Sound of the Genuine

Cultivating Liberationist Heirlooms

March 04, 2022 FTE Leaders Season 2 Episode 5
Sound of the Genuine
Cultivating Liberationist Heirlooms
Show Notes Transcript

The Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey is the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, and Associate Professor of Constructive Theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School. Prior to her appointment, Dr. Lightsey served as Associate Dean of Community Life and Lifelong Learning, Clinical Assistant Professor of Contextual Theology and Practice at the Boston University School of Theology.

Dr. Lightsey brings a special mix of life experience and professional proficiency to the position. Following service in the US Army and work as a civil servant, she received her academic and theological training at Columbus State University (BS), Gammon Seminary of the Interdenominational Theological Center (M.Div.) and Garrett-Evangelical Theological School (PhD). After ordination, she served first as a United Methodist congregational pastor and then as a theological school educator, scholar and administrator. Throughout her vocational life, she has been a leading social justice activist, working with local, national and international organizations focusing primarily on the causes of peacemaking, racial justice and LGBTQ rights.

Her publications include the book, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology (Wipf and Stock), "He Is Black and We are Queer" in Albert Cleage Jr and the Black Madonna and Child (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), “Reconciliation” in Prophetic Evangelicals: Envisioning a Just and Peaceable Kingdom (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), and "If There Should Come a Word” in Black United Methodists Preach! (Abingdon Press).

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Pamela Lightsey

Patrick: Hey, what's going on? It is Dr. Reyes here and I'm excited because my mentor, Reverend Dr. Pamela Lightsey, the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Constructive Theology in Meadville Lombard Theological School has joined us on the Sound of the Genuine. When I say you are in for a treat - a journey from Florida to Chicago, we are about to get it from one of the coolest people I know. Welcome Dr. Lightsey to the show. 

All right Dr. Lightsey, I am grateful you're here on the Sound of the Genuine. The vice-president, author, speaker, preacher, minister, extraordinaire - all of the things that you do, it's a little overwhelming. And I know that when you were little, you probably dreamed, I'm going to do all of these things, or maybe not. Tell me about the beginning. Who are your people? Where are you from? 

Pamela: Yeah I'm from West Palm Beach, Florida and my people are in West Palm Beach and they're also in Riviera Beach, Florida. I grew up very poor. And so my mother was a maid in the wealthy area of Palm Beach County and my father was a day laborer. He was also a truck driver. He did everything he could to make money. And that was after he left the railroad because he worked for a company called REA-Xpress and they went bankrupt. And I remember that when they went bankrupt, because my father asked me to fill out the application for him to get the monies that all the employees could get. 

My family thought of me as the smart kid. We were all, as my aunts would have it, pretty smart, but my daddy tagged me and I did the paperwork. I remember those days, this was near the end of the Jim Crow era. I grew up in the sixties, so very segregated, very racist, and could be quite dangerous 

Patrick: Tell me about those days, your parents - day laborer, working as a maid - I imagine those are long hours, what's the day like? They get up, they go to work and you're off at school. What's your community like? Tell me about a day, a day in the life.

Pamela: There were seven children. The day would start out with us getting up in the morning, my mother, trying to get all the girls hair done, and black girl’s hair it's a beautiful thing, and it's a process and my mother never wanted us to go to school looking like we were unkept or nobody loved you.

So a lot of attention was paid to how we looked. And in addition, we were going to segregated schools. The first part of my life, these were all black schools, the teachers were brilliant and they were very strict. Who we were as black people and where we came from were a constant part of that education. Who are your people, our African ancestry…that was like baked into the curriculum.

We were learning our history in these segregated schools and every week we were learning our history. And we were also learning about the great thinkers of our time at the same time. So we spent a lot of time in school. When we finished with school we would walk home because school was in the community and we would…I want to say hang out, but my mother didn't tolerate hanging out, nor did my father. We would play in the neighborhood.

When my mom and dad got home from work, we were called into the house where we had dinner. And that was the end of the day. We would talk about school, talk about what the teacher did or what someone did in the class. And that was the end of the day that was through the early school. And then when I got to junior high, they began where they were desegregating the schools.

