(RNS) — The Ruby Woo pilgrims have completed their journey.
The group of evangelical Christian woman — all wearing a bold shade of lipstick known as “Ruby Woo” — on Thursday (Nov. 16) ended a four-day journey that took them to landmarks in women’s and African-American history. Here, in four snapshots, writer Lisa Sharon Harper explains how she got the idea for the pilgrimage and what she and her fellow travelers discovered along the way.
The year is 1979 …
The year of the Iran hostage crisis, Jimmy Carter’s run for a second term, inordinately long gas lines, my parent’s separation and the year I first hear the song “I Am Woman,” by Helen Reddy. I am 10.
Sitting in the passenger seat of our new station wagon, after Daddy has left and with Mom needing strength, I hear those words barrel out of her mouth — full voice, perfect pitch: “I am woman. Hear me roar!”
She hadn’t gone to college before marrying my dad. Now she has three young children and is a student at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious nursing school. She had never owned her own home, but that year she buys a beautiful one. She is only 31.
Helen Reddy’s song joins a strong supportive community of family and friends to offer strength to my mother and to women like her, in fragile and formative years of my life and in the life of our nation.
The year is 1989 …
The year the Christian Coalition becomes a thing and pro-life and pro-choice rallies yell back and forth across my college campus.
I wrap up rehearsal for the upcoming meeting of our conservative evangelical campus ministry, for which I had led worship for the previous two years. A new staff worker, a man, had joined the team over the summer. He asks if we can talk, and taking me aside, explains: A man is here now — one who can lead worship. So, now it’s time for you to learn to follow — because you’re a woman.
My roar is muzzled that night.
I stand in the background, tears running down my face as I sing backup to his lead … as I do for the rest of the school year.
The day is Nov. 9, 2016 …
Women and men file in and sit around the table in an impromptu staff meeting of a Washington, D.C.-based faith and justice organization. The grief and tension are palpable in the office.
We need to process the ascension to the presidency of a man who had encouraged his crowd to beat up a black woman, who had bragged that he grabbed women’s “pussies” and who had been elected the night before to the highest office in our nation.
At one point, one woman shares that she is confused. She feels betrayed. All her life, the evangelical arm of the church told women like her to be chaste, modest, demure and sexually pure. But those same pastors and Bible study leaders and deacons were likely the ones who voted for a man who bragged about violating women’s bodies?
Wailing fills the room.
The day is May 5, 2017 …
African-American evangelical speaker and author Deidra Riggs tweets a question to her followers: “What women leaders you’re for?” By the end of the day 35 extremely diverse top evangelical women leaders were brought together in a Twitter cloud. Speaker and writer Kathy Khang shares with the group that she is searching for the perfect lipstick as part of a branding package for her next book.
“Has anyone heard of Ruby Woo?” Kathy asks.
The cloud erupts with rave reviews about Ruby Woo, the name MAC cosmetics gave to the shade.
Some wear the deep red lip color every time they preach, while others wear the color to make them feel stronger. And the magic of Ruby Woo, it’s reported, is that it looks awe-mazing on any skin tone.
By the end of the day, these ethnically, politically and geographically diverse women leaders, who hail from a religious tradition that typically dissuades women from leadership, find themselves dreaming of ways they can come together for deeper conversation and fun.
One week later, my own tube of Ruby Woo lipstick comes in the mail. I tweet the picture, along with all the other women now posting pictures of themselves rocking Ruby Woo.
And I get an idea.
What if this incredible group of women went on a pilgrimage together?
What if we boarded one bus for three whole days? What if we traveled through the intersectional story of all women’s struggles for empowerment in the U.S., while rocking our Ruby Woo?
I put the idea out to the Twitter cloud. And the #RubyWooPilgrimage was born.
— Vickie Reddy (@vickiereddy) November 14, 2017
Having received permission from MAC to use the name Ruby Woo in the title of our pilgrimage and having received backing from several awesome sponsoring organizations — including World Relief and the Justice Conference, CBE International, Christian Community Development Association, the Wesleyan Church and Wesley Seminary in Indiana, as well as Compassion International — the #RubyWooPilgrimage rolled across the Northeast and down into the South, from Nov. 12-16.
We were transformed by what we encountered together: The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., revealed a profoundly intersectional, nuanced and honest story of multi-issue alliances, racial strife, profound betrayal and equally profound commitment of allied leaders over the course of the rest of their lives.
The Rev. Ruby Sales met us at the National Black Theatre and engaged our group of evangelical women in an honest and raw conversation that touched on the colonization, genocide and enslavement of African peoples, and what it will take to heal people deemed white from the dehumanization of their souls, caused by the deification of whiteness.
And we walked on the ground where Lucretia Mott worshipped, blocks away from the land where Angelina Grimke preached despite the mob. Mott organized the actual first American women’s empowerment meeting, which took place 10 years before the famed meeting in Seneca Falls and was led and funded by both white and black women leaders.
And we wept with Myrna, an immigrant leader in the New Sanctuary movement who walked us through every step of her own story from deportation to her treacherous journey to return to her 6-year-old daughter. And we cheered the Rev. Grace Mae and three other women working to empower trafficked, oppressed and skipped-over women in Asian-American communities.
We walked the century-old floors of the Tenement Museum and considered the pressing question: When did Irish, German and other white immigrants become white?
And we walked the land where Harriet Tubman became Moses. And we were inspired.
And we moved through the labyrinth of artifacts and pictures lining the walls and filling the halls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where I greeted my own ancestor, James Forten, Revolutionary War hero and funder of the abolitionist movement.
Then I rounded the corner and peered through the glass labeled Women of the Abolitionist Movement. There she was — Charlotte Forten — my third cousin four times removed. She wasn’t there (or I didn’t find her) the first time I visited the museum. Now her picture hangs next to Harriet Tubman’s.
I felt a roar rise from the deepest part of my being. I am woman, black, Christian, evangelical.
Today, I stood with allies across racial classifications and ethnic heritage as we heard from U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. We are #reclaimingourtime!
We are woman.
The leashes of hard patriarchy have been rattled, removed and tossed to hell.
We are committed to the kin-dom of God, the reign of God, the protection of the image of God in all — including the women.
Stand by. You are about to hear pulpits roar.
(Lisa Sharon Harper is an activist, author and the founder and president of the Freedom Road consulting group. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service. A version of this commentary was originally published on FreedomRoad.us.)