My Umi Says…

My Umi says…
Shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see. –Mos Def, “My Umi Says”

Most connoisseurs of real hip-hop will recognize that song and for those that are unfamiliar with it, it is on the Black on Both sides album and it is required listening. I just rented Dave Chappelle’s Block Party DVD and though I enjoy every artist on that DVD, Mos Def’s performance really hit a nerve on several levels that I want to share with you.

Unlike on the album, Mos Def says during his performance, “Sometimes, I just want to be Dante, but my Umi says…” When he said that, I was reminded of all the times I have said and heard other people say, “I’m just trying to do me.” Often times, we say this in order to explain and/or justify to people that we need to indulge ourselves. Of course, there is nothing wrong with recharging our batteries, but what would happen if every time we said, “I’m just trying to do me,” we said, “I’m just trying to do God’s will.”

But let’s keep it real, shall we? “You doing you,” doesn’t really become a big deal until you get tired. Tired of work, tired of life, tired of giving, whatever it is, a constant state of being tired might be indicative of a larger problem. When we are tired, our fleshly impulses rise to the surface unless we look to the hills from which cometh our help. In Isaiah 40:29 the Bible says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”

So when we are tired, why would we try to give ourselves a tune up when the Creator knows every hair that is on your head? In other words, you can’t do you if you don’t know you. And God knows us through and through, so it would make sense we would go to him when we are weary in well doing.

So let’s just realize that when we say, “I’m just trying to do me,” it is really our flesh talking. But even when you say flesh, some people automatically think of these larger than life vices, but what about the middle? I define the middle as all the things you do on a regular basis that you don’t consider bad but doesn’t necessarily glorify God. This is the real battleground. For example I myself like jazz music and I am listening to it right now. So when I say, “I need to do me,” it will more often than not involve jazz music. But when it is time for me to get in the Word or pray, the jazz has to go because before I know it, jazz music could become an idol in my life that prevents me from entering into the Holy of Holies. Replace my jazz example with knitting or lifting weights because whatever it is, I am convinced that we have been fooled into thinking better of ourselves on account of letting all of these seemingly harmless activities become the center of our lives without our even knowing or admitting so. Therefore, I encourage all of us to really pay attention to what we say and how we may inadvertently lull ourselves to complacency.

My Abi says shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see.

I have been thinking about what it means to make your light shine. So I guess a good place to start to would be to examine what is meant by light. My first inkling is to correlate God with light but I would need to find evidence for this in the Word. And what do you know? In I John 1:5 the Bible says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” And in 2 Corinthians 4:4, the Bible states, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

The other part of the equation involves how we actually shine our light. For the longest time, when I would hear of shining your light on the world, I would think of Psalty and the Singing Songbook (do you remember Psalty?) and other figures that permeated my Sunday School/Children’s Church experience. But as I got older, the only place I felt comfortable enough to let my light shine was in church and after getting complacent in the things of God, it started to dim there as well. So here I am walking around thinking I am letting my light shine by doing “good” things and being nice to people when I was missing the big picture.

In fact, it is only when I allow God unfettered access to different departments of my life, that I am able to let me light shine. And when that happens, people notice the God in you and will want to know how you maintain a glow that radiates love, compassion, and a desire to be significant and not successful.

And where do we get tripped up? I think we limit our ability to witness when we are at work or any situation where God comes up in conversation and the most common question is, “So you do you consider yourself religious or spiritual?” And of course, 9 out 10 people will say they are spiritual, and then it is on to the next topic. But what would happen, if you didn’t minimize your faith into being spiritual when just yesterday you were lifting Holy hands, asking God to help you be a witness to your co-workers? What would happen if you asked someone what they meant by being spiritual? What would happen if you shared with others how God changed your life once you made the decision to live a righteous life?

I am scared of the possibilities because just like we wait on friendships, we also wait on the opportune time to witness or otherwise share our faith. Stop waiting! Now am I saying that you should go to work in your Sunday suit and a Bible in your hand? No, but what I am saying is that you don’t have to share your whole doctrine of Christianity in one setting. Work it in conversation and don’t be timid. In the word it says, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) Mull on that a little bit.

