Reflections from an artist on #Ferguson

I spread out the paints on the kitchen table.

I’m an artist and it’s been months since I’ve painted, and something in me has died. I need resurrection.

So I pull out the paints, one by one and they’re like baptismals. I dip my brush into each colour: the lemon yellow, the sepia brown, ivory black, titanium white, cobalt blue and burnt umber. I like how that sounds – “burnt umber.” It rumbles, almost. Then there’s phthalo green and cadmium red, and orange . . . the bright hue of each colour as it squeezes from the tube and then, I blend on the canvas.

And I think about Glennon Melton’s piece in the Huffington Post on how our bodies are not masterpieces – how they’re paintbrushes, with which to paint the canvas of life, and I think of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – and how so often we forget that every colour of skin is essential for the picture that is life. No colour can stand alone.

Honestly? I wanted to be black growing up.

My best friend was a blind black girl in the Congo.

When she smiled it was as though everything bad in the world became good, for just a second – the brightness of her teeth like a sliver of hope in night sky.

And when she laughed, the world sang.

I would grip her hand and help her walk, while she helped me smile.

We both needed each other this way.

And now people are killing because of a colour: because of the colour black.

I don’t get it.

Let it give you life

I returned to Africa this winter, to Uganda and Rwanda and it felt like I had returned home. I sometimes feel like a stranger in my own skin. When I read stories of how we run down hard-working teenagers like Mike Brown – who was described as “a gentle giant” and who never got into scraps, who always studied and did everything right – just because God gave him a different shade of epidermis than the rest of us, I begin to understand why I feel homeless in my own body.

And I weep.

I’m almost done the picture, a bright sun and the splash of waves, a red flower and I use black last – to define the rest of the picture. It outlines and protects the images, gives them life even as it stands alone.

If only we would let other races give us life instead of stealing it from them.

Let’s use our paintbrushes, friends – to paint the brightest of canvases, with ALL of the colours.

Let’s use our brushes to speak up for the least of these, which right now includes our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their skin colour in Missouri.

Let’s speak up for the children in Iraq in danger for loving Jesus.

Let’s speak up for the forgotten in Gaza who long to have a home.

Let’s speak up for the hundreds of thousands of mothers in the Central African Republic who’ve lost a child in the recent genocide.

Let’s be like my beautiful friend who gripped my hand down that dusty road in the Congo. We need each other to walk and to see. We are blind unless we hold onto one another’s hands.

It’s in gripping each other’s skin that we feel a heartbeat and it’s then, we remember:

We are ALL human. Every single one of us. With dreams and hopes and prayers and mothers and fathers. We’re all someone’s little boy or girl.

We’re all part of the picture that is life.  


  • Emily Wierenga

    Emily Wierenga is a wife and mother who is passionate about the church and lives in northern Alberta. She is the author of the memoirs Atlas Girl and Making it Home (Baker Books), and the founder of a non-profit working in Africa and Asia.

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