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The Little Mermaid: Representation Matters

When I was growing up, a few things were normal to see. Men were doctors, and women were nurses. Men were principals, and women were teachers. Men were pastors and women, well, did everything else. Then I noticed it in color, too. White women were on magazine covers. Black women were only on Black magazine covers. White women were on beauty products. Black women's beauty products were hard to find. White girls were princesses, and Black girls were not.

That was until 1997 when Roger & Hammerstein gave us our first Black princess, with Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother. It would take Disney a few years to catch up, but I could finally see myself as appropriate for the make-believe screen when Tiana became the princess that saved the frog in 2009 - and by then, I was grown! So it's more appropriate to say MY KIDS could finally see themselves and, more importantly, that their skin was beautiful and worth loving on the big screen.

With the announcement and subsequent blowback of Halle Bailey as the Little Mermaid in Disney's live-action remake, let's discuss why this is important. LaDawn Taylor, the real-life Tiana, explains the weight of representation, "I didn't always see myself as pretty or someone to look up to, but being Tiana showed me I was all this and more. It allowed me to be seen as Black and beautiful and accepted for who I was by people from all different cultural backgrounds and nationalities."

All little girls need this opportunity. To see themselves as pretty. Wanted. Valuable. Smart. Capable. And as a viable member of their communities and the world. Where do Black girls still need to see themselves? Do they need to see Black women on the organization's board you influence? Do they need to see themselves in more of the health industry? Do they need to see themselves leading research in the sciences?

In the words of Ms. Marian Wright Edelman, "You can't be what you can't see." Mrs. Edelman, a Spelman College and Yale Law School graduate, has spent a lifetime working to ensure that Black women and women of all colors can see themselves in areas where oppression has tried to keep us out. She has been a lot of first. The first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. The first Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University. The first woman elected by alums as a member of the Yale University Corporation. She has spent a lifetime helping Black girls and young girls, in general, see themselves in places where injustice has said they do not belong.

We can influence how future generations of young ladies see themselves and if they see a route to fulfilling their purpose in the world. Disney is make-believe. We know that mermaids aren't real. The issue of representation is bigger than the Little Mermaid. It is about what a mermaid of color represents. It represents our progress when children of color can see themselves in spaces and on screens that have historically been off-limits. The blowback represents the miles we still have to go before we sleep.

Let's walk in the direction of resolve. Make plans to see The Little Mermaid on opening weekend when sales matter most. Regardless of your race, your attendance shows support for children who go underrepresented in so many other areas of life. It's a step of solidarity and unity for voices that go unheard. It's making yourself a part of progress.

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If Cornel West is correct, and "justice is what love looks like in public," we have two generations of kids, students, and young adults looking at the Church to see if we love in public the way we say we do in private. Generation Z (23-14 years old) is now leading in social spaces. Generation Alpha (13 years and younger) is watching today's events and getting to the age where they are questioning the behaviors of the adults around them. According to the Barna Group, Gen Z has an incredible interest in faith, but they want to know what faith has to do with love, specifically love in public. Gen Z, and younger Millennials, will raise Generation Alpha and wonder how the Church will make the world more just for their children. For the Church to resemble the love and justice that Gen Z is looking for, we need to:

Tell stories that provide context! Our children can handle concrete examples of justice and injustice. We must remember that no one, and no society, gets free while lying about who they've been. Many in Gen Z grew up with an African American President. Generation Alpha has or will have friends and classmates with two-parent homes where both individuals are the same sex. And many of them have experienced women in leadership positions. Diversity is not new to them. Because of that, we must remind them that America has a long history of injustice to give them context regarding how far we still have to go.

Love people in a way that shows the love of God! The first commandment is to love God. The second is to love our neighbor. This is a great time to talk about love as a verb…an action word! Love rejoices in the truth, protects others, trusts the good in people, and always hopes for the best (1 Corinthians 13: 6-7, NIV paraphrase). Look for tangible ways for your children to show love to people on the fringes of your community. Instead, it is a kid that gets bullied at school, a prayer walk or rally with your church, or going and feeding others at a local homeless shelter. Taking love from the abstract to the concrete will help them connect the private conversations about love to the public actions that further justice.

Do Justice! Love Mercy! Walk Humbly! Micah 6:8 tells us what God requires of us. Living a Christian life is not just about going to heaven but about how we show God’s love here on Earth. Justice, mercy, and humility are how we show people how much God loves them. Doing justice requires that we value every person. Loving mercy means that we forgive people who do wrong. And walking humbly means that we are open to acknowledging that we need God’s help to make the world a better place. We are working for a better world because we believe in justice. We forgive those who have carried out acts of injustice. And pray that God gives us the continued grace to be His hands and feet of love in a hurting and sometimes hostile world.

Increase our strides so they can see us increase progress! In conversations with your kids & students, remind them that each act or display that values another human being is a step towards making our whole world more just. Acts of justice and love are not quick fixes. Humanity is sinful, and the fight against that sin is ongoing. It requires more than just one action; it is a lifestyle of responding to hate with love and sin with grace. It will require all of us to treat everyone the way we want to be treated.

The Church serves as a God of love. Her people, in order to have credibility with the next generation, must exhibit the character of the God they claim to serve. There is a generation waiting to see if the people that serve a loving God will also love the people in the world.

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Yesterday marked the beginning of Holy Week. Just in case you’re not familiar with the term, Holy Week is the seven days Christians take to remember and reflect on the events that led Jesus to the cross and, ultimately, his resurrection that we celebrate on Easter Sunday. Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday, and many churches spend the day reflecting on Jesus’s final entry into Jerusalem. With that walk, we have a community of people acknowledging the supremacy of who Jesus is. There are large crowds. Coats honorable laid on the ground. Waving palm branches. Celebrations and admiration. Many sermons focus on detailing the vivid imagery regarding the waving palm branches and the shouting onlookers - “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)

Here’s what is interesting for me. Jesus—who went nowhere with self-promoting fanfare—starts his final entry into Jerusalem on the lowliest of animals to be met with the loudest and most celebratory of welcomes. He picked an animal created to serve. He picked an animal that symbolized peace. He picked an animal known for being sure and steady rather than prominent and proud. Jesus didn’t say bring me a horse. He said bring me a donkey.

I think Jesus chose the method that matched his mission. He came to serve, not to be served. He is known as the Prince of Peace, not the orchestrator of war. And in every situation where circumstances got rough, and people were unpredictable, Jesus was sure and steady. His character never wavered. His actions were dictated by what would bring about peace and wholeness, not replicate power and prestige. Jesus was intentional! Can we say the same? As Jesus followers, called to this ministry of reconciliation, does our method match our mission?

In one of his final moments of exaltation, he put his weight on a symbol of service, peace, and humility. True—Jesus was en route to be the payment that would mend our relationship with God, but he did so on the principles of service, peace, and humility as the people called out “Hosanna” or “God save us!” Maybe the saving power of God is not in a forceful presence but in a peaceful and humble progression. A progression that isn’t subservient to evil but just knows that you can’t match power with power and expect to get humility backed by love. Maybe the progression towards reconciliation moves in such a way that exalts God’s ability over our positions. Jesus’s march towards the cross is the walk of reconciliation. During this week, that is holy and set apart, to help us remember the work of Christ, how can you walk out service, peace, and humility as you go about being reconciled to God and others?

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