It was Tuesday morning, August 15, 2017.
I had just given a big plate of breakfast fixins and a green smoothie to my husband as he settled down on the couch to watch the morning news. The deadly rally that took place three days earlier in Charlottesville, VA was still front and center on every news station and we were staring at the TV screen in disbelief.
I turned to put something in the refrigerator and when I turned around again, all I saw was my husbands back as he bolted into the bathroom around the corner. Although I couldn’t see him, I heard the familiar sound of vomiting. Lasting 10 minutes, it was the loudest and most prolonged vomiting episode I have ever heard in my life. I peeked in on him continually, nearly failing at the fight to keep the contents of my own stomach down as I tried to comfort him.
Our youngest children hearing the noise, kept asking, “What’s wrong with daddy?” as he closed and locked the door to keep them from seeing him sick. When he emerged, he was weak and leaning on the wall as he walked back around the corner. Slowly, he marched upstairs, collapsed on the couch and asked if we had any ginger ale to sooth his stomach. I knew we didn’t so I offered to go to the store.
I jumped into the car and sped to Wal-Mart to get the classic home remedy for nausea along with gatorade, crackers and probiotics. I didn’t know what I’d come home to so I hurried back to nurse my man back to health. I knew he’d still be wrapped up in blankets and may have even vomited again so I brought the gingerale and gatorade with me as I ran up the stairs. But when I got there, Debleaire was sitting straight up on the couch with this all-to-familiar look in his eyes.
You see, my husband is a pastor and I’ve learned that divine inspiration can strike at any moment. Sometimes we’ll be riding in the car and he’ll say, “Babe, can you write this down?” as he proceeds to give me seemingly random bits of information. I routinely find small and large pieces of loose paper with illegible words on them with bullet points, titles and underlined words.
In our 14 years of marriage there have been many moments when I see this specific look in his eyes. While some of his God-given ideas have “gone against the grain” and led to criticism, resistance and disassociations, it was those very ideas that seemed to have the greatest impact. Therefore, I truly admire his courage and willingness to “obey God rather than man,” and I knew that God had equipped him with the resolve to move forward with whatever was next. He is a trailblazer in his own right and anytime he has a big idea, a dream or something that God has just whispered to him, he has this same look in his eye, so I was silently wondering what was about to go down this time.
As I looked at him, his eyes were no longer watery, they were filled with piercing conviction. His voice was strong and I could tell he had been writing something because he had a pen behind his ear.
I was so confused. What had happened in the 20 minutes while I was gone to the store?
“Hey G, I wanna run something by you…” he said. “I want to call for a boycott of the NFL. Seeing the racial tensions demonstrated in Charlottesville and seeing things play out with Kaepernick, I can’t continue watching the NFL in good conscience. I’m done with it! He took a knee for us; to draw attention to incidents where law-enforcement shot unarmed black men without criminal or professional repercussions, and the league has prevented him from being hired. I want to issue a call to other men, pastors and leaders in Huntsville to do a blackout with me. I’m going to get a promo flyer made today and distribute it on Facebook. What do you think?”
“Wow!” I said! Mainly because I was marveling at that the fact that I had rushed to the grocery store and spent $35 on all things ginger for no apparent reason. Secondly, because I couldn’t believe my ears. My husband has rarely missed a football Sunday and he is the BIGGEST sports fan I know. I couldn’t believe he was ready to give up football! But as I sat down and thought about it, I knew why his strength had returned so suddenly and I too, was excited about this idea.
“You know that I support you,” I said. “But this is a nationwide issue that needs to go further than Huntsville. I think in order to really reach this generation of men, you need to do more than a flyer, you need to do a video; a good one.”
As we discussed everything, I could see the wheels spinning in his head. He began texting the other pastors and leaders in the area and called on a team to do the video, Jason Moore to serve as videographer and Danita Jones, as producer.
No sooner had I taken a sip of the forgotten gatorade, my husband rose from his “sick bed” and left the house, headed up to the church to meet with the team about producing the video the next day. He texted the Men’s Ministry leader and shared what was on his heart and the desire to inspire individuals to commit their time to mentoring young people during the NFL season. His conviction was so undeniably strong that it led to immediate action. When he came back that night, he had written a script, purchased a black t-shirt and had a plan for several Huntsville pastors and leaders to meet the next morning to record a video to tell the world that they were blacking out the NFL.
The next morning, I went straight to the church after dropping our oldest at school to catch a glimpse of the filming. I wanted to be there to witness history-in-the-making. I saw my husband along with many other influential men in Huntsville, come together, united for this purpose. It was evident by his excitement that he was so grateful that these men had taken time out of their demanding schedules to come and join him in speaking out against the injustices being faced in our country.
Days later, on a Thursday evening, the compelling video was released. Within one hour it had thousands of views and shares and by the end of the weekend, millions of views. People from all over the country were challenged to (1) boycott the NFL, (2) commit 2 hours of community service and mentoring each Sunday instead of watching NFL games, (3) spread the word and (4) commit to daily prayer for our community, nation and its leaders. It was shared so much that I saw several posts on Facebook that said, “OK! I’m in, please stop inboxing me with this video!” lol!
Subsequent videos were released to garner more support, including one featuring several Huntsville women, who declared that they were “here for it” and wanted their voices to be heard as well. They were committed to blacking out the NFL!
