Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Who is the Hero in Tyre’s Story?

Written by: on January 30, 2023

The Hero With A Thousand Faces is a book about discovering ourselves through myths and stories. It was my intention to complete the reading and the blog a week ahead to give myself time to pay greater attention to the posts of my cohort. I have discovered that writing on Thursday does not allow me enough bandwidth to also thoughtfully respond to my peers. I need time to digest it all, so that requires me to work a few days ahead. I did a fair amount of inspectional reading of the book, probably about ¾ of it and I also listened to the audio. I could not connect. I tried to find the perfect quote and find some connection to but honestly, I am incapable of doing that today and probably tomorrow and probably the day after that. The murder of 25-year-old Tyre Nichols by 5 Memphis Police Officers is so hard for my heart and head to hold. I looked at the title of the book and my eyes renamed it, I saw, The Devil Has a Thousand Faces. If you are not familiar with the events that precipitated his death, it won’t be difficult for you to research them. But I will share with you that he was beaten to death, while restrained by 5 officers much larger than him, not given immediate medical attention and succumbed to the injuries two days later. There is a video- a police body cam that apparently captured the gruesome incident. My soul could not handle watching it, so I have relied on the numerous posts, texts and phone calls from Mother’s that hold the same fears that I do. We all pray that we are never on the other end of a phone call telling us that our Black Son has been murdered because he was seen as a threat, because his life has been historically under-valued, and that racism runs so deep that he is hated by even those that share his skin color. Yes, the 5 officers were Black and broken in a way that further breaks my heart and challenges my Christian abilities to love and forgive even the lowest of us. I have been told that just as George Floyd did, Tyre called out for his Mama in the final moments before his loss of consciousness that he also pleaded with the officers asking, “what did I do?”! The outlets are reporting that it appears that he had broken no laws, but even if he had…no one deserves the cruelty inflicted on him. His cry pierced the heart of all Mama’s. I can’t help but weep when I think of the fear and helplessness he must have felt. I pray that my son never has to reach for me, call out to me in a time such as that.

I recently read a post about one of our classmate’s 17-year-old son learning to drive. I am often riddled with fear when I think of Pierce (our 14-year-old) driving. Tonight, as I helped him get dressed for his first formal, I held back my emotions and did not share all the fears that were at the surface. I also held back tears as I saw the unstoppable emergence of a young man that will have to independently navigate the complexity of this world. I think about one of James Baldwin’s famous quotes, “To Be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage”. I understand that feeling well and I also know that it is not something that Pierce can carry in any healthy capacity at the young age of 14. He will have to manage the duality of how the world sees him. I recently watched the movie “Till” which is an account of the murder of Emmett Till with a focus on his mother, Mamie Till. There is a scene in the movie when Emmitt is preparing to go to Mississippi from his hometown of Philadelphia to visit relatives. His mother says, “Son, make yourself small in Mississippi”! She was trying to prepare him for a place that would see him as a lesser being, see him as subhuman as a threat. He was abducted, tortured, and lynched at the young of 14 during that trip to Mississippi for offending a white woman. He whistled at her. I struggle with whether to encourage Pierce to be the best version of himself, to live out his God given gifts boldly and out loud or to be safe and remain under the radar. I wonder have Larry and I taught him how to survive when faced with a threat. Does he know not to let fear cause him to run, or to be respectful even when he is disrespected? Can he remain composed and articulate when being asked a question about his right to be in a place or when being falsely accused? My concern for him driving while black runs deep and it is valid. What I will continue to tell him is that his goal is to make it home alive. “Do not argue!” “Do not allow your ego lead!” “Do not forget that you are likely seen as a threat!” “Do not challenge!” “Your goal is to make it home alive!”

You may be wondering what relevance this has to the reading or to my NPO. Perhaps nothing, perhaps everything. Tonight, I am too sad to give you an academic answer to that question. But I do have a few questions for you and for the Church.
1. Is it possible to fix what you will not face?
2. Do you believe that silence means complicity?
3. How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoings and still believe that transformation is possible?
4. Can hope and fear occupy the same space?

You don’t have to answer any of these, but it was on my heart to ask. What I do know is that if there is a chance to fix the brokenness that is in the hearts of people, it is the Church’s role to do so. A soundbite in the sermon and a hashtag on the social media page is not a solution. I think about my NPO which is to examine the sociological factors impacting Black women leading in White religious spaces and I know that my work will focus on finding ways to make these spaces safe, creating tools to transform age old traditions and views. I want to believe that this can be done through my work, through our work. Perhaps we are the hero in this story. I am feeling pretty defeated tonight but the fighter in me will not allow me to stay in this emotional state for long. I am, by design, solution oriented. I am finding some promise in the words of Alice Walker, “we are the one we have been waiting for”, transformation begins with us my dear Loved Ones.

