Bishop William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign and national board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is one of our staunch allies in the fight for a fair democracy.
On Sunday, April 24, 2022, the League's CEO Virginia Kase Solomón spoke at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, NC, where Bishop Barber serves as pastor. You can read her speech or watch the full video below.
I want to start by thanking Bishop Barber for inviting me to speak with you all today, and thank all of you for listening, and my husband Michael for joining me on the trip down here. Most important, I want to give thanks to almighty God for all the blessings He has placed in my life.
I have to admit that I prayed a lot about what to say to you today. You see, I’m not a preacher and honestly, you have Bishop Barber and Reverand Uzzell every week and I truly cannot imagine what I could possibly say to you when you have such powerful servants of the Lord to provide you with wisdom and council. So, I will do my best and I hope that I don’t disappoint.
Today I want to talk to you about Trojan Horses.
Many of you know the story of the Trojan Horse from ancient Greek mythology. But for those of you that don’t know the story, during the 10th year of the Trojan war, the Greeks found themselves frustrated that they had not been able to defeat the Trojans and take their city. So, they devised a plan to build a large wooden horse where their finest soldiers could hide. The Greeks then burned their camp and fled to a nearby island so the Trojans would think they had surrendered. The wooden horse was meant to be a gift to the Goddess Athena. When the Trojans wheeled the giant horse into the city, many cried foul. They thought it was a trick, but nothing happened. Then, when the city went quiet, in the dark of the night, they climbed out of the Trojan horse and took the city. Victory was theirs.
You see, sometimes, in order to win the battle, you must be a Trojan Horse.
All throughout the Bible there are stories of people who acted as Trojan Horses.
Take Nehemiah for example, he was a Trojan Horse. After Nehemiah learned that the wall of Jerusalem was destroyed and the gates burned, he was devastated. But God had favored Nehemiah and placed him in an interesting position. He was cupbearer to the King and he was favored. So when he asked the King if he could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, the King said yes. Not only did the King say yes, he sent Nehemiah with all the resources he needed to do the job. Now, this was a pretty big deal and in fact, it upset a lot of powerful people. Here comes this cupbearer who has been placed in a position of authority to rebuild the wall.
Now, he didn’t rebuild the wall alone. He asked many people to help him. We know some of their names but many we will never know. That’s the other thing about work. Many are called but not everyone’s name is remembered. And that’s okay. When you are walking in your purpose, you don’t do it for personal glory. It doesn’t mean that your work is any less valuable than those who are placed in a position of visibility.
But back to Nehemiah. He was clear in his purpose and he had an entire crew – a team of people who were equally invested in rebuilding the wall. Because of this, there was a lot of opposition. I mean, here come these average everyday folks coming in taking good contracts from the “elite.” Those who felt like if anyone should benefit, it should be them.
But Nehemiah understood the assignment. He also understood his privilege. See, he used his privilege, his Trojan Horse status, to bring impacted people along with him. To engage those who were most affected by the destruction of the wall in rebuilding it. He could have easily used his access to the King and the resources to build the wall to his personal benefit, but he chose not to.
Does any of this feel familiar?
I think of you Bishop, when I think of Nehemiah. I think of the Poor People’s Campaign. The wall of our democracy has been heavily damaged and you have used your access to power, not to uplift your own profile, not to just offer your own solutions, but to help impacted people raise their voices and be a part of the solution. Seems you are a bit of a Trojan Horse yourself.
I myself aspire to be a Trojan Horse.
You see (and this is something many don’t know about me), when I was young, my mother became very unwell and she went to a dark place that left her unable to care for her children. My sweet, beautiful mother. And because of this I was raised in large part by other women who stepped in to fill her place — my foster mother who was from Puerto Rico was my primary caregiver, and there were many Black women who became part of the village who raised me.
Now you see, God doesn’t make mistakes. This was an important part of my journey. As it was my mother’s, who found her way back — I might add — against insurmountable odds. See, God knew exactly what he was doing by putting me in the care of these women because my Irish/Spanish background and my fair complexion afforded me a privilege that I didn’t even know I possessed.
When we are young, we don’t always understand how the world works. We think the world revolves around us. Our world can feel small. Yet, as we grow older, we see that we are but part of larger systems and structures that have often determined before we were even conceived, what the outcomes of our lives will be. So, if you are born poor, or in a marginalized community, your path is often predetermined. Even more so if you are Black and poor. We often accept our place in society as the rule. But it doesn’t have to be.
