Lost and Found

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We pulled up in front of the church and saw two stoic black men in dark blue suits and red bow-ties posted at the door. They stood in identical postures - hands at their waist, right over left, feet spaced apart, chins up and chest out. My dad rolled down the window.

"Brother Clarence! As-salaam alaikum!" The stone face softened when he saw my dad and was replaced with a wide grin and sparkling eyes. He walked over to the car to greet us.

"Walakium salaam, Brother Darryl. How's the god?"

"Maaan, I'm hanging in there brother. Look, I'm here with my son, and we trying to find where to park. Can you help us out?"

"Salaam alaikum, Lil Darryl," he said waving at me.

"His name is Stephen."

"I didn't know you had an older son," he whispered. I pulled out my phone and pretended like I wasn't paying attention.

"Yea man, that was back in the day...you know how it is."

"Oh yea yea, I feel you man. But look, the church lot is around the corner," he pointed vaguely in the opposite direction. "I need to get back to my post, you got me slacking off over here."

"My bad, brother. Yea I'm gone go park. Salaam alaikum."

When we got back to the church, we walked into the vestibule and saw two large curtains up on either side. The women were entering on the right, and the brothers on the left. Many of the women were wearing long white dresses and matching scarves over their heads. I got in the men's line and waited like I was at an airport to enter the sanctuary. The guys in the front were taking off their shoes, and a man wearing white gloves was patting down the brothers one by one.

After going through the security, I was directed by one of the bowties to sit in a pew on the left. My dad tapped me on my shoulder and said that he had to sit on the stage. I nodded and turned around to take in the whole scene. The church was bustling with movement, black men and women everywhere embracing each other with handshakes, hugs, and kisses on the cheek. I turned to look at the stage and saw a half dozen bowties surrounding it. A man wearing a dashiki approached the rostrum and introduced himself as the pastor. The crowd began to quiet.

"When some folks asked me if I was gonna let Louis Farrakhan come to my church and address my congregation, you know what I said? 'You better believe it!' These doors are always open to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam."

The church exploded with applause, and a few voices rose above the chorus with shouts of "Go head now!" and "That's right!" I clapped along with the crowd but couldn't hear the sound of my own clap. The vibrations of the church's applause echoed so loudly that it became one sound. The pastor waited for the applause to subside and then continued.

"Now for the time you've all been waiting for. It is my distinct honor to welcome our brother. Our Minister. Our champion in the cause for Black liberation here and around the world. New Life Missionary Baptist Church, please welcome the Honorable. Minister. Louis. Farrakhan!"

The church exploded again with a standing ovation. The bowties securing the stage shot up with their hands to the sides, scanning the audience. The pastors, ministers, and other dignitaries on the stage formed two clapping parallel lines facing the back. We all stood there clapping, waiting. The longer we waited, the louder the applause seemed to get. Every few seconds, men shouted praises like, "Allahu Akbar!" which I had recently learned from my dad meant God is the Greatest.

Suddenly a short, fair skinned man with thick-rimmed glasses emerged. His hair was a wavy black texture, slicked down to the right side of his head with a part on the left. He stopped and shook the hands of the people in the lines on both side, smiling into their faces and sharing a few words with each. After he greeted everyone, he walked up to the edge of the stage on the right, smiled and bowed. Then he walked over to the left side of the stage and did the same. Finally, he came to the center of the stage and looked out at the teeming masses of his people, outstretching his arms as though inviting an embrace from us all.

The applause was like a steady downpour of rain on the roof of a house. He took the rostrum and gazed out at the audience, his facial expression becoming stern. He raised his hands gesturing for the applause to come to a close, and within ten seconds the room was silent.

"In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. We thank Allah for His blessings and mercy that anytime a member of the human family goes astray, he always raises up among that people a prophet or a messenger to lead, teach, and guide them back to the straight path of God. We thank Him for Moses and the Torah. We thank Him for Jesus and the Gospel. We thank him for Muhammad and the Qur'an - peace be upon these worthy servants of Almighty God."

I gazed around the room to steal a peek at all the faces. Most looked on with a starry eyed gaze, a few with suspicious glares. I looked towards the stage to find my dad. I spotted him off in the far right corner of the stage. He was sitting towards the edge of his seat, googly eyed like a schoolboy who just saw his crush.

"Do you know why I bowed to you when I came out? It's because I know who you are. But you don't know who you are. Because if you knew who you were, you would treat each other with reverence. You wouldn't call each other niggas."

While the audience applauded, I thought about the many times I called my brothers or friends niggas and, for the first time, questioned why? Then there was a moment when I felt like a door in my mind opened.

"At funerals, what do pastors quote from the Bible? Come on pastors. What were Jesus' words? I am the resurrection--" the audience began chanting the scripture with him, "'and the life and He who believes in me, though he is dead, yet shall he live!'" He paused a moment and narrowed his eyes before continuing. "You say it over bodies! But I'm saying it over you because you are the dead that must be raised to life," he bellowed, lifting his hands and pointing at the crowd for emphasis.

I had heard that scripture a million times in church and at funerals - sitting in graveyards under green tents. But this time it was like a veil had lifted. Behind it, I saw all my friends and family. All oblivious to their own spiritual death. We needed to be resurrected, and this was Farrakhan's whole mission - to rescue us from the grave.

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Stephen Jamal Leeper is a writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. Above all, he is a believer. He believes in the power of words, of story, of dreaming, of activism, of community, of people, of the Creator.