Aretha, Andrew: One window closes, another opens

Crazy Faith Ministries

The opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities have always moved me and seem particularly apropos for where we are today …for in the span of this one week, the African American community celebrated the opening of a window for a young man named Andrew Gillum even as we mourned the loss of – but celebrated the life of – our own Aretha Franklin.

It was as though God was saying, “walk together children, don’t you get weary.” Racism is as virulent as it has ever been; we have a president who is stoking the coals of latent racism carried by far too many people in this country. Activists and organizers are working harder than they have in a long time, because all votes, but especially the Black vote, will be crucial to stem the tide of rising tyranny in this country.

The presence, the voice and the activism of Franklin is and has been a part of the spiritual underpinning of the African American community which has helped keep us believing in hope; her music has been an important part of how we experience our trauma and pain. In our quest for justice and equality, we found that we could sing or hum a line of a Franklin song and “feel like going on.”

Her passing was a crushing blow to our community. We somehow forgot that mortal life is fleeting and that we must all pass on. We want our heroes to be here forever, because they comfort us and strengthen us and remind us that there is always hope.

As we journeyed toward the day of her funeral, however, we could not quite believe how a window would be opened for us. Andrew Gillum, a young, African American man who is also the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, had been on a journey of a different sort – toward his goal of becoming governor of a historically racist, Southern state, Florida.

Even as we listened to tunes by Franklin on the radio, we didn’t pay much attention to what was happening in Florida; many people with whom I spoke didn’t even know that a Black man was on the ballot. When returns began to come in on Tuesday evening, Gillum was on the bottom. It didn’t look good and those who were watching resigned themselves to the fact that he had at least tried something noble.

But on Wednesday morning, this country – and probably the world – was shocked. This Black man had won the Democratic primary. He would run for governor against the winner of the Republican primary, a Trump devotee named Ron DeSantis.

Someone, it seems, had said a little prayer.

It’s amazing how there are things that happen in our lives that serve to boost us up when we are way down. Dickens’ words describe how life feels – for all of us – at different times: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness. It was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.”

Franklin’s passing challenged the very souls of some of us. She was supposed to live forever; her presence and her music were a part of our kente cloth to which we cling for survival. We grow attached to those who help us get through and get over, and she fell into that category. But neither she nor God acquiesced to our need for her to stay around.

Instead, as the door closed on her life, a window was opened for us to look through. The older woman was gone, and a young man was stepping up. Our sadness because of the closed door will not disappear, but the open window reminds us that genuine hope cannot be quenched. We mourn the loss of Franklin and yet we can celebrate the emergence of Andrew – all in one week.

A final note: even as the world in general and the African American community in particular mourned the loss of a cultural hero, this country mourned the loss of Republican Senator John McCain. The commencement of memorial services for both Franklin and McCain began at almost the same time on the same day. McCain was not a hero for the African American community in his politics, but both McCain and Franklin made an impact on millions of people in our sorely divided country.

It was … and it is … the best of times and the worst of times. As we say goodbye to two legends, we at least have the opportunity to welcome yet another person who is destined to make a significant mark in this country and in this world.

Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. Contact her at


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