But I was fortunate, because I was also taught that I COULD be the exception, despite all of the challenges that I faced. These women taught me how to use my privilege (which for me was my whiteness) to be a Trojan Horse. Now, this didn’t mean that I wasn’t still poor. It didn’t mean that I did not have challenges. It meant that if I prayed to understand my purpose, if I worked hard to be the exception to the rule, I would have access to spaces and places that others may not have because of the racism and discrimination they faced. This also meant that I would have a responsibility to open doors for others.
When I was starting to understand my purpose, I happened to be working as a community organizer. It was then I learned about power — power structures and systems and injustice. I saw how our government upheld systemic racism and poverty. I saw how our government values capitalism over human beings. I saw elected officials make promises they never kept and saw them vote against the interests of the people they promised to represent. And this made me more determined to do my part to tear down these ungodly systems.
That meant becoming a Trojan Horse. As the CEO of the League of Women Voters, I approach my purpose with humility because I know that what I do is not for me. It’s not for career advancement. It is because God has called me to do his work. That means that all the access I am afforded is not for me. It is because I am meant to be a Trojan Horse. To kick the doors wide open and welcome everyone else in the room with me. I don’t need to be the lead actress in this movie. My job is to be the best supporting actress and to make sure that I am letting other people’s stars shine.
That brings us back to Nehemiah. When Nehemiah and the impacted people of Jerusalem started working on repairing the wall they were mocked and laughed at and told that they weren’t qualified to do the job. When that didn’t deter them, people tried to sabotage them. Even some of their wealthy fellow Jews. Funny how sometimes even your own people get to a place of prosperity and forget where they have come from. Not everyone aspires to be a Trojan Horse.
Our democracy is a lot like the wall of Jerusalem. It has been under attack. Just like the wall, they tried to destroy America on January 6th, 2021. We have seen attack after attack by some of our own fellow countrymen and women. People who have used their wealth, their positions, and their ignorance to serve themselves. They see an America that is all about the survival of the fittest and not the least of their brothers and sisters. They see an America that only exists to serve them and their greed.
But just like Nehemiah and all of those who helped to rebuild that wall, we will rebuild our country. Impacted people will rebuild our country to be better, stronger, more equitable. Even today, people mock low-income folks by telling them how to solve their problems. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Work harder so you can afford a decent place to live. Just deal with the fact that you don’t have access to quality health care.
But we don’t need those that mock us to tell us how to heal America. We don’t need them to tell us how to fix our lives. Because we know — we believe in an America that has a place for all people. We believe that we can have agency over our lives. But it can only happen if each of us uses our privilege. Some of us may think we have no privilege, but I believe that there are degrees of privilege, and we can all contribute to fixing our democracy.
Do you have hands? Send an email to your elected officials. Do you have a car? Show up to the Moral March on Washington on June 18th. Do you have a voice and a cell phone? Call your elected officials and demand voting rights legislation. Do you have a vote? Show up at the ballot box on election day. Do you have a calling to run for office? Run that campaign.
Then bring others with you.
See, we all have some kind of privilege. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that we could be victims. He did it so we could be VICTORIOUS. And we will be.
Speaking of Jesus, HE was the ultimate Trojan horse. He died on a cross so that we could go to heaven. He used HIS access. He used HIS privilege, not for His own glory but so that our sins could be forgiven. So, we honor Him by doing good for others. By fighting for justice. So, if we truly want to honor HIM, we must follow his example.
There are many who try to paint a romanticized picture of who Jesus was. But for me, the best description I’ve ever heard of the Jesus I believe in actually comes from a comedian named John Fugelsang. He said that Jesus was a radical nonviolent revolutionary who hung around with lepers, hookers, and crooks. He wasn’t American and never spoke English; was anti-wealth, anti-death penalty, anti-public prayer (see Matthew 6:5); but was never anti-gay, never mentioned abortion or birth control, never called the poor lazy, never justified torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, never asked a leper for a copay, and was a long-haired, brown-skinned, homeless, community organizing, anti-slut shaming Middle Eastern Jew.
So, as we think about the promise of our democracy, we must remember that everyone has a role and a place in a just country and we must elect leaders who believe in justice. We must engage those most impacted by the problems we face in the solutions. We must push for just legislation that ensures that generations to come get to live in a healthy climate, where every person has access to good health care regardless of their ability to pay, that those who are incarcerated have access to humane and decent living conditions and the ability to vote, that gay and trans people can live their lives free from hate and violence, that women can have agency over their bodies, that immigrants are welcome in our country, that every person has the right to self-determination and the ability to decide their elected leaders. That people of all religions or no religion have the right to pray or not pray without judgment.
This is the America that I want to live in. This is the America that I believe can be – IF we each use our privilege. If we all choose to be Trojan Horses.
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