Letter 99

DAY 99

Gay L. Byron

Professor of New Testament
Howard University School of Divinity
April 28, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

In 1964, Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer drew a line in the sand with the words: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Later, in 1971, she painted a vision for humanity and democracy at the founding of the National Women’s Political Caucus: “Nobody’s free till everybody’s free.” These words of outrage and hope inspire me to write this open letter. While I do not expect a response, I still choose to write because of ancestors like Mrs. Hamer who taught me that raising my voice and taking action is the least I can do on behalf of those who are invisible, disenfranchised, and pushed to the margins.

“So hear now my prayer as you work together…”

Given everything going on in this country which makes me “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” my letter takes the form of a prayer. The prophet Jeremiah prayed in his letter to the exiles in Babylon (29:1-14). The apostle Paul prayed in his letter to the Philippians (1:3-11). The preacher Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. closed his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by alluding to the “long prayers” he poured out for the cause of justice. So hear now my prayer as you work together in seeking political resolve, spiritual fortitude, and uncompromising wisdom:

Eternal Most Gracious Holy One, revealed to all and known by many names, I pray for all elected officials of this nation, especially President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the members of the 117th Congress. May they lead beyond political ideologies and deliver policies and opportunities that reflect the hopes and dreams of each human being of this nation. May they recognize the places in the Constitution still in need of amendment and confess the original sins of this country: violence, slavery, stolen lands and legacies, displacement, racism, sexism, classism, militarism, and more. May they repent for the roles they have played in perpetuating these sins through silence, filibusters, collusion, fear, confusion, miseducation, and more. May they surround themselves with constituents, communities of honest engagement, and spiritual guides who will hold them accountable for building equitable infrastructures, living wages, accessible health care, and safe streets. As these leaders honor their oaths of office, may they receive your forgiveness and know that they are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—our ancestors and all people of faith and good conscience—who expect, demand, and pray for something more over these next four years. May they be haunted and humbled by the spirit and the words of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer: “Nobody’s free till everybody’s free.” Hear my prayer. Amen.


Gay L. Byron

Rev. Dr. Gay L. Byron
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
Howard University

the author

Gay L. Byron, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C., is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and active in teaching and preaching in a variety of religious and educational contexts. She is the author of Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature (Routledge Press) and co-editor of Womanist Interpretations of the Bible: Expanding the Discourse (SBL Press).