You remember the law said to do it with all, all deliberate speed. It didn't happen for years after desegregation was law, it didn't happen for years. And so by the time it happened in the seventies for us, I was in junior high school and it was dangerous.

There were bomb threats. There were bombs under buses. The bus driver would drive through white neighborhoods, white people would throw rocks and eggs and call us all kinds of horrible names. But that was the path that we had to take to get to the school.

And it was really traumatic, but we made it through that, made it through having to leave our neighborhoods and take that journey every day. But the interesting thing that I remember about that, Patrick is my bus driver, we called him RC.

He drove that bus like he was drag racing. When he got to those neighborhoods, the bus actually would tilt when he would turn a corner and he would be gunning it. And we thought it was a lot of fun. Go faster, faster, faster - we thought that was fun. When he would do that, at the same time, we knew that he was trying to get a safety school. So it was a strange mix, but he was a wonderful guy, he took care of us.

Patrick: You said that you'd been tapped by your dad as the, you know the smart kid. As the one who was going to take care of us. These schools are changing and shifting. I'm imagining that the teachers, where you have this really strong black community shifted a bit when you went to high school… junior high and high school. So tell me a little about what was your family dreaming for you, what were you dreaming for yourself in this new context?

Pamela: Well my community was very much given to the idea that an education was the key to success in America for black people. I mean I talk to my aunties nowadays and they have that saying, you went to school and that's great. And all your children have gone to school. They're going to be all right.

And my teachers lived in the community. There was no sense among them that we would not strive to be our very best. When they saw a child with potential, such as they felt I was, they lived in our neighborhood, so they saw you going astray they tapped you say, Hey, none of this. Aren't you Lily May's daughter? Aren't you Eddie Lee’s child? Look, you get home right away. 

My mother has set a standard for her children in the schools, predominantly white school that she would go to jail for one of hers. I did not take advantage of that instead I really tried to do as much as I could to make good grades. So I loved school. I loved my teachers. They would pull me into their offices, into the classroom. And I would work with teachers. I work with my godmother every summer.

I helped her set up her classroom and that helping her set up the classroom meant I was learning the history that she was going to teach her students before it was being taught. And she would give me assignments. We're going to put this picture of Nelson Mandela up but I want you to go and do the homework and I want you to learn about apartheid.

And so I would have to write a paper about apartheid at the time. I would have to write a paper about W.E.B. Dubois. She was fantastic in that way. She wouldn't let us say that Christopher Columbus discovered America, this black woman would not.

This was in the seventies and the sixties in the seventies. So I never had that sense that Christopher Columbus discovered America because black teachers were true to the idea, even before we started talking about white supremacy, they were true to the idea that racism could infect education and make people believe a kind of reality that did not exist as long as it was to the benefit of the white people who were trying to tell the history. So my teachers, they had to use the books, but that didn't mean they had to teach us precisely what was in the books.

Patrick: I mean what a cool formation. I'm just thinking of the way that counter to the narrative that's happened in the larger country at the time. And thinking about as an educator, as a smart kid who likes books, what comes next as you're a youth and moving into your young adulthood especially in West Palm Beach? It's not just crossing a bridge at this point. What is that next step as you move into adulthood?

Pamela: I consider myself a child of the black power movement, moreso than King with non-violent protest. I had an Afro in high school, the black pick in my hair with the fist on it, I was true to that kind of radicality. Because they were talking about say it loud, James Brown was singing about loving your blackness. And that was really important for me as a teenager in high school, wrapping my arms around what it meant to be black in America. It was in all of our music, looking at the systems that were oppressive. And so I became a young activist in high school following these models of, at that time, it was black nationalism, but it was a different kind of black nationalism than what we see going on now. At that time it was pride of who we were as black people when for centuries, we were told that we were beasts, that we were ugly. Just horrible things to happen to black people. So it was that major shift where you identify with your blackness and you stood up proudly in it and you began to do activism. 

Because my parents were so poor the idea of going to college was just an idea for me. My family was not middle class. Nobody in my family had ever gone to college. So we had not a clue, even as to how to talk to guidance counselors about going to college. But I knew that I had to have a plan because my mother and father were always like, we're going to take care of you until you're 18.