In anticipation of NFL opening day, a playbook was developed by Robert Mann, the mens ministries leader at First Church that detailed 17 Sunday’s worth of mentoring activities for boys and girls. Shari Ford, Karlecia Swan and Sherelle Gilbert began to formulate a plan for the young ladies and gave of themselves tirelessly to finish the mentoring program strong. This playbook was made available on the #black0ut website to be shared with other organizations who wanted to start the mentorship program for their community.
Each week, we witnessed a beautiful sight – young men and women being encouraged, taught and poured into by men and women who would have otherwise been watching the football game. They learned how to change oil in a car, how to change a tire, how to exercise and how to handle being approached by law enforcement. They also traveled to Memphis to visit the National Civil Rights Museum. Each week, my eyes welled up with tears because THIS was making a difference.
On the eve before the Superbowl showdown, at the #Black0ut closing ceremony, I was able to witness the rites of passage for the young people that completed the mentoring program and it was truly moving. I fought back the tears as the tweens and teens marched down donning their African attire and spoke about what they had learned in the mentoring program. Lives had been changed.
This was the win. There have been many who have asked, what did the #Black0ut accomplish? The ratings for this season were down over 10 percent and the Superbowl ratings were down to the lowest since 2009. And since Kaep still doesn’t have a job, I still believe that we see a huge win here because there is a huge group of young people here in Huntsville, AL whose lives were changed for the better.
In our microwave society, we are constantly seeking instant results, if they are not immediately clear we write off our efforts as a flop. But we have to have some staying power. The Montgomery bus boycott of the 1950’s lasted 381 days — That’s a LONG time! Our parents and grandparents spent over a year walking to work, walking to the grocery store and walking to church until the law was changed, and they would have gone longer if they needed to.
We are 5 months into this particular boycott and many are saying that it didn’t work. Had the Montgomery boycotters assessed 5 months in that the boycott was a failure, therefore a reason to quit, it wouldn’t have worked. Are we willing to continue boycotting for years to come until corporate America sits up and takes notice that their pockets have taken a hit or is it back to life as usual? It may take a year, two years or more, but let’s stay the course. We can’t give up so easily. We have to stand together and work together.
As I reflected on the origin of this particular #black0ut movement, (I know that there were others movements as well), I drew an interesting parallel as I thought about the day my husband decided to DO something about the inequalities he observed. As he was watching tv, he suddenly became so sick to his stomach that he had to sit down. And thankfully he was still long enough to hear God speaking. With the heaviness of Charlottesville so fresh and the NFL season approaching, the timing was right for him to use his influence to make a call to the nation. God told him exactly what to do about the things that were disturbing his spirit so much. And I truly believe that every push for change, every protest, boycott and sit-in BEGINS with someone getting sick to their stomach.
I believe that it’s going to take each of us getting sick to our stomachs over the injustices of our land for us to initiate change. We as a people can’t be idle, we can no longer be silent, we have to stop being divided. Although we may not always agree on the methods, we have to be united in the efforts to affect change.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve allowed our shock for things that happen in our society to last only a few days. We add some hashtags to our social media posts, we talk about it at work and weeks later it’s back to life as usual. We are no longer sickened into protest when we hear about murders on the news, we are no longer disturbed into action by certain injustices. It’s time that we emptied ourselves of selfishness so that we can be consistent activists for change.
Yes, this year’s #black0ut has ended with the conclusion of this NFL season, but the war continues. Our stomachs have to continue to churn over the unnecessary losses of our young men and women until we see no more of their faces on the news. There is still work to be done. The #black0ut is NOT over.
I want to salute my husband, Debleaire Snell, for being bold, courageous and obedient to the voice of God. I admire his strength and resolve in the face of hateful words, resistance and moments of feeling alone in his conviction. I salute all of the leaders, pastors, churches, schools, organizations, individuals, mentors and mentees who participated in the movement. I salute each man and woman who felt sick to their stomach about the losses of our brothers and sisters and decided to boycott the NFL — all season long. I applaud our many civic and government leaders whose stomachs are churning so much that they are working hard to ensure that the murderers of our unarmed black brothers and sisters pay for their crimes.
Because of the world we live in, there are some days that I can’t even stomach all of the bad news. It pains me deeply. But I’ll be honest, I think the sickness that we all feel is even deeper than a reaction to the horrific things that we see happening in our world today. I truly believe we are experiencing home-sickness. Being home-sick is when one experiences a longing for his or her home. Until we live in a world free of hate, there will always be a churning in my stomach, an uneasiness that comes with being away from the heavenly home I was created for.
I cannot WAIT for the day when racism, death and fear will be blacked out forever! And although my stomach is still sick today because of all the stuff that goes on in this world, it makes me long even more for my heavenly home.
Until we get there, know that our queasiness is just a reminder that we weren’t created to be comfortable with injustice. The uneasy feeling is what fuels us into action so that we can use our small influence to spark something bigger than us. That’s what Debleaire did on that day. That’s what Kaep did on the day that he knelt down during the national anthem. That’s what the mentors did all season long and I am now even more convinced that we are all called to do this. We can all use our gifts, talents and resources to make a difference, even if it’s in the life of one person, it’s worth it! So let’s stop over-thinking every initiative, let’s stop hating on those who are wanting to unite for a cause, let’s stop closing our eyes to the things that “don’t affect us” and let’s keep moving, keep fighting, keep voting, keep protesting, keep boycotting, keep praying and keep going until our change comes! It’s not going to be easy, but it’ll be worth it.