Never would have made it
Never could have made it without You
I would have lost it all
But now I see how You were there for me
And I can say
Never would have made it
Never could have made it
The crowd is silent. The only sound is her voice belting these words, her hand tapping against her hip, the sounds of affirmation, “Yes! Amen! Mmhmm,” from the crowd. Elaine Richardson’s rendition of Marvin Sapp’s inspirational gospel song “Never Would Have Made It” makes us all witnessing her performance reflect on those raw moments where only grace could comfort our deepest shame, and only love could begin to ease our pains. Both her performance and the words of her fellow presenter, Rhonda DeShields, reinforce the power of stories, particularly their ability to heal, inspire, and teach.
In their 2014 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) session titled “The Shame Tree Dead” both Richardson and DeShields demonstrated how their experiences—both from books and on blocks—from pimps and professors—through graduate degrees and drugs addictions—contributed to their current understanding of the meanings of literacy. Richardson specifically brought up the concept of shame, and how many stories—particularly those stories that point to low or failure moments—are often cloaked in feelings of worthlessness, inferiority, and exposure. While listening to DeShields talk about the tension between her and her father, which was a catalyst for her struggles with alcoholism, and Richardson share an excerpt from her book, PHD to PhD, about leaving the streets of prostitution to return to school at Cleveland State, I reflect on my own stories of shame—struggles with anxiety and depression—and how they have contributed to my own knowledge and learning experiences. Although stories of shame can be hard to face, what these speakers taught was that moments of shame don’t have to be debilitating; treating these truths as vital contributors to our life literacies can help us ‘kill shame dead’, while providing ourselves tools (new literacies) for coping with the stigmas, pressures, and “cockeyes” fixed on our pasts.
I’m better, much better
For those who were unable to attend this emotional and empowering session, I would say that these women bridged worlds, emphasizing the overlap of writing classrooms and street corners, #2 pencils and daisy dukes, literacy and survival. Perhaps this session could be a valuable reference when thinking about our own teaching philosophies and understandings of literacy, particularly how these scholars used their stories to embody what it means to “value outside knowledge/the knowledge students bring with them,” as opposed to simply talking about it. This session reminded me that life is composed of literacies that cannot be confined to words, books, or these academic walls.
I made it.
Ronisha Browdy is a WRAC PhD student interested in the literacy, rhetorical, and everyday practices of Black women. Through a womanist lens, she approach her work as an opportunity to explore, discover, and share stories about (and for) Black women’s experiences. Her current work focuses on Black female centered reality TV and its use by and influences on Black women viewers. Follow her on Twitter_ @RonishaBrowdy