Not Tragically Colored | by Ismael Hernandez

Not Tragically Colored Ismael Hernandez

Years ago, I found myself in the midst of a gathering at a home of a Jamaican parishioner. The Event was only a few years after I arrived to America from my native Puerto Rico. A narrow family room and the waning daylight made the atmosphere intimate and about ten of us, mostly black Caribbean and African Americans, chat while waiting for the feast of good Jamaican cuisine.

As the night progressed, everyone was having a good time until, and seemingly out of nowhere, an argumentative man began a provocative monologue on race. A back-and-forth argument ensued with several people. The man insisted, “We are all black—that is our identity, and nothing supersedes that reality,” he declared.

The atmosphere changed and most people, apparently knowing that the man was often abrasive, only gave faint assent by nodding while trying to change the subject. He was one of those self-proclaimed “experts” on race whose ideas seemed more like ex-cathedra definitions you had to accept without doubt. The Jamaican host was the only one engaging him in a pointless battle of wills. Nefarious triangulation was inevitable and you could sense that no one there wanted to be pulled into the fray. Being the new kid on the block and with only a broken English capacity, I was even more vulnerable. You guessed it, I became prey. “You are wrong,” he told the Jamaican lady. “And this brother here knows it. He knows he is black.” I felt the penetrating gaze of all eyes awaiting my reply. Taken off guard, I awkwardly blurted, “Yes, I am black.” The sad puppy look on my face soon found the Jamaican lady’s countenance, as if imploring, “Please, do not take away my plate!” Proud of his victory, the man ended his diatribes, to everyone’s relief, except mine.

Driving home, I was upset. The incident felt like an intellectual assault perpetrated by a bully and I let him get away with it.  I thought how it embodied the received wisdom on black identity, filled with truisms, assumptions, and whimsical lines of demarcation. Even more importantly, I thought about how my intrinsic worth as a person faded behind a veneer of pretense about race in America. Even those who obliquely assented to the grand proclamation of blackness gave no real clue of what they really thought. They went with the flow, abiding by the authoritarian demarcation of authenticity they were expected never to cross. The shallow allure of race grabbed them and betrayed me and I was upset.

My book, Not Tragically Colored, is like starting that conversation again to rescue human dignity from the expansive, and yet shallow, sea of color. Making race the principle source of identity empowers those who offer the crudest and most simplistic explanations for the black experience and alienates all from realizing that we are unique and unrepeatable. Race is presented to us today as the great boundary, the atomistic identifier that places limits on our identity, rather than as one aspect of our deeper reality as persons made in the very image of God. We are being swallowed by race, we cannot breadth without it. From the ideology behind the slogan that race matters we have come to the inevitable end of that path, race is all that matters.

The old racialist orthodoxies propose only two alternatives, either blacks are inferior or, racism explains it all. From exclusion because of race we have moved to inclusion because of race while we miss the person in front of us. Racialism, the inordinate attention to and the erroneous placement of race within the understanding of the self, has become the great evil of our time.

Not Tragically Colored reminds us that men choose, not races. Human dignity resides in our being intelligent and free beings capable of determining our lives by our choices. “Action reveals the person,” wrote Karol Wojtyla. Our challenge is to assume with courage the difficult task of being persons. The very concept of race is no longer helpful, as it has taken over human identity and becoming a place to hide. We must transcend the boundaries of the label and cross the transcendent threshold of what philosopher Gabriel Marcel calls an “inner urgent need” to be fully human. That job is not transferable to entities, labels, or groups. The human person, not the racial group, has the task of participating in his own development and growth. Race consciousness and the priority of racial identity lure us into abdicating the responsibility of personhood, the responsibility of liberty.

I know the temptation well, because I succumbed to it on that long gone day at a pleasant gathering. The call is to affirm our individuality and our capacity to choose our path in life in spite of social pressures to conform. The task is to be free.

Not Tragically Colored Ismael Hernandez

Ismael Hernandez is the Executive Director of the Freedom & Virtue Institute, a faith-based non-profit, working with churches and schools, aimed at teaching those in need to become self-sufficient. Ismael can be contacted at








Is Work a Dignified Moral Activity? | by Gerry Hartis

Picture of woman working her job.  Is work a dignified moral activity?

Current research indicates that in the United States the one thing people want most is “a good job.” What they mean is a job that pays well enough, aligns with their motivations and capabilities, and delivers outputs/outcomes that are generally considered beneficial to customers.

It’s no surprise then, that a major theme in the current campaign season is the “good job.” Whether promising to “bring them back” or to generate “jobs for the 21st Century”, candidates understand that there is something foundational in having the opportunity to work – to deliver products and services for tangible compensation. But even those among us who need not work for compensation still work. Why is that?