About the Author


Jonita Fair-Payton

12 responses to “Who is the Hero in Tyre’s Story?”

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Oh Jonita, thank you for trusting us with these honest thoughts. My heart is breaking for you and with you. I’d give you a hug if I could.

    Can hope and fear occupy the same space? Maybe that’s my prayer for all of us. That God would allow us to hold both in tension, the reality which is honestly scary but the hope of goodness and of change.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Perhaps that is the prayers, for us to be able to hold both and not retreat. Thank you for reading my post this week and for responding. I also appreciate the virtual hug. We press on, my friend!

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Racism or just crazy? I was aghast when I discovered that in California, two Chinese men (my age) killed people in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park. Then African American Policemen killed Tyre. Perhaps this is the tremendously long adversity and trial part of the racial Monomyth/Human Journey. Will it end I wonder? Will there be a return home? A resurrection? Will we have to wait for Jesus to come again?

    Wars, rumors of wars…all that is happening now (somewhere, someone is killing someone on a mass scale) and so I don’t see peace in our future. I don’t see racial harmony ever becoming a thing. Humanities Story will have its “return home” but I wonder if we will ever find the elixir of nonviolence. Thank you for your comments…Shalom…Russ

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      I don’t know if we will ever get to the place where violence is a rare occurrence and not a common response. I spend a lot of time in prayer about the evils of this world. My heart truly believes that love is where our strength lies and will ultimately cure the evils of this world.

  3. Cathy Glei says:

    Jonita, my heart aches with you. I look at all of the hate that is so prevalent and find myself crying out “Lord, come soon.” Jesus encountered hate through accusations, arrest, beatings, betrayal (by his closest friends), and death by Roman crucifixion. We are admonished to practice the ways of Jesus. What does that look like in the context of so much hate in our world? I think about Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” Dr. Martin Luther King reiterated the truth of this passage when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that.”

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Thank you for giving me scripture to turn to. I tried all weekend to find the right one, one that would bring me peace. I appreciate you reminding me where to turn. I also love that you offered one of my favorite MLK quotes.

  4. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Thank you for sharing authentically, here. I am sure that it took courage and vulnerability to do so. I am the person who posted about the 17-year old driving lessons and I need to acknowledge that the concerns you have outlined were not in my head as we went through the teaching process and I am grieved that they must be on your mind with your son.

    I have no answers except to say that a step in the right direction (I think) is to do what you have done here: vulnerably raise the consciousness around the issues and ask the questions.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Jennifer…thank you for your honesty. I do believe that having conversations that will ultimately raise consciousness (expand our cultural lens) can help us better understand how common tasks can be experienced so differently. My prayer is that the questions don’t just remain unanswered or ignored. I appreciate your response.

  5. mm Tim Clark says:

    Jonita, I don’t have a good response to this. But I will respond, anyway. Your post, and the brokenness it points out, made me weep.

    I’m deeply interested in reading what you find in your NPO, and learning where I can change as a leader and lead our church to change, because of what you write.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Your response brought tears to my eyes, It is exactly this type of openness and commitment to looking at issues through a different lens that will bring forth change. Let’s talk more….

  6. Esther Edwards says:

    Jonita, Thank you for candidly sharing… I have also been brought to tears.
    “Do you believe silence is complicity?” What a powerful question. Silence can be motivated by many things, but yes, I sadly admit, it can result in complicity where we turn our heads away from the injustice around us.

    After George Floyd’s death, we personally called our many Black friends that we have shared ministry spaces with over the years. Our main question was “How does this resonate with you?” The response brought us to our knees in repentance as every single one shared their journey of fear, intimidation, and ongoing vigilence with their children. We had no words….just deep regret and repentance. We realized we had not been attentive to the continuing need, often desparately cried in secret over the years and yet lived out daily in, yes, even their realms of ministry. They shared how the broken record of a cry for change was often misinterpreted and dismissed. Oh, Jonita, how true this is. May we all mourn together but also use our voices to bring change and freedom on personal and corporate levels. Thank you for who you are, Jonita, and how you challenge us.

  7. Jenny Dooley says:

    Jonita, I grieve and lament with you. These violent acts should not be happening. It needs to stop. Your son should never have to live in fear and your loving mother’s heart always free to take in the wonder of your son without worry and anxiety. Thank you for sharing your pain and your powerful words. I am thinking on your questions. How do hope and fear reside in the same place?

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