When you get to be 18, you need to know what you're going to do with your life. So I joined the military because the recruiter made me a promise that I could go to college and you know, military recruiters lie all over the place. And so I was very disappointed when I couldn't immediately sign up for college. But I made the best of those years. I continue to read, continue to love education. I fell in love by that time. I have become a member of the Pentecostal tradition. I did not go to church growing up a whole lot but my sister who had trafficked in drugs had a conversion experience. Being saved meant a whole new lifestyle for her, allowed her to get off of heroin, leave drugs, and really begin to pay a lot of attention to the church.

Her attention to the church became a constant conversation in the family. And while I was away in basic training, I would make a call home and they would tell me how she was doing and that she wasn't on drugs anymore, which was so strange to me because to be honest, Patrick, when I got on the Greyhound to go to basic training, my sister and her boyfriend, had wrapped up enough weed for me to be high as a kite, by the time I got to my permanent duty station. So I was still very much in the drug scene. 

So my sister being converted was a whole new scene for me. It shocked me cause I didn't even understand what being saved was. But I did finally understand when I went home for leave and I watched my sister in this little small church preaching about her life and how the Lord had saved her. And the story about Jesus was just so touching for me. It was a touching, touching story for me. And I found myself going down to the altar and giving my life to Christ. 

A major shift because you know, I was a smart kid who learned how to do some very dangerous things, I will say. I just wasn't caught. So that meant I had to leave criminal backgrounds. And I really just decided to really go full…all the way in with the church thing. It was very fundamentalist, very Pentecostal, very evangelical.

And I met husband while I was in the Pentecostal church. He was in the military too, and got married. Again, never went to college, started raising children, traveling around the world, And by the time we got to Europe and we stayed in Europe for about seven years, marriage was falling apart and I just knew I needed to do something different when I came back to America.

And so I got my bachelor's degree when I was in my thirties, I was working for the government, as a civil servant. I worked for the government for 16 years and by the time my marriage was falling apart, I was also in ministry. I was in the Methodist Church in Georgia and they encouraged me to go to seminary. I didn't even know what seminary was.

But they encouraged me to go to seminary so that I could get to be ordained. And seminary became a very pivotal point for me. My advisor was Jacqueline Grant. That opened up my whole perspective about womanist theology, opened up my perspective, even more about the wholeness of black community.

It really shifted me, made me begin to think about the church which I had been working in for quite some years. I had this wonderful high when I got saved. And then I really began to look at some of the things that really happen in the church. And it really toned down my excitement about the church and the leadership of the church. And I began to question my leaders, ask hard theological questions, which they, in their fundamentalism, either refused to answer or characterized me as being demon possessed.

That's the big thing. They can't answer a question, and if you ask it too many times, you definitely in bed with the devil. I knew who I was because of that strong upbringing and I refused to let them cast me in that manner. And so I became a kind of person who questioned the church and very intentionally want to continue to question the theology of the church and this is why seminary was so important to me.

Patrick: Pamela, my question really is around how do you find balance there around this questioning? Europe wasn't a vacation, you were working. I'm also imagining you got there because of the military. So the military has a very particular formation, which is don't question. You have ranks, it's very vertical, the Pentecostal tradition, even in a small church, can I have a very vertical structure.

So I'm wondering how seminary kind of cracks open this balance of like deep questioning? I'm thinking of your work with Dr. Grant, this questioning, building community, which is antithetical to some of these more vertical structures. And where do you kind of start finding your rhythm? Okay, this is what I want to do, this right here. This is what church is or this is what scholarship is?

Pamela: I had a bisexual Jewish professor in my undergraduate program named Joel Horowitz. I majored in sociology. The man was hard on me as a Christian because he considered himself an atheist. I took class after class with him because I'm just a sucker for pain.

He was brilliant and I wanted what he was selling. He would walk into class and see me in class and he would say, oh, I see we have Ms. Lightsey. Are you still believing in imaginary gods Ms. Lightsey? And I would say, yeah, and I would tell him, are you still an atheist?

