A southern drawl, a body image commentator, a decrier of injustice, a lover of cultures, and a Mennonite cautionary battled in the C. Henry Smith peace oratorical contest last Friday evening.
The Southern Drawl
Senior Jordan Luther discussed the connotations of a Southern accent and identity “because of the disconnect I felt with myself. In a way, I felt like I had two distinct personas: one that was culturally Southern and one that was not.” Luther wrote “Are Y’all Listening?: An Apology” to reveal this struggle. The writing process was arduous – Luther dropped out two weeks before the competition because he “was so distressed from thinking about times where my Southern accent was pegged as a negative or embarrassing trait.” Support from Heidi Winters Vogel and Nancy Heisey encouraged him to continue as a therapeutic process.
To this end, Luther recounted a painful encounter with a friend at a Christian camp where he worked three summers ago. “All of the summer staff were gathered around at a closing campfire sharing stories and reflections from this past camp season. A co-worker of mine casually approached me all cheery and smiley from all of the emotion in the air. ‘You know, Jordan,’ he said to me, ‘I never would have guessed you were so intelligent and insightful judging by the sound of your accent.’ His comment stung like a dagger despite its intended purpose as a compliment.”
The Body Image Commentator
First-year Sara Caitlin Neubert’s speech was titled “We’re Not Ugly, We Just Stink,” a reference to a “Spongebob Squarepants” episode in which Spongebob has bad breath that drives people away, but mistakenly thinks they are repulsed by his supposed ugliness. She argues that youth are over-whelmed by external issues of self- esteem; instead of dieting, they, with the church’s help, should address their internal needs, like Spongebob’s bad breath. Neubert shared the anecdote of “the first time I became completely aware of the way I looked in comparison to another person,” at six years old mimicking her mother putting on makeup and peering into the mirror to notice “my huge, black eyebrows.”
The Decrier of Injustice
Junior Chris Parks eschewed the traditional contest form for a spoken word speech, “Dreaming a New America.” Parks began by venerating visionaries such as Langston Hughes and Donald Kraybill, and citing that one in three black males are under some form of criminal justice supervision. “I’m the one who got away,” Parks said. “I still constantly look over my shoulder.” Parks also challenged the dominant paradigm that expects people of color to be less eloquent or intelligent. “Look confused; when I can keep up talking about Shakespeare, Origen, Aristotle, Menno Simons, Plato, and Augustine. Yes, I know more than just twerking, Beyoncé, the latest trending artist.” The closing invocation of “God’s Kingdom on Earth” depicts a time when Parks’ dream of America is realized: “When my black community is saying no to oppressive voices. When no more black and Latino bodies are being exploited by a system that never was for us. When our schools are not being closed and prisons on the cusp of grand openings. When black and Latino male-bodied folk are not being pushed through school to the prison system. When cultural differences bless the land. When race is no longer about positions of power. When we can critically think about power and privilege.”
The Lover of Cultures
Senior Chris Yoder began with a scenic metaphor of termites in Africa, which die when relocated to a new anthill with a new queen. Humans, unlike the termites, can adapt to new cultures and paradigms, or “scaffolds.” Hence Yoder’s title, “The Scaffolding of Our Existence.” Yoder also used the illustration of “Jimmy,” a well-intentioned cross-cultural student who ardently pops malaria pills as he adjusts to Kenyan life. “In the battles raging in our identity continued battering from a new culture will wear a body down. Absorbing the cultural blows, however, displays a person’s ability to progress towards new values, or adapt. It just so happens that there’s another name for this phenomenon: It’s love. At its core, love is the openness to allow new people and ideas to imprint a bit of themselves on your being.”
The Mennonite Cautionary
Senior Seth Stauffer addressed “The Danger of MCC’s own Single Story.” Stauffer’s speech centered around his time volunteering with MCC Honduras and a TED talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
In the talk, Adichie explains that one story of a person or place is not enough, robs people of dignity, and limits potential connection. Stories are powerful. In Honduras, Stauffer was encouraged by MCC staff to “tell the stories of Honduras, but to avoid talking about violence in Honduras.”
However, in his blog, Stauffer recounted a murder down the street from where he was staying in Tegucigalpa. Stauffer said, “I saw a crowd gathering around the house where it happened: onlookers or family perhaps. My blog concluded by saying that although I had witnessed violence, even though I was just down the street when it happened, ‘one can only imagine the violence in Honduras.’ ” Stauffer used his blog to illustrate that, when MCC only values stories outside the dominant narrative, it fails to positively engage that narrative. “There is a critical difference between sharing a generalization of violence and sharing a personalization of violence.
The danger of the single story is in the incompleteness of a generalization. I was in Honduras experiencing violence, and it was more than a statistic or a generalization.”
Ultimately, the judges (CJP Professor Jayne Docherty, Seminary Professor David Evans, and Community Mennonite Church Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig) chose Stauffer to receive first place, which includes a cash prize and entry in the bi-national oratorical competition. Luther and Yoder were the two runners-up.
-Randi B. Hagi, Co-Editor In Chief
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