The Women

As I listened to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speak last night about the black women (Shirley Chisholm and others) who paved the way for her historic accomplishment—and about the countless (or rather, counted) other black women who made this redemptive and long-overdue moment possible through their votes and tireless activism—my thoughts turned to some of the black women who have made powerful and profound impacts on my life, and to whom I owe deep debts of gratitude.

And so, while these words are far from sufficient to express my appreciation, respect, and love for the women I name, much less the many others whose lives have also inspired, challenged, and encouraged me along the way, I wanted to share this poem as a small tribute to some daughters of Mississippi who have dedicated themselves to the hard work of building the beloved community in that state. Dear friends, I will forever cherish and celebrate your wisdom, compassion, courage, generosity, kindness, persistence, grace, honesty, strength, and other admirable qualities. Thank you for sharing these treasures with me and with others who have had the honor and privilege of journeying alongside you!

The Women

In this staunchly patriarchal place
where the ghost of white supremacy
still manifests from time to time—
to the chagrin of many
and the surprise of some—
it’s the women of African descent
who have captivated my imagination
and secured my enduring admiration.

So dramatically different from one another
in hue and stature
in demeanor, gifts and dreams,
they are strikingly alike in resilience,
able to stare into the face
of the ugliest things life has to offer
and return beauty and honor
to a world desperately in need
of both.

I watched Lee Sharon Harper,
gifted and called to preach,
as she ministered to a congregation
not yet certain it was ready
to hear the Word of God
through a female vessel.
She persevered,
and they were blessed.

I listen with morbid fascination
as Lee’s baby sister, Vashtie Brown,
speaks of her work in a functionally segregated
chicken plant:
The whites rule the office,
while the blacks work the line.
Caught in a structure fashioned to keep her
in her place,
Vashtie converses boldly with the boss man—
telling him the truth about the business he owns
and the people he does not.

I witnessed Belle Coleman,
on the morning after she had lost
another son,
standing to praise the God
who understood.
And I stood
in awe of her faith—
I who have lost so little,
yet bemoan what little I have lost
as if it could begin to compare
to the riches of which Sister Coleman
has been robbed.

I immerse myself in the story
of Rosie Camper Weary,
who labored for decades
in the shadows,
just outside the white-hot glow
of the spotlight that bathed her husband’s work.
Neither disappointment nor tragic loss
could keep her silent forever,
and now, against her natural inclination,
she tests her voice—
discovering, to her surprise,
a multitude eager to hear it.

And I grieve the loss of Gloria Stene Lotts,
who spent her final weeks on earth
caring for others’ children
as well as her own
and planning the final celebration
of my birthday
that she and I would undertake together.

Without her, the world is a poorer place—
as my own life would have been
had the brilliant example
of these excellent women
and myriad more
not shed light upon my path.

© 2014
Alexis Spencer-Byers


Quiet Warrior

Ten years ago today, my friend Gloria’s battle with cancer concluded, and she entered into her rest.

It doesn’t seem like nearly that long ago that I spent the night wandering in and out of her bedroom, checking her breathing and pausing from time to time to read to her from the Book of Psalms or some of the many loving cards and letters stacked on her bedside table.

It seems like just a few blinks ago that I finally lay down, the hospice nurse’s assurance that we were several days from the end ringing in my ears, only to wake a couple of hours later to discover that Gloria had quietly taken her leave while I slept.

I can still see the house filling rapidly with members of Gloria’s “village” who came to bid farewell to the body that had housed a truly remarkable spirit.

After that, I confess, things are a bit foggy—though I do have vague recollections of a funeral home, a memorial service planning meeting in my living room, and of course the memorial and burial services themselves.

As I look back on that difficult/sad/infuriating/beautiful/rich season from this near-far distance of ten years, any number of images and stories swirl through my brain—but the memory that stands out and begs to be shared today is one from a few weeks before Gloria’s death.

I had picked up a cold somewhere, so I stayed home from work that day and slept through most of the morning. Around noon, there was a knock on my door, and I roused myself enough to mutter groggily, “Come in?”