He taught me how to read the text very closely. He required that we do things outside the classroom, looking at things that I probably would have never looked at. By the time I got to ITC, and had gone through a major divorce, had left working for the government because I had not just an idea, I looked at the statistics for degrees and I saw the level of average earned income per degree level - I knew that I wanted to get a master's, I was not quite sure about a PhD, but I knew that terminal degree would allow me to be able to take care of my children and my family in the ways that I wanted to coming from such an impoverished beginning.

So by the time I got to the ITC, I had worked out a whole lot of personal stuff for me. And then I saw Jacqueline Grant. I fell in love with this idea of womanist theology and the very definition that was so broad, was broad enough to include me. At the time I was considering myself bisexual. So that definition of a woman who loves women or loves men, or loves other women in that very definition, I was like, ooh yeah, this is something here. And to think about it in relationship to God. 

I knew she was my advisor so I said to her, I'm one of your advisees, I've read your work, I was like a major fan and she was very gracious and kind. And that began decades of conversations with Dr. Jacqueline Grant and myself. I took every class she taught and I took every class that was available for black liberation theology.

I thought because I love reading and I love words I would either major in biblical scholarship, Hebrew Bible, or that I would major in pastoral care. And what I really found, what I really liked was theology. And what attracted me to black liberation theology is that it felt just as radical as the black power movement for me.

James Cone, talking about God of the oppressed and black power and black theology that blended really with where I had been as a teenager, my sense of activism, that was powerful for me. I don't think wouldn't be the person that I am today had I not gone to the ITC. Because the ITC was that formation for liberation theology that I, as a scholar, would soon build upon in my work in queer theology. It taught me about what are the resources of your theology that you're going to use?

What's going to undergird, what's going to uphold this theology that you're trying to work out? While I was at the ITC, I'm saying I've worked with Dr. Jacqueline Grant, but Dr. Riggins Earl and Dr. Randall Bailey - just so precious to me, those scholars, so precious. 

I took two classes from Dr. Bailey and his classes were good, but they challenged me in a way that let me know, I didn't want to do biblical scholarship. I liked the way he thinks that asks questions. I liked his style. 

Dr. Riggins Earl, nobody…I would not have gotten into the PhD program had I not taken weekend classes with him. Matthew Williams was in that class with me, Kamasi Hill. And these are scholars who are doing great work. You know, we came from that Riggins Earl's weekend class on phenomenology and philosophy. We were being taught and had to read those books.

These were books in addition to what we were already reading, so that when I got into the PhD program, I had already read Hans Gadamer's work. I had already read Paul Ricoeur's work because I've been working with Dr. Riggins Earl. So womanism, yes I love that, I also love philosophy and ethics and that shows up in my work.

And primary sources, that is what Riggins Earl always checked us on. You got to get to the primary source. I use that kind of strategy for unpacking stuff when I'm doing research today. Riggins Earl, Jacqueline Grant, Randall Bailey, Dr. McCrary - those scholars really helped shape me as a theologian. And I can never say enough about their commitment in the classroom and outside of the classroom because they took time with us outside of the classroom. That was a great example for me, a great model for me. I want to just really say that because it's important. I can't leave out what they did for me at the ITC. 

I was serving as an associate pastor, but I also realized that I liked school more than I liked ministry, but I wasn't ready leave ministry. And that came some years later after I got my PhD. 

Patrick: I was just going to ask a question about that transition. When does this ministry, what's been ignited at ITC turn into I want to write, I want to read, I want to teach this as well. Like when did that turn happen?

Pamela: I knew that I had to be my very best because I was raising my children. And I never wanted to fail them and I never wanted them to be impoverished, which is how I I'd grown up. I could do it because once you've been very poor and you work out a way to navigate poverty, I don't think that ever leaves you. There's a certain poverty within so many of us, it may not be lack of money, but I learned that I was good on the streets because I was able to tap into the poverty of the soul.

I didn't have that phrase then, but I could tap into the places that were hungry and that's how I was able to survive and I still think that what I do as a scholar is I'm tapping into places that are hungry and that are thirsty when I'm doing my work. And I try to flesh that out and try and make that make sense. For me, always knowing that there are two, three people in my life that I've got to be absolutely honest with - my children, my family - that always kept me wanting to strive to be better. Because I never wanted to return to that life that I had.

And that was a lifestyle. People talk about human sexuality as a lifestyle, no, what I was doing was a lifestyle. I never wanted to return to that lifestyle. I always want to be able to hold my head up in the presence of my children, in the presence of my family. So as I'm thinking about, okay what's the next shift? Your children are growing up, they're going to be adults, what are you going to do? They watch you sit at the table, work on a degree. They watch you in some very difficult places. How are you going to be an example for them? 

What are you going to do to keep this thing going? And I got to thinking about a doctorate because I love school. I love learning new things, but I also was pragmatic about money. And I knew that whatever I did, whatever/wherever that degree was, it was going to have to be a degree that could allow me to make money and make good money for my children. But the earning potential for people with PhDs at that time was really good.

I sensed that I would not always be pastoring, so I wanted to chart out a direction for my life so that I could continue moving onward. And the PhD just made sense for me. Then I learned about FTE while I was working on my MDiv. I said, okay, If I can get into a doctoral program, then I'm also going to apply to FTE. I was United Methodist, but in my Pentecostal sensibilities, I started putting out all of these kinds of fleeces, all these agreements with God. God, if I can get into a PhD program, then I'll do this.

And God, if it is your will for me to be in a PhD program, then my application with FTE will come through. I was accepted by FTE. Major. [It] was a major turning point for me to get. Let me tell you Patrick, that I had not imagined that many Black emerging scholars, it was a whole new world for me. And it was rather intimidating at first because I was around other black people whom I thought they were so smart and even smarter than me. But you know what disabused me of that, what shook me into reality?

It was also FTE. We were at an FTE event. I think we were at Notre Dame University and we were all in the room talking. Sharon Fluker was leading a discussion about the black community and what we think, what our obligation to the black community is. And one guy said, I don't think I owe black people anything because black people haven't done anything for me. Before I could choke the words back down, the words just came up out of me, because I was just like, what's wrong with you?

What is wrong with you? Why would you even say such a thing? And I went through all that black history that I had learned as a child. I walked the room with that. Do you hear me? And I said, even if you were not raised in a predominantly black community, you are benefiting off of the work and the lives and the suffering of our people. And it was like the whole room went quiet. 

That incident also let me know that there were some black scholars who were willing to drink the Kool-Aid of privilege to the detriment of the communities and the ancestry that they come from. And that really hurt me. I was shaken by that, and that became more fuel for my activism, but not just within the black community, within the church, but also my activism within the academy. And you all see that. I hope that I've been clear within FTE to always situate myself as someone who believes in people being people and not…I don't like arrogance. I don't like pretentiousness.

And I’m always trying to situate myself and my work right within the black communities that I come from and right within those spaces that continue to be oppressed because we are not far from that. And the academy will not shield us from that. And I’m going to be that scholar who tries to speak truth. 

And I honor my degrees, I honor where I come from, but I honor them understanding that those degrees came because of the work of the ancestors who could survive the lash in order for me to be born. Those degrees came because of those black educators in elementary and junior high and in high school who wrapped their arms around me and wouldn’t let me be overcome by racism. 

And those degrees come from my mother. I don’t know what she endured in those homes as a maid, came from my father being called a boy – a grown man being called a boy - came from their experiences of oppression. I’m going to be that scholar in the room who is always thinking about reality, where we came from and how we can thrive in the midst of oppression without stepping on somebody’s neck. So that’s who I am. 

Patrick: You're pointing at something in your current role as a vice president of academic administration, as a full professor, as someone who's published, who's checked all those boxes - just to name that in the academy writ large and especially people of color who have made it through, have been formed in a particular way, have shown and demonstrated excellence in white systems - to have these sensibilities, to have this sort of background…the West Palm Beach not the Palm Beach or being comfortable in Palm Beach as I'm thinking about this, how does this play out for you as an administrator to administrate differently, to lead institutions differently? Because so many who end up in the roles that you end up in are the ones who are really keeping the systems on the life support that they need. And so you are re-imagining it. Tell me a little about your work now and how you re-imagine it from this place?

Pamela: Yeah. In the Pentecostal church and growing up, one thing I don't like is feeling like people really trying to insist that I do things their way. I am not of the mind that everything that I say and believe has to be true. I want to be in a conversation with you to ask, okay, why are we doing it this way?

Why do you think I should shift? Don't just tell me because I said so. That has never made sense to me. Just cause I said so, that never made sense to me. Make it make sense! But I got a lot of whippins because I was that child who my father would say, do something. And I was like, oh, why? We could do it this way better. Well do it the way I told you to do it. So I'm just gonna take the whippin. I got enough whippins as a child that the church can't whip me. The academy can't whip me because I will not be whipped by an institution. But what I will do is I will sit back and I will analyze it and say, okay who are the movers and shakers? Who are really making the decisions? If this person leaves, how's this thing gonna work? 

One thinks it's the president, but no. A whole lot of other administrators that are really working this thing, not the president. And I really made a career of studying these institutions, even as I'm working in them. For instance, in the academy, my first job was as a dean of students. And I loved being a dean of students because I love attending to students, but after a while, I got to see that the academy understood me as someone who would not babysit, but a mother figure, like a parental wrap your arms around these students, make them feel good and give them a space. 

It was really pastoral, the dean of students position, that's what I want to say, is a really pastoral position. I had left my church to go into the academy wanting to do more academic stuff. I yearned to do more teaching, but on the other hand, I didn't want to do a lot of teaching because it became almost like a consumer thing.

I'm going to write a paper and you're going to give me an A. Even if I turn in crap, I'm going to stand here in front of you and I'm going to argue about this paper because I'm going to get this A. I soon recognized that although I love being a Dean of students that kind of pastoral sensitivity in the academy is not something that I'm totally wanting to sit in my entire career. I have a pastoral sensitivity, it's cool, but I'm more of a scholar. And the military has made me more of an administrator.

I'm a very good administrator. So I can take pieces of a puzzle and put them together and help people to work together as a team to accomplish something. So being an administrator was my jam. What has also been my jam at Meadville Lombard is working with a president who has a similar background as my background.

And we are all into liberation and justice trying to create a space or help reshape a space that is a different way of receiving a theological education. And so being at Meadville has been good for me. The other thing that my current position helps me to do, I'm the one who begins to think about adjunct professors.

I’ve not wanted our school to be a school that needs to rest upon the work of a whole lot of adjunct professors who are brilliant, good people, but the system itself is not a good system when it comes to adjunct professors. They don't get benefits and at some schools they're not paid really well.

One of the things I'm proud of is that from the time I got to Meadville to now, we significantly raised the salaries of adjunct professors. The other thing I'm very proud of about adjunct professors is that I've been able to tap into the pool of scholars from FTE. I began to think about who can teach this class and FTE has been a wellspring for me to tap into scholars, to give them what will be very formative experiences of teaching with an academic dean who is going to be supportive of them.

The academic deans, they really do hold a lot of power in schools of theology, they make a lot of decisions that people do not think about. But I never wanted to use power as a cudgel, as something to harm people. I always want to use my power as influence, use my influence to help people to be their better selves, either in the classroom or as a professor. How can I help you get to that level, that next level that you're trying to get to? 

I'm really given to close work with people who see themselves as growing and who always see information as something that they want to always take in and grow and talk about. And so I love talking to people about, you know, new trends and new ways of being and new learnings that are taking place in the academy.

And that's why I try to tap into those kinds of people and I try to support them. So if anything, in my position at Meadville, I see myself giving back. I do a lot of giving back to the community, that is through the hires of adjuncts. I see myself giving back to the academy through the support of our faculty.

I've really worked really hard so that faculty at Meadville can get the kind of funding that they need to do the cutting-edge research that they do. I'm really interested in them. 

I don't tell people you got to do this cause I know how that feels when people tell me that. I'm the one who was asking the questions - what do you think this will look like? Where do you think that will lead and how will this be good for our students and for the community that you come from?

And that's a whole nother way of thinking in the academy when people are always thinking in terms of accreditation and thinking in terms of funders, donors, no I'm thinking in terms of the communities. That's how I situate my work. I do work at an institution of higher education, so you gotta make the grades, you gotta pay the tuition, but I try to make the road easier for you if you're willing to do the work. 

Patrick: I just got one last question for you and it really is about how do you see your own formation in this role, your own sense of call, purpose? I'm thinking of these stories going back to seeing your parents wake up early and go off as day labor or maid, crossing that bridge, thinking about the time and the formation in the military, sitting with Joel in his undergrad class and having that person who is able to like challenge your deepest held beliefs and pull that out of you and you coming back for more saying, iron sharpens iron here…this is how we're going to have a formative experience, and the complex realities that you have between church and ITC and teaching and writing. You’re a pragmatist too about the funding, looking at statistics.

So how much is it about your own sense of call? This is what I wanted to do, I'm that kid that wanted to read books and write books and how much is it about this community calling out to you, challenging you saying this is who you could be, your kids pushing you a little bit more? How much of that sense is self and how much is this broader community, the divine?

Pamela: Part of who I am and what I'm doing, and I’ve spoken to you about this before, is I'm working on what I call a liberationist heirloom. In this kind of heirloom that I'm creating it's sort of almost a gift. I won't be here forever, but what can I leave of my life, of the thoughts that I'm having, that might help somebody else? 

So, yeah I talk about money and everything, but has never been my motivation. My motivation for earning money has always been to take care of: how am I going to make enough money to take care of my children, to take care of my family? How do I learn enough, to impart enough information, to take care of, to take care of those who are in my community to share good information? We're in a time where people are spreading all kinds of propaganda. You think I don't worry about that?

I worry about people's ability to sort out truth from lies. So I spend a lot of my time as a parent, as a professor, as scholar showing people how to do research when it comes to all these articles that are out on the internet. How do you know if this stuff is true, you got to back it all the way up!

Okay that’s scholarship! And so I think that's a scholarship to teach people how to survive. That feeds my soul. I'm not trying to be cheesy or anything here.

Pamela: I know that had I gone the path that some people wanted me to go, as far as money is concerned, I could've made a whole lot more money as an administrator. I could have stayed in the closet. I could be president of an institution right now.

I really could. With the things that I know I could be president of a seminary, but there are some spaces that I know are not good for me. And therefore I won't be good for them. And so I do have some limitations when it comes to this. I want to be in a good space, so I can be free to do the kind of work that I think God has gifted me to do. 

And I am in a space as a scholar and as an administrator to say no to certain things, I recognize other people can't. But part of my commitment to myself was have agency, I want to be free. That's why I came out because I didn't want to be looking over my shoulders not being free in who I am as a queer lesbian woman, I have to live with people who are gonna have some integrity about themselves. So I'm trying to create for myself, in my work and in my living, a peaceful environment. And that peaceful environment is the satisfaction in knowing that I, number one am always giving back to my community, always try to leave some nuggets of information that's going to help us not just to survive, but to thrive. 

I just need to be free. In my work and in my being, freedom for me has always included those healthy relationships with the people who want to do justice and try to make this world a better place. 

Patrick: Well Dr. Lightsey I just want to say thank you for this interview for having the conversation, telling us your life. I'm just so appreciative of everything you are setting up for us and leading in a different way in the academy, which can erase our people, erase our histories. I love you as a human, the way that you've modeled, at least in your relationship with me and FTE and our fellows, that we're humans first and that's important to this peace and harmony. I see everything you're cultivating in the world and seeing how it's expanding and it makes an impact on me. It makes an impact on our people. So just thank you so much for all that you are in the world and so grateful for this time.

Pamela: It's a blessing. It's just a blessing being with you. Thank you. 

Patrick: Thank you for listening to the Sound of the Genuine and Dr. Lightsey’s story. If you want more stories like this head on over to You can find not just the Sound of the Genuine, but video resources and books and publications, all kinds of great stuff to encourage you in your vocational journey. 

And I want to say thank you to my team: Elsie Barnhart, Heather Wallace, Diva Morgan Hicks, who puts this out on the socials and as always, @siryalibeats for his music. Make sure to like and share this episode with a friend. We are so grateful that you listened to the Sound of the Genuine.