First of all, work for humanity is normal – it’s how we’re made. Work is fundamentally a moral activity – it fits and affirms the purposes of our Creator who is at work in his creation. We are a product of his workmanship designed for work. He works. We work.

The creation narrative tells the story of work. In the beginning God works – creates something of great value. And he gives to his human creation the responsibility of drawing out of that creation more and greater value – exploring, making evident the potential embodied in both human and non-human creation. This was work as it ought to have continued – deeply satisfying and abundantly fruitful – producing every kind of good thing tangible and intangible.

But our shared story took us deep into rebellion against our Creator and loss of close alignment with his purposes even as we continued in the necessity to work. Among the things we lost was joy at work – the abiding sense that in doing our work we were participating in God’s work. Work in collaboration with him was no longer an opportunity to know him and ourselves ever more deeply. Instead, work for most people today is not satisfying and not especially fruitful in either tangible or intangible outcomes.

Now, our shared story includes a direct intervention. Jesus, God-Man identifies a new kingdom a new order for all things – including work. And Holy Spirit forming a new people of God, reclaims work as a strong and full expression of love acting in faith toward hope of a new creation. So now work can be, and often is, work that anticipates the kingdom of God because it recognizes God is always at work and dignifies all honorable work.

The next chapter of our shared story will be one in which we recover work as deeply satisfying and abundantly fruitful – done in freedom and as a full expression of God’s love of humanity and humanity’s love for all that is God’s.

So how does what this view of work, as it ought to have been, as it is, as  it can be, as it will be inform our thinking about work – whether in the form of a “job” or in the execution of business strategy?

Given the power of work in our lives, we can understand why “jobs” are territory that governmental institutions want to own. And we can see why work is a key element of any pathway out of poverty. The truly impoverished are those who have little opportunity or resource to engage in a fundamental dimension of life – work.

Work brings dignity. It has a moral quality because it is expressive of the foundational character of life – the way things are. Leaving aside that kind of work that is debatably (or even obviously) self-serving and destructive to others, work is to be valued as a fundamental element of human freedom and vitality of human community.


Gerry Hartis, PovertyCure Senior Advisor of Strategy and Partnerships, is an experienced professional working with commercial and non-profit organizations engaged at the intersection of business, higher education, and policy. Immediately prior to joining the PovertyCure team, Gerry served as the Director of Business & Leadership Studies at the American Studies Program of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (Washington, DC). In that role he was among the first to actively explore the application of market principles to the global development enterprise through partnerships with players in the NGO and business communities.

A Hidden Treasure | By Jerry Shannon

A Hidden Treasure 2When working among the poorest of the poor families, it can be very difficult to assess what assets the beneficiaries already have in their hands that will lead to long term success. This is especially true in the case of many of the families we work with in the Kore’ Slum who upon entry into our project are begging on the streets, living in shabby houses, illiterate, unskilled and unknown in the community.

While we can see the tenacious love of Moms for their children that motivates them do whatever it takes to keep their children, we often can still only see that there are too many needs and not enough resources. It is far too easy to want to rescue them out of their situation and ignore the assets that they have to contribute toward poverty alleviation. Fortunately, God used a need among one of these families to show us a hidden asset.

A short time after we started working at preserving families, one Mother in the project had an accident. She was working as a daily laborer when she fell and broke her arm. As the sole provider she was now in a tough situation. There is no worker’s compensation, disability nor sick days in these jobs. Either you show up in the morning and are paid at the end of the day, or you do not work at all. If you do not work, then you and your children do not eat.

The beautiful gift in the middle of this sad situation was found in how the other mothers responded to her. The other mothers learned about her situation before our staff ever did. These are Moms in great need themselves, making about $1 per day and still having their own children to feed. They looked at this Mom and said, “Do not worry. We will take care of you. We will sacrifice to make sure your rent is paid. We will each make sure you have food. We will each help to care for your child until you are better. You have no worries.”

Then, after having made sure that this family’s every need was cared for, a couple of the Mothers came to the Project Leadership and said, “We are helping this family by each one of us sacrificing a little. Now, how can the project also help her?”

Through Moms sacrificing together, this Mom and her child were able to eat, pay their rent, and heal. Their family continues to thrive as do the other families who sacrificed a little during this time.

No matter where we serve, and no matter the depth of poverty, our communities have beautiful people with wonderful assets that at times are hard to see. But when they are given the opportunity to use these assets, no matter how small they might seem, true poverty gets dealt a blow.

May God continue to uncover those assets, in every situation, right before our eyes.

Jerry Shannon Trains and Equips local staff for Embracing Hope Ethiopia.