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No hero is coming to save me.

Culture: The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people or other social group

Culture is an interesting thing. We get inundated with messages as we go about our days and lives. Yet most of the messages we consume and live are not really meant to do us any good. They’re intended to distract us, entertain us, aid our dream and fantasy formation. We are marketed forms of escapism twenty-four hours a day. Unfortunately, we don’t process the escapist marketing as illogical goods, or ideas with no practical application, or as fraud or even as useless rubbish.

My whole life has been marked by stories of heroes with superhuman powers. I grew up with Christopher Reeves’ Superman and Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane. A line that has walked with me throughout my life was delivered by Lois after Superman caught her after a fall from a skyscraper, “You’ve got me, but who’s got you?” Every time I meditate on this line, the same thought comes to me: “You may have saved me but who’s gonna save you?” The underlining premise of the idea of Superman is that he doesn’t require a savior. Even when soundly defeated, he rises again and again stronger and more determined. But Lois Lane was able to see beyond that projection. She was always aware of his vulnerability not just to kryptonite but by widespread human destruction. 

Hero: a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. 

I don’t remember the first time I saw Superman the movie, but it was first released when I was three years old. I spent a lot of my childhood waiting for Superman to swoop in and save me from the freefall that was my life. 

Enter Saturday morning cartoons during my adolescence. Superpowers became a bonding experience (X-men), a beauty and fashion exposition (G.E.M), a universal endowment (He-Man), a centering connection to a greater body (Thunder Cats). The narrative became one of not just individual greatness but a greatness that multiplied in partnership or a collective. For many years I thought my siblings and cousins were my partners and collective. But life will teach you things you are always ready to see. Most of my young adulthood was spent waiting for family to champion me.

Enter the working woman who’s determined to have it all. Claire Huxtable, Maggie Seaver, Elyse Keaton and Aunt Viv. We’re shown them all managing post-adolescent children in extremely hectic households while maintaining not only their careers but lovingly demonstrative marriages. Before they hit the screen they had built-in support systems – a partner, teen/adult children and sometimes a housekeeper. These women didn’t get into messes they needed saving from. They were the wise counselors, trusted confidants and heroes of their households. I spent my twenties and thirties trying to get to a point to begin building towards these fictional images.

As I look back on a life heavily influenced by narratives of superpowers, super transformations and collectives as a multiplier, I have to verbally tell myself: no hero is coming to save me. No one is going to show up at my door and swoop me and my troubles up into their arms. No family is going to adopt me fully into their tribe and share the burden of my worries. I am not going to return home tonight to a partner and children who alter the focus of my reality. The burdens, worries and reality are all mine to deal with. Alone. On my own. There’s no hiding. There’s no sharing. There’s no real way to stay balanced. It’s the nature of the world that we are distracted from.

In the center of these moments of realness is the knowledge and understanding that I am endowed by the life of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit to show up for myself. I believe this is what we are being distracted from: the power we have within ourselves to right our corner of the world. To improve our existence by aligning with the Spirit that created us all. If we maintain a focus outside of ourselves it’s hard to recognize our own internal power. Without recognition, there is no focus or development. The world will keep us distracted. Perhaps my superpower is learning to occasionally quiet the world and amplify my spirit. 

We already know what to do, but we have to maintain a line of communication with the Spirit of Wisdom and Knowledge. One of my favorite reminders in the Bible takes place during the Exodus. The Israelites are fleeing the Egyptians. Moses makes a great speech about how there was no need to worry because God was going to fight their battle and defeat their enemy. God stepped in and said, “Nah. Why y’all crying out to me? Keep moving forward!” This is me moving forward.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

Exodus 14:10-18

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CHARLES RAMSEY: “I’m the definition of a man, bro!”

I’m glad Charles Ramsey knows his manhood is solid. I concur.

This whole thing is coming down to identity to me. Starting with Amanda Berry’s proclamation: “I am Amanda Berry!” The human body and spirit can endure a great deal of abuse, but knowing who you are – the power in how you identify and describe yourself – will either lead to your defeat or keep you undefeated.

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CHARLES RAMSEY: An unlikely, but much appreciated, upgrade to the American Black Male image

“I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway!” ~ Charles Ramsey

Photo: Urban Classic Design, Facebook
Photo: Urban Classic Design, Facebook

The story began with Amanda Berry and got legs when Charles Ramsey opened his mouth on camera. He’s not the ideal of eye candy but his reported actions make him a heart-throb. Charles Ramsey came to the aid and rescue of several damsels in distress on Monday, May 6, 2013. He didn’t know them, didn’t really know of their present-day existence and had no reason to expect anything when he took action upon hearing a call for help from his neighbor’s house.

Charles Ramsey makes a very comical interviewee, but I will tell you, there are many women, and men for that matter, the world over, who have waited a lifetime for one person – one man, one woman, one friend, one teacher, one stranger, one sister, one brother, one somebody – to show up and rescue them from a destructive, debilitating situation. I can’t imagine how many times Amanda Berry and her sisters in captivity, Gina de Jesus and Michelle Knight had cried out over the years to no avail… only to have their cries repeatedly muffled and silenced. Fortunately, they didn’t stop crying out and they didn’t stop trying to free themselves. After ten years of captivity and abuse, a well-positioned neighbor with a heart of a warrior heard Amanda’s cry for help and rushed to free her from her prison.

To paraphrase Charles Ramsey, a black man in America may be seen as the usual suspect, but he most certainly isn’t seen as the hero-type.

What media images of Black Men in America do we have that portray them as strong, neighborly, caring, concerned, able, courageous, protective, amazing – a safe haven? I can’t think of one. We have Black Men who are powerful speakers, charismatic organizers, brilliant leaders, amazing firsts, fabulous celebrities, groundbreaking athletes and the like – but they are all seen as outliers. EXTRA-ordinary. NOT the norm. Charles Ramsey is literally the man next door. Who is black. In America. Who happened to respond to a cry for help by assisting a woman in freeing herself and her daughter from captivity. This woman then called for additional help in order to free her fellow captives.

I’m loving me some Amanda Berry right now, too! I’ll have another post for her, Gina and Michelle. But first, I needed to highlight what is so wonderful about the unlikely hero who is Charles Ramsey.

The LA Times’ write-up of this story illustrates why my focus is on Charles Ramsey and not Amanda Berry. Charles Ramsey is mentioned once at the bottom of their story. About him, they only report, “A neighbor, Charles Ramsey… heard screaming Monday and saw Berry, whom he didn’t recognize, at a door that would open only enough to fit a hand through.”

According to the LA Times, Amanda Berry broke through the door herself and went back on her own to free their fellow captives. In this very traditional-esque write-up of a story where a Black Man does good, the Black Man is barely mentioned. And he certainly isn’t a hero. He isn’t someone who exhibited good character through actions worthy of acknowledgement and comment, let alone praise.

But a Black Man has done something worthy of acknowledgement, comment and praise. This is why Charles Ramsey has contributed a great deal to the media image of the Black Male in America this week. Because of social media, we don’t have to rely on outlets like the LA Times to feed us our news and shape our minds according to their own biases.

I know Charles Ramsey isn’t the only Brother out there who cares about his community to the point of rushing towards danger in order to pull someone out. Unfortunately, there are many people in this country (and world) who’s only experience of Black American Men is from television (news), movies, and music. For this reason, I am really happy that we’re all getting a good dose of the lively authenticity that is Charles Ramsey. Unkempt with a potty mouth, he’s not Clark Kent and would never be mistaken for Bruce Wayne. In fact, he may have spent his life being treated like an unstable Bruce Banner, watching people cross the street as he approached on a dark night. But he proved himself to be better than any fictional superhero.

He showed himself to be an ordinary man with flaws who is willing to operate from a pure heart. A courageous heart. In hero-speak, Charles Ramsey’s superpower is “being himself”. That makes him beautiful and amazing. A simple wonder to behold.

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