Shirley Caesar Is Turning The #UNameItChallenge Into An Act Of Philanthropy
By Imani J. Jackson
It is the week of Thanksgiving 2016, the same 2016 many of us would prefer to put in rice, turn on and off for a reboot, or take to a specialist to see if 2017 will emerge and actually be working properly. This year brought losses: of creative genius through Prince, of human rights advocacy and athleticism through Muhammad Ali, of principled and groundbreaking news reporting through Gwen Ifill. 2016 also showed a loss of decency through president-elect Donald Trump and his white supremacist crew. And yet, black Internet inspiration did the timely thing it often does: provide joy.
Pastor Shirley Caesar, the 78-year-old gospel great, Hollywood Walk of Fame honoree, and Shaw University alumna whose “Hold My Mule” melodic sermon inspired millions of new fans and rejuvenated her longtime supporters, allowed observers to not just hear a sermon, but to also see one in action.
At the beginning of this week, Pastor Caesar announced an online store, which she and her team generated after people expressed concerns about merchandise using Pastor Caesar’s popular words without a legitimate connection to her brand. Oftentimes, when a phrase or moment gains broad traction, unauthorized sellers pop up trying to make coins. Through a newly verified Facebook page, Pastor Caesar announced outreach initiatives. “We plan to pick various ministries each week to make sure donations are made to feed folks,” she said.
Leading up to this holiday, most of us have seen or heard about the viral success of the #UNameitChallenge and its related dances, raps, skits and memes, which provided much-needed levity. We can recite Pastor Caesar’s blessed riff about “beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes…” and see that Googling the challenge still renders more than 51 million results.
We also know Pastor Caesar good-naturedly told the Associated Press her Thanksgiving kitchen plans. “I ain’t cooking nothing,” she said. “Absolutely zilch.” We know she is excited to be connected to younger fans.
“They don’t really know who I am unless their moms or their grandparents tell them. I’m glad,” she said. “I mean, little 3-year-olds are singing, ‘I got beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes.”
In the Internet age, young, black creative people often start viral crazes consumed by mainstream culture. Late last month, high school students at Jacksonville, Florida’s Edward White High School started the mannequin challenge. Public figures ranging from comedian Kevin Hart to R&B group Destiny’s Child to the New York Giants to the Pittsburgh Steelers to Secretary Hillary Clinton got in on the challenge.
Creation is so integral to black identity and seeing Pastor Caesar’s grace and business savvy through this moment is a lesson for all. “I’m just grateful that I’ve been chosen, that the Lord is blessing me like this,” she said.
So as many of us cook, connect, relax and take itis-induced naps with our loved ones for Thanksgiving, we should also appreciate Pastor Caesar and all the black elders whose names may not be widely known, but whose works are widely felt in their communities.
Photo via Unameitshirley.com
Imani J. Jackson is a columnist and policy adviser with Dynamic Education Foundation. She earned a mass communication B.A., with a journalism focus and psychology minor, from Grambling State University and a J.D. from Florida A&M University College of Law. She has written for a variety of publications including the Black Youth Project, USA Today, Teen Vogue and Politic365.