On Leaders Like Kim Burrell and Why Words Matter

The two things that grind my gears the most are when military leaders and professionals shame men for seeking mental health care by calling them "pussies" and "weak" as they fervently work to pull their lives together, be their best selves, and gain resources so that they don't kill themselves so they can stay alive to have productive lives and raise their families. Such behaviors are problematic because when men take the courageous and bold step in admitting that they are working through PTSD, depression, bipolar, anxiety or a myriad of other health conditions while seeking additional resources and supports, they shouldn’t be made to feel that they cannot navigate the waters of managing their mental health as well as their career. Or covertly threatened that their disclosure of such information will cause damage to their careers or diminish their professional reputations. Such assertions also play to the notion that in order to be seen as a “man”, men must fit through narrow constructs relating to strength, not giving into weakness, and performing masculinity in a way that makes others comfortable so they can retain a modicum of respect in the eyes of their peers.

Leaders must realize that their thoughts, behaviors, words, and actions directly impede their ability to care for people who look up to them and follow their leadership when they are blurred by presuppositions that lack nuance, truth, or the lived experiences of real people.

Equally vile and deplorable for me are people who use their influence to encourage other people to be hateful. Especially when it's veiled under poorly executed theology.

My case load is full of people who have attempted suicide and are currently hospitalized for both reasons I mentioned above. Their pastor or priest called them "nasty", "defiled", "filthy", or "unforgivable" when they found out they were LGTBQ. Or they have endured scrutiny and embarrassment for their admission to the need for mental health support from leaders that they trust who are also there to encourage their career progression. Many then try to suicide because there is nowhere to turn where they are loved and accepted. There isn't one person in their life reminding them that they aren't any of those things, but instead that they are whole, beautiful, and loved. Part of my job is creating a culture in which we destigmatize help-seeking behavior and creating and implementing policies to change the Army culture where such actions aren't acceptable. Through education and training, I am able to work with leaders in creating environments that are open, inclusive, and encouraging to people. Part of culture change is holding people specifically accountable for their words and actions. Letting them know how their words and actions directly affect people. And educating them around their blind spots and privilege on said topics so that they can do and be better, with the hope of using their access, power, influence, and privilege to change the world around them for the better.

This brings me to Kim Burrell. 

Kim Burrell is a widely acclaimed American gospel singer from Houston, TX. Among being known as a singer, she is also a judge and mentor on the BET music competition “Sunday’s Best”, Senior Eldress/Overseer-Bishop of The Love & Liberty Fellowship Pentecostal Overcoming Holy Church, vocal and piano virtuoso, and one of the most influential voices in modern gospel music. She has notably served as a vocal mentor and inspiration for Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé, Missy Elliot, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Harry Connick, Jr., Nelly Furtado, Kelly Price, Faith Evans, Mary Mary, George Clinton, Stevie Wonder, Yolanda Adams, and others.

 

Yesterday a video from one of her sermons at her church hit the internet. In the video (which I won’t hyperlink as I am committed to not using my platform to spread hatred) she asks anyone afflicted with the ‘homosexual spirit’ to pray to God for deliverance. She then refers to homosexuality as a spirit of ‘delusion’ and ‘confusion’ before calling out homosexuals as ‘perverted.’ She said that if they “keep playing with their homosexual spirit, they are going to die from it.” To which she then linked the fatally ill Atlanta pastor, Bishop Eddie Long to her verbal tirade suggesting his illness was because he was homosexual.

Kim Burrell said things that were hurtful, crass, and untrue. And I hope they continue to drag her for it. I hope she loses money, venues, and influence because of her hateful rhetoric and complete disregard to her audience or followers. It’s funny (said with complete sarcasm) that the "perverted" folks she is talking about are the hairstylists she relies ones who make sure her wigs don't slide off. Her Make-up Artist works to make her face ageless and near perfect for photo shoots. Her Fashion Wardrobe Stylist who works to manage her waist trainer staying put together for her TV appearances. Her Creative Director ensures that all production sound, lights, and props happen at the very moment she needs them. And her fellow musicians and background vocalists that enhance and elevate her talent at her live events. Or Frank Ocean, a singer, songwriter, and rapper who openly identifies as bisexual who you JUST sang a guest feature on his beautiful song "Godspeed" from the album "Blonde" released just four months ago. But somehow, they are nasty. You can’t just exploit people for your own personal gain yet dehumanize them. You can’t demean a group of people while still expecting to be respected in their lives. You can’t extract all you need from the culture and its people all while assaulting every crevice of their identity. And even if the people that you are so strongly committed to hating and using such violent language against didn't offer any services that benefitted you and/or your career, LGTBQ folk are people who are made in the same image of the God you worship and serve.

It’s upsetting watching someone who falls into a marginalized group both as a woman and Person of Color find no issue in utilizing their platform to instigate oppression. People who are oppressed in an area, can still maintain and benefit from privilege in others. With all that is happening in the world against people in marginalized communities, the ways in which the most recent election cycle has created such divides amongst families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, the staggering rise in violence against people who aren’t perceived as American enough because of their looks and religion, and upcoming policies from the Trump administration that will be implemented to prevent equality for all Americans, Burrell chooses to use her pulpit platform to stay pressed about who has a penis in their mouth and vagina on their lips? Kim was projecting loudly and using poor hermeneutics while doing so. It's not just what she said, but the aggressively violent way she said it, who it affects and how it impacts their lives.  Burrell seems to be unaware or doesn't know the amount of folks who will consider suicide after viewing that, keeping hating themselves, or have their families use that sermon to show them so they change or will die soon because God hates them.

 

Words mean things.

I wish she (and the churches that support her and folks saying "Amen" in the pews) were this upset about police brutality, poverty, fatherlessness, systemic inequality, education disparities, no clean water in Flint, government corruption, the school to prison pipeline, marriage equality, affordable health care, Soldiers attempting to acclimate to society are combat trauma, religious liberties for all citizens, I could go on...

I'm alive and still breathing in this body because I distanced and gleefully emancipated myself from people like Kim Burrell (and folks that attend churches like the one she preaches in) who are committed to launching bullets and misusing their assault rifles in the form of verbal attacks on the crevices of people's identities and souls.

 

Silence when you witness inequality that is happening in front of you makes you a complicit participant (and benefactor) of oppression. Being empathetic for/to how POC, women, Muslims, LGTBQ, disabled, or any other marginalized group experiences the same America that you do is useless unless you use both your power and privilege to stand against people, systems (education, politics, entertainment, religion, laws, etc.) and policies that directly oppose their equality. If you choose to be empathetic to people and policies that aggressively stand against their ability to thrive and flourish, you are a part of the problem as you are a complicit benefactor of systemic oppression.

 

We have to do and be better for each other's sake. We have to stay committed to having each other's back and ensuring justice and equality for each other no matter what race, gender identity, socio-economic background, national origin, physical ability, religion, mental health diagnosis, or sexual orientation.

And lastly, any environment that treats you like that while still asking you for money but not showing up for your mind, body, soul, or spirit all while cursing your identity is a place I'd suggest stepping away from as it causes more harm than good to you. You don't have to have any respect or deference for any person or system that violates you by shooting bullets that cause emotional, physical, and spiritual damage to your psyche because you are existing. Any place that says their light is the only light but encourages folks around you to hate you while damning you to hell should be canceled in 2017.

Our energy is best spent away from people who demean, devalue, or hate us. Next year, I encourage you to turn inward to love yourself and intentionally place yourself in communities that do the same.