Intergenerational Care & Leadership

The 2024 Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference was hosted in the sprawling city of Chicago, Illinois this year where faith leaders and laity made their pilgrimage to the nation’s foremost progressive Black church conference. This year’s theme was “Where Legacy Meets Future” which speaks to intergenerational care and leadership.

Our own Director of Movement Chaplaincy, Danie J. Buhuro had the honor of moderating the Intergenerational Trauma panel which featured Obari Cartman, Stephanie Crumpton, Pamela Lightsey, and Danielle Dufoe. An intentional selection of queer panelists, these formidable four across generations were guided into a provocative discussion by questions posed by Danie. Their discussion explored how we can reconcile generational differences in our perspectives on trauma, particularly for Black people who endure interpersonal, systematized, and thereby generational trauma.

The conversation reached a climax as Dr. Lightsey poetically agitated a point about the limitations of kindness in a world constructed by cruelty. “I be tryin’ to be kind…” she melodically crowed, punctuating each repeated refrain with her personal experiences of marginalization or global atrocity, “I be tryin’…I be tryin’!” Other speakers continued to pay homage to her homiletical prowess throughout the conference. 

Beyond the conference stage, another conversation around kindness and relational ethos was rooting itself among attendees. The day before, a first-year seminarian took to Facebook to express his disappointment with womanist scholars whom he encountered as unkind and dismissive toward him. The comment section was a deluge of varying perspectives from sympathy to scorn.

It begs the question how we’re to interact with inspiring public figures and what we expect from their time and attention in spaces where their work is highly regarded. We understand the demands of visible leadership to be significant if not overwhelming in moments of heightened enthusiasm. We also affirm a womanist tradition in which Black community building is essential. “We are not separatists except for our health.” How might Black women leaders construct our care ethics and our theologies of presence, particularly when our finite internal resources are in high demand? 

A common theme in these inquiries is an acknowledgment of the public nature of being an educator, minister, and community leader. Our dedicated work for the public good can give an impression that, as public servants appearing in public, we are therefore available for public engagement at any time. While understandable, this may not be sustainable for many leaders. Younger emerging leaders who deeply value community and accessibility of their leaders may be disappointed by emotional distance or curt responses from respected figures. Established and experienced leaders may receive people’s excitement about their work as a sense of entitlement to their time and expertise. 

At FMN, our staff range from Gen Z to Baby Boomers. When we find that we may not always share perspectives or language, the strength of our intergenerational engagement has been a pervasive commitment to community. Even in moments of misunderstanding or tension, we are grounded in knowing that we are a community– we will return to one another with an expectation that our shared work, conversations, goals, and values are not jeopardized by tension. We strive to access kindness and gentleness for one another. We prioritize understanding gained by clear expressions of our needs. And more importantly, we recognize the thread of wisdom that exists among us intergenerationally and emphasize sharing and teaching one another how to relate amidst cultural and generational differences.