts of empowerment speaks to the power that we all have in a simple action. Best selling author and dear friend Laurie Beth Jone writes on the power of positive prophesies. The powerful words of encouragement that are spoken into someones life that propels them forward. Do you have someone that comes to mind that through a simple positive powerful word of encouragement or act has propelled you forward?
A couple of thoughts your post triggered in me:
1- big things can grow from tiny things
2- bending norms and breaking rules are sometimes exactly what God needs from us
3- never underestimate the impact of treating another person with dignity
What experiences in your life have been similar- where an opportunity or a path emerged for you because someone else stepped in? How have you honored that gift?
What is beautiful in each of these examples is the the way these individuals honored the Imago Dei in Douglas. I wonder what our churches/ministries/communities would look like if we all did that a bit more?
You also remarked, “Show me a church that would allow an unpolished 21-year-old that same chance today!” There are many churches that still do this today- often they groom male leaders in this way. The church I was at took an 18-20 year old, non-college degreed male and gave him the title “middle school pastor” because he showed great interest and promise. He was my son’s middle school pastor. He then moved his way up the chain of command into the youth pastor role. If he bides his time, I’m sure he will become a senior pastor if he desires. All this while other volunteers in various ministries had significantly more education, life experience, and volunteer time in at the church. It is funny how we pick and choose who we see, or choose not to see, promise and gifting in. I find this to be a warning to be careful to check biases when deciding who to empower or not empower in in creative ways.
Hi Shawn, some of us do hold the key to be able to free others in ways. Appreciate the opening up of this; thought-provoking.
We can’t really expect a response of vulnerability with those we care for if we do not come across as truly disarmed. Trust is big. It is a beautiful meeting point that can put the world on its heels.
I want to open up the position (which, in all honesty, is not all that much of a position I hold) more, release it more, trust more. I think more and more, I find I am letting go. With some ‘things’ this letting go is much more painful than with other ‘things’.
So, what I am challenged by, in your post, is not just to let go (decrease the space I hold onto), but in the meantime to ‘creatively empower’ the beneficiary of the increased space being offered.
What does grace look like in the midst of this movement or, is it naturally interlacing?