Gloria’s son, Kortney, opened the door so his mom could enter the room in her wheelchair, a tray holding a bowl of chicken soup and some other lunch items sitting on her lap.

It was a small gesture, but a tremendously powerful one. I was overwhelmed and touched by the fact that someone whose situation was so much more serious than mine—who was experiencing true suffering and not just minor discomfort—would go out of her way to care for me and meet a need I had. It was a beautiful illustration of Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I have thought of this moment often over the last decade—particularly when I feel too tired or busy or burdened to do something kind for another person. It’s not that there aren’t times to say no or to choose rest (there certainly are!), but there are also times to “play through the pain” and serve sacrificially. I want to be the kind of person who shows up at a friend’s sickbed with a bowl of chicken soup, even if I am facing struggles of my own.

Thank you, dear Gloria, for the many ways you inspired me and helped me to grow during (and beyond) the years I had the privilege to spend in community with you in Jackson!

– – – –

Quiet Warrior

for Gloria

Quiet warrior
Steady presence in my home
Enduring pain
And disappointment
With strength and patience passing
My still feeble understanding

Devoted mother
Tending more than just her own
Among the children
In our flock
From a heart whose depths defy
Measurement by worldly standards

Trusting child
Holding tight the Divine Hand
And ever heeding
Her Father’s voice
As it summons her so gently,
“Come and make your home with me.”

© 2005
Alexis Spencer-Byers


I realize that Thanksgiving was last week (at least, it was in the US of A), but I didn’t post anything then because I didn’t think I had a “Thanksgiving poem.” And in the more traditional senses of the holiday, I in fact do not have a Thanksgiving poem. After this sentence, there will be no references to turkeys, fall foliage or pumpkin pies in this post.

I have to go back a ways to explain the gratitude tied into the two poems shared below (one written in 2005 shortly before the event described in the second took place, and one scribbled just recently in hindsight). When I first moved to Jackson, I and several other interns were each assigned to a sort of host family–we didn’t live with our families (then, anyway), but they took us under their wings, spent time with us, answered questions, etc. I had the privilege of being assigned to a remarkable woman named Gloria Lotts and her son, Kortney.

For the last six months of her life, Gloria and I did share a home, and I was both inspired and shamed by her strength and generosity (consider, for instance, that I stayed home from work with a cold one day, and she–in a wheelchair and losing her battle with cancer–brought a bowl of chicken soup to my room at lunchtime). More than anything else, I remember Gloria’s apparently infinite capacity to love and nurture young people–not only her own son and generations of children at her church, but also the teens and preteens in our neighborhood who seemed bound and determined to walk down destructive paths. So while I am certainly thankful that the drug traffic ceased (reading the poems should make this statement make sense…), I am more grateful for the lessons Gloria taught me about patience, courage, compassion and hope. Rest in peace, dear friend!


Another car pulls to a stop
In front of the house
Across from mine
Its horn sounds one short honk—
Decently and in order—
And driver and dealer
Conduct their transaction
With fluid motions
And infuriating calm

With each exchange
My heart retreats a step
Fear and anger vying for control
Of the territory ceded by hope
I wish I knew
Whom to blame
Or how to change
This reality on the street—
My street—
Before it claims another child
Too young grown old
Too soon ensnared
By the promise of escape
Only to be faced
With the threat of confinement
Of body, mind and soul

© 2005
Alexis Spencer-Byers


(for Gloria)

For months, you sat on our front porch,
praying for the drug dealers
across the street
to find a more honorable way to exercise
their entrepreneurial inclinations.

Impressed not only by your persistence
but also by your tender-hearted bravery,
I observed as you greeted these young men
day after day
and told them of the fervent aspirations
you held for them.

When you died,
great gaping holes opened up
in a multitude of hearts, homes and institutions
and the world was changed for the worse—
except for this one thing:
In the wake of your departure
the illicit traffic on our block
ground to a halt,
and as I rested in the blessed quiet
that followed
I could only surmise
that you had seized an early opportunity
of whispering your loving petitions
directly into
the listening ear of God.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers