Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.s’ weekly “Press Box” took a spiritual turn Thursday as he hosted the Rev. Jermaine Mulley of St. Luke AME Church in an intimate chat from his office at Government House on St. Croix.
The weekly virtual town hall meetings, streamed live on Facebook, typically focus on government issues, with viewers weighing in with questions and comments. Bryan said Thursday that more community leaders will be featured in the future – a nod to the need for more uplifting content in the time of COVID-19.
Discussing matters of faith in a time of crisis, Bryan and Mulley touched on everything from meditation and leadership to Black Lives Matter and fruitful disruption, with plenty of laughter and lightness in between. But at its core, the conversation came back again and again to authenticity and setting intentions for a purpose-driven life.
Mulley, who was called to the ministry while still a boy, detailed the struggle of being different growing up on St. Croix, and the pain of personal attacks by bullies. But as he prepared to head off to college in Dallas, he realized that this was part of his calling.
“I knew then that I needed to fight beyond just myself and my personal piety,” and fight for justice and equality for others, Mulley said. “I accepted that moment as a challenge to do such and from there, things just started to fall into place. The call became more clear. It became more qualified. I saw my confidence grow and I became more courageous in not waiting for the opportune time, but in waiting for the ‘time of now,’ ” he said, referencing the quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The time is now. Not waiting for this perfect time, or a time in which you feel like things line up, but knowing that the time is right now to fight for whatever it is you’re fighting for, to live for what you want to live for, do it right now,” said Mulley.
The governor said the times are difficult for young Black men, but they always have been.
“I’ve often felt, when you look at what’s happening in our streets with our young men, a lot of our young Black men feel attacked,” said Bryan. “Eighteen is a very vulnerable stage. I remember myself at a young age trying to find my way through faith, but trying to find my way through life, and I realized that to be a Black man you had to desensitize yourself in a lot of ways to a lot of emotions – sorrow, compassion – because you had to be this hard person. And a lot of our young men in the streets now are getting caught up in being that exterior. It’s not even out of offense, but rather defense, trying to stop themselves from being attacked. And a lot of that comes down sometimes to wearing a firearm,” said Bryan.
So what happened in Mulley’s life that he reacted to the attacks differently?
“I do in many ways connect with many of our youths, and those who are my peers who are still challenged and struggling with that lifestyle,” said Mulley. “Really and truly it’s the survival of the fittest type of mindset,” that if you don’t stand up a certain way, someone will take advantage.
But in his ongoing journey of discovering who he is and what he stands for, Mulley adopted a set of spiritual disciplines that include setting intentions and practicing mindfulness.
“You have to definitively set in your mind who you are going to be today, what you are going to do. And remember, being is more important than doing. … Before we can do all these different things, we have to see who we are first and who we are called to be and to intentionally commit ourselves to that. So that is what I do every single day,” Mulley said.
“Always feed your soul and feed your belly, because you can’t pour from an empty cup,” Bryan agreed, but wondered how Mulley keeps his positive energy and remains able to give to the community and his family.
“I call these things spiritual disciplines. Before anything else, we are all spiritual beings. I like the phrase ‘we are spiritual beings living out this carnal experience,’” Mulley said. And so, at the end of the day, even though we are feeding our flesh, it is important that we don’t neglect a holistic approach, he said.
For Mulley, that means meditation and prayer every morning before he ventures out in public.
“I just try to stay grounded. Because it’s important, as we’re going through life and the vicissitudes of life, things are going to come your way and it’s easy for you to react. So before I get to a point of reacting, I try to make sure I set things in place and position so that I’m able to have my personhood intact for the rest of the day.”
That discipline extends to activism, and being more than “just a person running in the streets,” Mulley said.
“One of the big issues our young people have is that a lot of people stymie their progress,” Mulley said.
“That is a tradition,” Bryan quipped.
Mulley said much of it has to do with the Virgin Islands’ colonial past. “We have been robbed of our identity. We’d rather compete rather than collaborate. And I think that really hurts us,” he said.
While both men cited their membership in historically Black fraternities – Bryan as a Kappa Alpha Psi and Mulley as an Alpha Phi Alpha – as helping to shape their character and create positive change, Mulley said young people in the Virgin Islands can achieve this by coming together and organizing and seeking influence – not affluence or opulence – while respecting the wisdom of the elders at the table.
“I saw Alpha as something I had to strive to be, to be a good Alpha man. It’s much more than to wear a pin. It’s the intrinsic qualities that are deeply rooted within,” said Mulley. “We always try to engage in community. Engage in education. We always put these things in the forefront because these are the things that helped us to be able to navigate and use resources to make the community, the beloved community, the way that we need to. Alpha was always that pinnacle and that place of where I wanted to get to. Even to this day it keeps me grounded and reminds me to keep striving for more.”
In the end, it all comes down to intention, and considering others above ourselves, said Mulley.
“We have to be intentional. It is you making up your mind, the whole intent of your will,” said Mulley, who makes it a practice, for example, to regularly check in on old friends to offer encouragement. “I think practicing that as often as we need to, it changes things. It lifts the morale in the community. And believe it or not, it makes a difference,” he said.
“There you have it,” said Bryan, as Mulley finished the hour-long and wide-ranging conversation with an impassioned prayer for a purpose-driven life. Then the governor delivered a short sermon of his own.
“Pastor Jermaine Mulley, son of the soil, Black man, father, husband, pastor. Positivity in our community that we don’t get enough of. All the time talking about intention, purpose in life, moving the Virgin Islands forward,” said Bryan. “While it may end with me, it starts with you, getting out there and being a part of the intentional moving our place forward, sticking to the issues and looking to our community, helping your brother up when he’s down, walking in and paying full price because you want to be supportive of that Virgin Islands business, and always recognizing and reflecting on the gratefulness, because out of the gratefulness grows the happiness. Know that we have enough to give our fellow man a little piece of bread, because but for the grace of God, there go you, there go I.”