gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, discipleship

advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #17

we know individuals can be a triple threat, but can an entire family? this family’s ridiculous!

day 17 – december 16

dr. j. kameron and felicia carter


have you ever sat in a room full of people and felt utterly incompetent? but also felt deeply loved and like family ALL at the same time? well, such was the case when a bunch of black faculty, students and their families from duke divinity would gather together around christmas time each year. my husband, jay, willie (day #7), and others would be in the midst of their deep theological conversations and my head would spin to keep up! i realized at a certain point, you just can’t keep faking like you know what they’re talking about! that’s when i looked over at felicia and she said to me, “i don’t even try anymore.” we shared a good laugh together and i knew i was in good hands!

this family is dynamic and incredibly gifted. “dr. jay” as my kids refer to him, is so brilliant that i only got through the first 32 pages of his groundbreaking book, race: a theological account. ha! seriously though… too much brilliance! another groundbreaking moment was when i got an A- in his class, y’all!!!!! between jay as the teacher and my husband as the preceptor, i was sure that class was gonna break a sister’s GPA down! but GOD!!!

i admire felicia immensely. she embodies her career as an occupational therapist and a mother of two beautifully gifted daughters, with great strength, grace and intentionality. while jay tends to be more well known in various circles, we all know that behind every great man, there’s an equal or even greater woman! amen, somebody!

we were indeed sad to leave durham for many reasons but this family was a big one. we love and are so grateful for the carters and their friendship over the years.


advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #16

milestones and significant people who help create them…

day 16 – december 15

kevin primus


many folks know that my husband and i got married young, when we were only 21 and STILL in college. within the first 5 years of our marriage, we lived in a studio apt in new york, a small apt in philadelphia, and another apt in durham, nc. we lived in this apt for a couple years with two young children at that point. we lived on the 3rd floor and was hoping for a place that was a little less grueling to climb with strollers and car seats and groceries and you know…

kevin and his beautiful family attended our church and that’s how we initially met. this brother is one of the kindest and gentlest souls i’ve ever met. truly. i don’t actually recall how it all came about but over the course of some conversations, he offered to rent out his home to us. a HOUSE! a single family house! a house where i could play instruments and not worry about quiet neighbor hours! in the story of my life, this would actually be only the 2nd single family house that i’ve ever lived in – and the first was only for a brief season at that, which my mother lost to bankruptcy…but that’s another story.

a HOUSE. i was so thankful.

kevin was actually the person who also helped us find and purchase our very 1st house as our real estate agent. BIG BIG BIG milestone in my life – in our lives! we lived in this house for 5 years before moving up to seattle. our youngest child was born and shared many family memories together with amazing neighbors and friends. grateful for this brother, his family, their generosity and god’s faithfulness in our lives.

advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #15

over the course of my life, i’ve come across many people who are incredibly gifted. but, it’s when those gifts bend toward cultivating and developing others, that their life truly becomes inspiring to me. here’s a brother who continues to do just that – he inspires me.

day 15 – december 14

kevin singleton


kevin was one of my biggest cheerleaders when i served as a worship leader back in north carolina. he saw gifts in me when others couldn’t, and was a voice and presence of incredible encouragement throughout my time there. kevin always saw the possibilities in situations and in people. i admire that so much. i’ll never forget when we were hanging out at pf chang’s (this brother loved him some pf chang’s!) and he asked about my life story…i knew then, that he was invested in who i was and not just in the talent that i possessed. it’s those little things, right?

kevin is multi-talented. period. after playing ball overseas early on, he’s led worship for many years all over the country/world with folks like israel houghton and others, and currently helps lead worship at hillsongNY. he still holds the title of being the composer of one of my all-time favorite worship songs, glorify your name. kevin is also the ceo and founder of an organization called elevate new york – cultivating and investing in urban youth leadership development in new york city. he and his wife kelly are a dynamic couple and embody their call in beautiful and sacrificial ways. i’m so grateful to have shared in his wisdom and to still be living into some of his words spoken into my life. much love and respect!

advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #14

this family – i was hoping would become real family, but i’m learning that we can’t determine the choices of our children! ha

day 14 – december 13

rev. ken and kara johnson


our 1st born’s were only two years old at the time, but they seemed to bff their two year old selves so well that i was SURE they would be married one day! oh, do i have STORIES, but i’ll spare the children and not embarrass them on the inter-webs! how cute would that’ve been tho? two lil mixed kids loving each other…. *sigh*

ok. we met ken and kara over 15 years ago in durham, nc while in grad school. life is tough when you’re in grad school with little kids! tough!!! we had just moved to the area and immediately connected with them. they were such a kind and loving family. we would hang out often and share meals, babysitting, and just general life together.

i’m so proud of them and miss their friendship dearly. they have three beautiful children and ken now serves as a military chaplain. god truly did bring them into our lives for several years as a gift and family to us. much love!

advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #13

my goodness, this brother brings back some memories!!

day 13 – december 12

j.j. mckay


i met j.j. back in college at eastman school of music in rochester new york. to be truthful, when i first met him, my life was not right and my testimony was nowhere near faithful… but GOD! this brother genuinely cared for me like an older sibling, always telling (reminding) me about jesus and living right. #thestruggle

j.j. was the person who invited me to catch the van on sunday mornings to his church – new life fellowship – with bishop mcgill. i loved this church. and, i needed them. i may or may not have spent some long nights in the clubs the night before, but i made it to church! [god, forgive me.]

some of my most memorable times with j.j. was when he used to walk with me to certain places in the city because he thought there was too much shade. i didn’t appreciate it back then but, looking back, we lived in the heart of the city and my late night excursions to the ATM, taco bell, and snuffy’s birdland soul food were in some rough spots, especially at night. i thank god for him!

but, perhaps the most profound gift i received from j.j. – he was the FIRST person to introduce me to soul food…i know. ALL god’s children rejoiced!

he’s a native of st.louis and moved back there after college, currently serving as a pastor in the city. i think about him a lot in light of all the recent and ongoing struggle in ferguson. truly grateful for and blessed by his friendship over those years.

advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #12

you know those people who sharpen you and love you, but also help you recognize how much more you need to learn? well, yeah…this one.

day 12 – december 11

dr. esther acolatse

Esther Acolatse

this woman has helped shape me in my formation as a pastor. i think i took every class she taught in seminary. i also loved just hanging out with her at her house and hearing stories about her “holy village” back in Ghana, and learning the little things of life – like boiling vinegar and cinnamon together while you’re frying, eliminates the oil smell in your house! seriously tho…

in many ways, she engages with me like a mother. i find myself drawn to her sturdy, don’t mess, strong-centeredness. strangely enough, she is also one of the few people i would want at my bedside when i’m dying. her death and dying class about took me OUT! to this day, when i encounter difficult life and death pastoral situations, i try to recall her voice and ask myself, “what would dr. e do/say?” and, one time, i actually had to call her. she’s a wise, wise, wise woman.

something that always strikes me about dr. e is that she rarely ever gives a straight answer. when i ask a deep question, she’ll most often respond back with a question and make me think some more! what’s up with that??? it’s intriguing though…i’ve actually tried that tactic on people but it’s never worked for me! hahaha! MAD respect for this woman, and grateful for her wisdom, love, mentorship and presence in my life.

advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #11

this woman is such a creative and life-giving presence in our lives.

day 11 – december 10

enuma okoro


every time we greeted her, we would say “hey enuma!” until one day when my 1st born was 3 years old, he looked at her as she walked through our front door and said, “heynuma’s here!” so, to this day, whenever i’m referring to her with my kids, i call her heynuma. it’s cute. it’s the magic of nicknames – they often recall those special moments of familiarity.

i first met enuma through my husband. they are great friends from grad school. she very quickly became a family favorite and such a warm and joyful presence. enuma is nigerian american and an amazing writer and story teller. she is an author and has contributed to many books which you can find here. more than anything, i cherish her friendship with us, her contagious laughter and her general joy for life! this picture is one of my favorites of enuma because it really does speak to her colorful and vibrant presence. love her and so proud of this sister.

waiting may feel like a lifetime… but we wait together

over the past few months, in the wake of such tragic racial injustices brought to the forefront yet again by ferguson, mike brown, eric garner, john crawford, renisha mcbride, marissa alexander, tamir rice… i’ve found myself feeling every difficult emotion you can imagine – anger, grief, lament, sadness, disappointment, confusion, weariness, disbelief, and the list continues. a few days ago, someone said to me, “i’m sure it’s been a hard week caring for your husband and kids?” to which i had no response […..]. and then, i realized that the space i’m in mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally actually runs much deeper than even being married to my husband and raising mixed-race sons.

my 25 day advent journey here on my blog has reminded me that i’ve paid a high cost for my community, my friendships, and my family from the time i was a child! when you’ve had hoops yanked, earlobes ripped, been chased, threatened for being a n*$%#* lover, kicked out of your house, and disowned by your father – ALL, because you believed that your friends and those whom you love are worth the fight, you realize that your whole body and your life have become your love language and your protest!

it’s been a difficult season as i remember the many, many, many times over the course of nearly 4 decades of my life that i’ve found myself literally fighting for, advocating on behalf of, and risking my own sense of security for black lives to matter. and, today i find myself still fighting, advocating, and risking. it took everything in me to not lose my salvation when my oldest son was called the n-word at school a few years ago!

waiting in advent this year has been a struggle, to say the least. it literally has been a lifetime that i’ve been waiting alongside so many folks i love. but, i’ll keep waiting. i’ll keep advocating. i’ll keep risking. and, while my “fight” may look a little different now, i’ll keep fighting however i can.

i look back and remember all the people who’ve made my life so beautiful and redemptive, and i would risk it all over again if i have to. because at the core, these are the people who’ve been the tangible presence of jesus to me and god’s love embodied throughout the story of my life.

in the words of ruth to naomi: your people will be my people. your god will be my god. where you go, i will go and where you die, there too, shall i die. 

~ selah

advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #10

mixed race identity is complex and beautiful on so many levels. i appreciate this family for the many years of belonging and friendship.

day 10 – december 9

leashia pope


we met leashia and her family when our kids were very young. if i’m honest, i was initially drawn to them because they were a black and korean interracial family, but our relationship and friendship grew over the years and our children became very close as well.

something we still do to this day that we learned from leashia: when you make homemade chocolate cake, you’ve gotta add applesauce to the mixture…i know. SO. GOOD! i will also never forget the time when she offered to watch our boys when they were very little (for 3 loooooong days), in order that brian and i could go away to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. that’s love!

we realized that moving to seattle 6 years ago meant we were leaving a community and so many wonderful friendships behind. as i think about leashia and her kids during that season of our lives, they really were like family. when your own family is either scarce in number or distant, god is always faithful to bring people into our lives to help share in both the burdens and the joys of life. grateful for leashia and the kids.

advent, black lives, and 25 days of changing the narrative – day #9

this next couple just inspires me to no end! no. end.

day 9 – december 8

dr. eugene and paula flood


i mean…don’t y’all wanna look like this when you grow up? if i could let myself go all gray and look this fine like paula, you KNOW jesus ’bout to make his second coming! ok. anyway, there’s so much goodness and inspiration i’ve learned and received from the floods.

i first met them about 15 years ago in durham, nc. you know those people who are multi-gifted and super humble all at the same time? well, that’s them. eugene is a ceo of a major finance company but we met through church and music. he’s a mean b3 hammond organ player! he was such an encouraging presence and advocate for me throughout his time serving on the team. i remember when he used to make me cd’s of gospel artists he enjoyed. i always looked forward to those! as busy as he was, he was very intentional to check in with me and how my family was doing, often dropping nuggets of wisdom left and right. the most profound things i’ve learned about and from eugene were, a) he is a man of great determination and gifting. i admire the ways he always honored his parents and shared stories about how hard his father worked to provide for his family. and, b) he shared this piece of wisdom with me that i’ve never forgotten (and, often tell others now) – “it’s a gift to be good at a lot of things…but, if you wanna be great at something, you have to pick one thing and work hard at it.” well…

paula influences me even now – years later, and she probably doesn’t ‘even know it! now that i have teenage sons, i SO appreciate her realness. their children (who are grown adults now) are so precious and beautiful. but, we all know that doesn’t just happen overnight. this woman was nobody’s punk when it came to “training up” a child! ha! she kept them in line!!! i admire that tremendously. she sacrificed a wonderful and dynamic career to love and care for her family. i had a chance to spend good time with her daughter christina throughout her high school years. i’m so proud of her. as well, i used to joke with paula that i hope i am as powerfully wise, beautiful and grace-filled as she is when i grow up! truly.

love this family and miss their presence.

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