“I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free
All my people to be free, to be free, to be free”

Lastly, I want to touch on the part of the song where Mos Def repeatedly declares he wants his people to be free. Free from what? And what does freedom mean, really? If you do have freedom, are there different levels of it or is like an a la carte’ menu, able to mixed and matched accordingly? Thankfully, Garlin took on the mighty task of tackling the sticky issue of whether or not freedom is truly indivisible. And I agree with him that it is indeed divisible. But when we say, “I want my people to be free,” this now brings into the debate the following question: what is an acceptable level of freedom? In other words, what is the tipping point at which I transition from not free to free or from not having freedom to having freedom?

I think too often times we as Black folk get too caught up in trying to define the goals and vision for the race, especially as it relates to freedom. My suggestion is that whatever you think Black people need to be freed from, make efforts to break that obstacle, get educated on that obstacle, pray for its demise, and make this effort tangible and personal. I know I was kind of all over the place with this post, but I hope you stayed with me and will make your voice heard.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

Tags: ,

12 responses to “My Umi Says…”

  1. l. renaissance says :

    damn, brandon, i must say, this post is super deep. keep rollin.

  2. Michelle says :

    What does it mean “Iwant my people to be free”? How about free of the curse of Willie Lynch. Black people are still slaves to his theory/curse. Let’s start with that one….

  3. bqw says :

    Michelle, thank you for your comment. I think you hit the nail on the head regarding your question, “What does it mean, ‘I want my people to be free.'” I honestly don’t know which is why I wrote in my post,

    think too often times we as Black folk get too caught up in trying to define the goals and vision for the race, especially as it relates to freedom. My suggestion is that whatever you think Black people need to be freed from, make efforts to break that obstacle, get educated on that obstacle, pray for its demise, and make this effort tangible and personal.

    As to your Willie Lynch comment, I think Black folks suffer severely from the maxim, (and I am borrowing from the Lynch letter) “DISTRUST IS STRONGER THAN TRUST AND ENVY STRONGER THAN ADULATION, RESPECT OR ADMIRATION. The Black slaves after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self refueling and self generating for HUNDREDS of years, maybe THOUSANDS.”

    Michelle, how do we start with that one?

  4. Charice says :

    This was truly beautiful writing and you are obviously doing what God wanted and helping others through your written word. I am always grateful for inspiring and uplifitng messages and I found your blog to be exactly that.

    Check out

    I would really appreciate someone like yourself to be a part of a growing network I’ve just created. Many blessings to you.

  5. AJCInk says :

    I just relistened to “UMI Says” from the “Dave Chappelle…Soundtrack” and noticed he said he just wants to be Dante’, and I think I had the same thoughts you had. I must say, your thought process here is dead on!! Awesome execution!!

  6. Brandon Q. says :

    Charice and AJCInk, thanks for the kind words. You don’t know how much inspiration I receive from your comments.

  7. Booli says :

    i like how your takin a muslim rappers perspective and making reference to your christian beliefs! MUSIC UNITES!

  8. Jenny B says :

    I like this, I really do… Sometimes when I listen to this song I feel free, because I do understand what he means. And God is wonderful to inspire him with this song.

    And about the flesh talking part, your right about that… Because doing you is just like being selfish and not thinking of others including God. Really true

    God is truly using you and I pray that he will keep on inspiring you!

    PS: I love jazz too and funny enough I am listening to it now! lol

  9. tj says :

    What a great post! I see us, as black people, using slavery or discrimination as a crutch to keep us in slavery of hatred, revenge and a trying-to-prove-ourselves to the world. It distracts us from our true purpose as God’s children.

  10. Steve says :

    I only read about half of your entry
    but i can relate to your story. i’ve
    only heard this song at my workplace
    and the chorus is what got it for me.
    I’ll have to listen to it more comprehensively
    now and read the rest of your note.

    keep on the straight and narrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: