I saw Jesher on the side of a building, and the image both startled and inspired me. The mural overlooks the Clarksville Pike and 25th Street intersection. There, dressed in his mother’s favorite shade of green and overlaid with comfortably-baggy blue slacks, Jesher stands over two stories tall. His resolute posture is fortified by a stalwart gaze. His white pacifier is the only element in the painting that belies his actual age. The lad is not much older than a baby, but he is strutting a swagger that reflects the strength of his community. The young boy is focused. He is determined. He is marching. And as I pulled over into the emergency lane of the highway to admire the masterful work of art, I began to pray for the wisdom it will take to instill such a level of righteous confidence into my future toddler.
Okay, the picture was not specifically of Jesher, but it could be. The mural is entitled “Perseverance,” and it is the most recent mural project birthed from Nashville’s burgeoning art community. The project was sponsored by Google Fiber and produced by the Norf Art Collective (2017). It attempts to cement the legacy of Black History in a rapidly shifting community. As gentrification threatens to displace Black families who have lived in North Nashville for decades, Norf is using its affinity to erect monuments in honor of communities that have nurtured civil-rights activists for over seventy years.
The forty-foot mural is nicknamed “Family Matters,” and it depicts African-American heroes who cultivated Nashville’s own civil-rights chapter. Figures such as a young John Lewis, Z. Alexander Looby, Diane Nash, and Curlie McGruder are illustrated in march formation, staring intently at a light shining in the distant sky. They lead a young female dressed in gold and young toddler sporting gold-rimmed spectacles. Nashvillescene writer Erica Ciccarone reports,
“Norf member Joe Love (aka doughjoe) says the little girl is inspired by [current] local activists….”
If you look closely, you can decipher these cloaked symbols embedded within the giant painting. The teddy-bear lugging princess and the fist-raising prince are colorful provocations. They are “help wanted” signs that attempt to mobilize the next generation of Nashville activists who understand their responsibility to preserve and join the crusade. “Perseverance” isn’t an attempt to commemorate the end of an era; it is announcing the continuation of an endeavor—the struggle to build a city where all families, regardless of ethnic background or economic status, are valued equally.
Each time I drive by this building, I see a prophetic vision of Jesher’s destiny. He is the boy in green. He is the offspring of this movement, and he, too, will be taught how to stand-up for the left-out, the left-behind, and the left-over. Jesher will learn to march, because it is our duty to teach him. His hand will be held by his powerful mother. His rear will be guarded by a vigilant father. His eyes will be up, and his feet will be pointed forward. Jesher, like Z. Alexander Looby, will stand for justice and champion compassion. As a child of God, this is an obligation. As a child of promise, this is his calling. For his future is in his name—Jesher Gabriel—which means, “Upright Warrior of God.”
Here is Jesher’s current medical report:
BRAIN SCAN–Jesher’s ultrasound results came back and we received good news; Jesher’s brain is healing itself. The brain ventricles are not increasing in size and there are no signs of new hemorrhages. We praise the Lord for this news! Now, Jesher’s brain will need to reroute his neuro-connectors around the damaged brain tissue. For an adult brain, this is almost an impossible task; however, preemies can demonstrate superhuman resilience and literally re-wire their connectors to access healthy pathways for neurological development. We now need the Creator to guide Jesher as his brain attempts to build new highways. PLEASE ASK YAHWEH TO AID JESHER IN PROPERLY REWIRING THESE CONNECTIONS SO HIS NEUROLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT IS GUIDED BY THE DIVINE HAND.
REFLUX–As is the case with many preemies who are learning to bottle feed, Jesher is developing gastroesophageal reflux. This happens when the stomach’s contents do not remain in the stomach but retreat back into the esophagus. Although it might sound trivial, reflux can cause some pretty serious complications for preemies. It can even evolve into gastroesophageal reflux disease [GERD]. Thus far, Jesher’s reflux is causing periodic apnea spells and low oxygen saturation levels. These are common symptoms for NICU babies who are learning to bottle feed, but we do not want his reflux to develop into a more severe condition. PLEASE ASK GOD TO PLACE HIS HAND ON JESHER’S STOMACH AND ESOPHAGUS SO THAT HIS REFLUX WILL SUBSIDE.
WEIGHT–Jesher reached the 5lbs. mark! He is officially 5lbs. 2oz. [#SquadGoals]. We are thankful that he is once again gaining weight with regularity. In NICU, weight gain is one of the key variables used to gauge overall health. Healthy babies gain weight, so Jesher’s recent milestone is a great sign of his improving condition. He is also up to 42 milliliters per feeding. The volume of feeds have given him a cute little pop-belly. After he eats, he reclines like an old man seated in a lazy-boy and burps loudly : ) PLEASE ASK YAHWEH TO CONTINUE BUILDING OUR SON BONE BY BONE, MUSCLE BY MUSCLE, ORGAN BY ORGAN, AND LIMB BY LIMB. WE CLAIM, IN JESUS’ NAME, THAT JESHER WILL BE BUILT BY THE MASTER BUILDER.
“Freedom is not a destination; it’s a journey.” This quote dominates the left-third of the mural. The wise saying is attributed to Curlie McGruder, a sponsor and mentor for Nashville’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (or SNCC). She was known for cooking a mean meal and allowing organizers to use her home as headquarters. She was also known for giving realistic advice to temper youthful idealism. She was direct, but she didn’t dampen enthusiasm. She was real, but she didn’t discourage optimism. She helped recalibrate expectations, but she didn’t dash dreams. Curlie McGruder was to SNCC what I want to be for Jesher—a steady guide and an influential nurturer. And hopefully, when Jesher recalls the lessons his dad taught him, he will recall this all-important piece of advice:
No matter how far you walk, and no matter how much you do, don’t forget; freedom is not a destination; it’s a journey. So, son, enjoy the scenery while you march.
“For the LORD will deliver the needy when they cry for help, the afflicted also, and the person who needs a helper. The LORD will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy He will save. The LORD will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight.” Psalms 72:12-14