The One Where Jelani Introduces Himself.

I recently started writing for a publication called Off the Page, from the creators of the popular Our Daily Bread devotional series. It’s a new forum for me to start talking about my favorite examples from pop culture and to show how the Bible can be relevant to everyday life. Anyway, I thought it might be important for any new readers to get a sense of who I am if they’re new to my writing, so I wrote this piece as an introduction.

 

You know how sitcoms always have that one episode full of flashbacks?

Growing up, I always loved those to watch those episodes, mostly because they always included scenes I hadn’t seen yet. I didn’t grow up with DVRs or video on demand, so the only way I could ensure that I saw every episode of my favorite series was to make sure I was in front of the TV at the same time every week — which rarely happened. (And that was assuming my behavior was good enough to warrant TV-watching-privileges that day.)

So yeah, those clip shows were always showing me what I’d missed along the way.

community cooperative calligraphy bottle episode
“Previously, on a cheaper set, before we blew our budget on CGI explosions…”

As I got older and started to dabble in writing for TV and film, I began to understand the benefit of clip shows from a production standpoint. Episodes like these often required the characters to be restricted to a confined space, which is the impetus for reminiscing. In TV parlance, they’re known as “bottle episodes.” They’re popular because restricting the scope in one episode allows for more time, energy and money to be spent on other, much bigger episodes.

Another added benefit, assuming the show was paced and written with an attentive sense of character, is that clip shows can often function in the same way that flashbacks do in movies – to remind the viewer of defining events or character traits that make the character unique or memorable. For example, on my favorite show Community, that meant showing protagonist Jeff Winger making his trademark inspirational closing argument speeches, even when, in classic weirdo fashion, that meant flashing back to events that hadn’t been seen before.

In other words, these episodes help to build a sense of context. And context is essential to understanding anything.

It’s my hope that this column will function as a good flashback tool. Readers who are new to my personality and/or style of writing might be well served to bookmark this article and come back to it anytime they’re upset, confused or opposed to anything they see written under my byline. Knowing these things about me will help you to more fully understand what I’m about and why I think, write and believe the things that I do.

 

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I’m Jelani Greenidge, and I am…

 

An African-American male, with all the complicated privileges and disadvantages involved therein.animated black dudes gif tumblr_la9ngi5Q0N1qzekdio1_500

Overall, I feel much more secure in my Black identity than I do as a dude, because I didn’t grow up being exceptionally athletic or excelling in any stereotypically “male” pursuits. However, being married to a White woman who is equally passionate about leadership (more on that in a bit), has opened my eyes to the various layers of male patriarchy embedded into society. It helps me to see both sides of the privilege equation.

(It feels funny having to tell people that I’m a dude, but sometimes my pieces are published online without any accompanying picture, and I’ve had people assume that I was a female. In my mind, I assume that such people pronounce “Jelani” with an emphasis on the first syllable, like “Melanie.” And then, in my mind, I cast withering glares in their direction.)

Also, you might see me refer to my ethnic/cultural identity as either Black or West Indian, which refers not to the western portion of India but to the Caribbean Islands (aka the West Indies). Either way, I do not apologize for having a distinctly Black perspective. This is not to say that my writing will resemble any other high-profile Black writers, because we are not a monolith. But it does mean that I might be working from a different set of assumptions, values and/or presuppositions than what you’re used to, ones that are informed from my experiences, further complicated by the fact that I grew up in Portland.

I am also…

 

 

An intellectual.

CognitionIn the Meyers-Briggs temperament sorter, I am a Rational, classified as an ENTP. I have a very analytical bent. I love breaking things down and remixing them for fun. I care less about right answers than I do about good healthy processes.  I am the king of the analogy, like the time when I explained gentrification using a Sir Mix-A-Lot tune. (No, not THAT one.)

In person, I try not to be overly emotional, but sometimes you can see it come out when I’m writing about one of my passionate causes. Also, in general I try not to cuss, but I’m also not afraid of using profanity when describing things that are, well… profane.

This, despite the fact that…

I’m a worship musician who grew up as a pastor’s kid.

parishioners-worship-at-a-predominantly-african-american-church-in-this-file-photo

Both my wife and I grew up with life “behind the curtain,” and we are passionate about how church and church leaders should operate. I’ve had a variety of significant church experiences, from loud expressive charismatic revivals to more traditionally quiet and reverent liturgical experiences. Because my father planted one of the first intentionally multiethnic churches in the Evangelical Covenant denomination, most of my formative years have been spent doing cross-cultural church ministry.

Which reminds me…

 

I am a bridge person.

St Johns Bridge

As my friend Josh Pursley says, “those of us who weren’t made to fit the molds were made to bridge the gaps.”

On my best days, I try to write like the kind of person that can relate to a wide variety of people. On my not so good days, I try to take solace in the “compliment” I often receive, that I’m the kind of Black person that White people seem to like. (This is both a blessing and a burden.)

In my longer artist/speaker bios, I usually include the following:

Jelani’s sweet spot for writing is anything that sits at the intersection of hip-hop culture, nerd culture, and evangelical culture. Stop and say hi! It’s not a busy intersection.

 

 

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So there you go.  Refer to this as “The One Where Jelani Introduces Himself.”

 

And now feel free to rejoin your previously scheduled blog and TV programming, already in progress.

  1. Hi, I found reading the pages on your website very inspiring. I think the conversation you presented was extremely important and I so wish it could be a more mainstream conversation. What I mean is, that its very sad that this conversation is NOT up and center in Portland and everywhere in the US… The only way forward for everyone is Truth and reconciliation… is listening to other’s hard realities and making amends . My family lives in Portland. I often think of moving there. But hesitate… it seems to be progressive on the one hand but not very, on the other. Last time I was I there I picked up a local culture magazine called- nicely designed and seemingly progressive mag–but where is the black community, the indigenous community, the hispanic community, the asian community etc–I think while reading it. I am a european descended female American. I so long for these conversations….I was involved with a great project a few years ago called the Healing of Racism Institute that featured ongoing honest conversations and prayer.. at one point there were 75 groups established across the US. I participated in the only one in Canada, in Toronto. I’m also an artist, graphic designer, a singer. I have been living in The Bahamas and have enjoyed living in an afro-centric society, but these conversations are held but from a slightly different perspective… from the point of view of Bahamian identity in relation to post colonial (and not so post colonial) culture, but also in the realm of ethnicity and culture–it has been an eye-opening experience. Previous to Bahamas I lived many very interesting years in Toronto which maybe one of the diverse cities in the world. I think the only way for the world to grow up is to have many many many more of these type of conversations about its history and how it affects the reality today and what must change. the US could be a great example to the world, but it greatly lags behind in social progress. I congratulate you on your courage and your candor. Keep up the good work and conversations inside and outside the church!

    • What a great comment — and on my birthday, no less. 🙂

      Thank you for your encouraging words, I think you’re right in that it would be a huge culture shock moving to Portland from the Bahamas.

      But maybe we could temporarily change places? 🙂

      My extended family is mostly West Indian in heritage, but I’ve yet to visit the islands of my people.

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