Guest Post by Matt Liebowitz
Set aside the descriptors—gay, black, southern, Christian, preacher—and Reverend Erik Taylor Doctor’s message is one of simple and pure inclusion: we are all different, but we all share common bonds.
However, those undeniable identifiers of his character are exactly what brought the Williston community together during his Why Not Speak? Day February 22 assembly, and helped make his message—a sound, sweet one—resonate so strongly.
“Often times we do not recognize that amidst all the things that divide us,” Rev. Doctor said, “everyone living and breathing in this room shares one thing in common: we are human. I’m a human being, you’re a human being, and that’s enough for us to be in connection to one another.”
As he enthusiastically canvassed the audience, Rev. Doctor, a Charleston, South Carolina, native, called on a string of students to delineate what diversity means. Responses hit on ideas of empathy, and stressed the importance of celebrating one’s personal narrative. These unique stories, Rev. Doctor said, can bring us together as much as they separate us.
“In diversity,” Rev. Doctor said, “there are few things to remember. Each of us has a narrative, a story, a reason, a goal, an aim, and our narratives go right back to our uniqueness.”
Along with race, gender, and sexuality, Rev. Doctor spoke to the “different points of departure,” such as where one was raised and how one views the world. He discussed the problematic trend of “tokenizing,” the symbolic but feeble attempt to be inclusive to minority groups, and challenged the crowd to consider when diversity “becomes cherry-picking instead of celebrating that every table has a seat for everyone.”
An ordained clergyman, Rev. Doctor described himself as “unapologetically black, unashamedly gay, and wholeheartedly Christian.” Now living in Washington, D.C., Rev. Doctor serves as a Board Member and Executive Committee Secretary of Diversity Richmond, and is a founding member of Us Giving Richmond Connection (UGRC).
Rev. Doctor graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies. He completed graduate work at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta, toward the Masters of Divinity and is currently completing a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Public Health Leadership at Capella University.
In his undeniably lively demeanor, Rev. Doctor continued his message of inclusivity and empathy. He discussed the common goals inherent in his work, citing Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s creed: “I speak not for myself, but for those without a voice.”
Perhaps Rev. Doctor’s most poignant message came in the form or a sweet treat, and the disparate, dissimilar, but necessary ingredients inherent in its making.
In the making of a cream cheese pound cake—Rev. Doctor said he makes one for his father twice a month—he emphasized the components—eggs, cream cheese, flour, sugar, butter, eggs—and the fact that all are purchased at different temperatures.
“You don’t just put it in the oven,” he said. You have to “get them on the counter, get them to the same temperature.” When the cake comes out of the oven—after “84 minutes at 325 degrees,” he specified—“the ingredients heat up, and you can’t tell the parts, the flour, sugar, egg, butter, cream cheese, all you know is you got a really good cake.”
Less subtly, Rev. Doctor stressed, “The stuff that separates or divides us means nothing. All the other stuff comes together and complements the other.”
He imparted a message for the Williston community to take as it proceeded to various WNS Day workshops.
“Each of us has a part to play in the cake process,” he said. “Our lifelong goal is finding out what part you play.”
Integral to the cake construction, Rev. Doctor stressed, is the need for dialogue. “The blending and merging occurs,” he said, “when conversation happens, when interactions happen, when experiences in life happen.”
One more metaphor closed Rev. Doctor’s presentation and tied together his overarching message of inclusivity, celebration, and cooperation.
“When we stop focusing on whether it is a jay or a sparrow, a blue bird or a cardinal, we recognize that all birds fly and sing no matter where they’re from,” he said. “Just like all birds fly and sing, each of us has a song.”