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Gospel Singer Takes The Time To “Stand” On Aisle 9

October 8, 2015

Donnieby Sarena James

      There’s a certain goodness that is visibly present on an aisle where perspective, understanding, and sensitivity are shelved in abundance. On that aisle there is an unmistakable willingness to hear a persons heart and a sincere attempt to walk in their shoes, as uncomfortable and unsteady as it may be.

     On that aisle, the shared dialogue is rich in experience that enlightens and lifts the heaviness with a hope that heals. That’s what happens on aisle 9, and that’s exactly what happened when gospel recording artist Donnie McClurkin wholeheartedly agreed to meet us there. 

“Retarded.” There are places where that word is accepted, tolerated, and even welcomed by ignorance or intentional degradation.

     I’ve heard it from the mumbling mouths of strangers seeking to belittle my family in a passing moment, and even acquaintances who toss it out freely and then awkwardly apologize when they remember I’m in their midst. I’ve heard that word, but I never thought I’d hear it on a gospel television show from one of my favorite gospel artists.
     He has always come across the screen as a friend or beloved family member, and it stung to hear those words come from him.  So, I wrote a letter, not because I thought he had ill intent, but because I felt an urgent need to speak up and speak out on behalf of families who’ve been bruised and hurt by this one word.

Donnie McClurkin,

Sir, let me begin by thanking you for your musical contributions to all of us in an effort to lift us and give us much needed hope as we journey our given paths. I’ve listened to your music through many of my own challenges to include health crises, job loss, and perhaps the most difficult, parenting a child with special needs. I’ve dealt with the harsh judgment of others, to include negative language directed at my dear son. “Retarded”, is one of those words. Unbelievable then to hear two inspirational gospel artists use that word as casually and irresponsibly as you and Kierra Sheard did tonight on the finale of Sunday’s Best. That single word stung more coming from the mouths of the two of you, than it ever could from someone else in this too often, coldly cruel world. Understand that some of the very people you minister to and reach out to have been subjected to the hurtful verbal actions that you displayed this evening. What does that word mean? Who does it really target? I appeal now to the consciousness of your heart, and ask that you rethink your flippant language as it hits home to many of us who also house your music. Many find their role model in you. Please stand tall not only in your notes and lyrics, but in the language you choose in the pulpit of your heart…

     I wasn’t sure how to get the message directly to him and Kierra Sheard privately, so I posted publicly on social media. Weeks went by, and there was nothing. Nothing, until there was something.

Time is a powerful thing, and it knew much more than I could know.

    Donnie McClurkin would be in our city for a concert this week. My husband, who was interviewing him about reaching out to our community (which is still reeling from the tragedy of the Mother Emanuel massacre and statewide flooding), decided that he would pull him aside and share this letter.
    “Sarena, Donnie wants to speak to you directly.”
      Hearing someone means everything to the person being heard. He apologized sincerely, tirelessly, honestly. He explained that he received other messages that held him accountable. He explained that he was wanting to find the platform to offer his regret and how difficult it has been to repair the damages of those hearts he offended. I listened and let him speak, and then told him that I heard and honored his apology and the humility it took to stand in that space with me. I told him how effective his ministry has been, and he thanked me for the respect I was giving him in the midst of the hurt. He offered to do “more.” He graciously agreed to speak to our audience, directly.
   Donnie McClurkin for many years, you’ve told millions to stand, and on this day sir, your character and integrity measure tall. From our conversation I found you to be as genuine, and approachable as you come across on TV. Thank you for hearing with your heart and for your willingness to add light. My husband said my letter got to you and that you called me your hero. Thank you for that.  One day, I hope you’ll meet mine. His name is Grant.
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