Speaker: Rev. Chaz Howard

Power to the Imagination: Changing our Heart to Change the World

Chaz Howard grew up in a context of innumerable inter-locking challenges, particularly around race and poverty, and responded by becoming a vocal activist and leader for the marginalized communities, particularly the homeless. He proceeded to became a Church leader, then a chaplain at UPenn -- the youngest in the history of all Ivy League, and has authored many books along the way. Yet what makes his journey even more unique is that his boundless empathy -- just a few years ago, he asked his family permission to live on the streets to gain a deeper understanding of being homeless!

For some context, below is an excerpt from the preface of his novel, "Bottom", about the "hero's journey downward to the street" ... 

"Baltimore in the 1970s and 80s, like the Baltimore of Freddie Gray, demanded that young Black men be brave.  Everyday.  And I learned that courage fighting on the streets of the Mid-Atlantic port town where I was born and raised. It was under the weeping willow tree that stood somberly in front of my apartment building that I had my first street fight. [...]

My mom was dying.  My father had just lost his job due to racism in his field.  And it was all way too much for me.  From age eight through my mother’s death when I was eleven and even well into my teen years when my father would also pass, I used the one real super power that I had – my imagination.  When the reality of my life became unbearable I easily jumped to a world where it was safer - where the pain and grief of loss and racism could be escaped.  Or maybe in my imagination, I had the courage and the tools to work for healing and to fight back.  I miss those adventures.  I still have old notebooks where I wrote my dreamed-up characters down, describing their powers, even sketching them.  I saved the world hundreds of times.

This is the message I try to pass on to young activists.  Speaking out against oppression and fearful hatred is key.  Critical refusal in the face of injustice is essential.  But we must have the ability to imagine something different and imagine ourselves working to build that something different.  We draw from the prophetic aspect of our religious traditions – and rightly so – but we must also draw from the creation narratives of our faiths as well. [..] While in the U.S. we spoke of “Power to the People”, at the same time in France, a popular phrase of activists and artists was “L’imagination au pouvoir!” ”Power to the imagination!”

It is true.  There is so much power in our imaginations.  It’s there that I learned to be brave.  And it’s there that I believe we can draw plans to bravely build something new."  Read full preface here.

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