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  • Writer's pictureSam Baldwin

Agency; Who Has It?

When I first started this internship, I was grappling with the question, “What draws you to the Greeks?” The one thing that stood out to me was the universality of the stories, and how stories of people thousands of years ago, in different life situations and mediums than us, can still be relevant to what we personally and societally go through today. I think this idea of universality in storytelling has led me to the way I research the questions I was posed with next: “What is the historical and modern-day significance of African-American culture’s depictions of “the sight”, prophets, and prophetesses? How does the culture interact with the idea of a person who has visions? Both inside and outside of a religious context?”

I’ve been finding that a lot of the research I have gathered has come from unusual sources, ones I did not expect to be relevant at all. One such discovery I made was from my required Theology course at my university. I should have known it was going to help with this question I was grappling with as the class is literally titled “Poets, Prophets, Divas and Diviners,” but I was struck with some sort of serendipitous glee when I started to read a section of our textbook with the heading, “Characteristics of Prophecy.”

This research is not exactly centered around the Black American experience in particular, but it does reflect the way some spiritual Black Americans view prophets. I was compelled by one characteristic in particular, which is The Prophet’s Compulsion. The Prophet’s Compulsion refers to the inescapable draw to the message that a prophet is given by God. In the case of Agamemnon, and the real people going through the crack epidemic in Oakland, there is a theme of being encaged by circumstances that are pre-destined by institutionalized racism, sexism, and God’s will. The main thing that struck me about the Prophet’s Compulsion was that the message that they are called to preach is not even from their own person; it is a gift from God. This notion is prevalent in Anya’s interpretation, this notion of agency, and who really has it.

While I am extremely happy with the unexpected research I found through my Theology class, I still want to find research more specifically tailored to the Black American experience of prophecy and “the sight” in particular. I’ve found that a lot of the beliefs surrounding prophetic visions in the Black community stem from a belief in the power of dreams. Harriet Tubman was said to have had dreams showing her the routes of the Underground Railroad, and also had allegedly celebrated emancipation three years before the proclamation in 1863. The vision called her to sing “My people are free! My people are free!” in 1860, and it put her in a state of ecstasy. Dreams are also interpreted to be the place where we sort out problems that will arise in our future. You can let yourself do things in your dreams that you would never do in real life, and that experience in the dream can help color your experiences in real life.

I’ve had some trouble finding modern day significance of African American prophets that are not linked with the phenomenon of fake prophets wielding spirituality as a weapon to swindle vulnerable people out of thousands upon thousands of dollars. I want to continue to research this way of living and see how that connects the call of prophecy to money and the abuse of wealth. Furthermore, while this is a culturally relevant phenomenon, I also want to find more research of true Black prophets in the modern age. That is what my research is pulling me to next, and I am very excited to see how this will alter and affect my view of Agamemnon. 

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