Melissa Browning, Ph.D.
Atlanta, Georgia USA

Melissa Browning is a theologian, ethicist, and activist who studies congregational and community-based responses to injustice. Melissa teaches at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University where she is the Assistant Professor of Contextual Ministry. For the past 17 years Melissa’s study and fieldwork has been tied to East Africa. Her recent book, "Risky Marriage: HIV and Intimate Relationships in Tanzania," builds on a year of fieldwork completed in Mwanza, Tanzania where women were asked to re-imagine Christian marriage as a space of safety and health for women. Melissa is also active in death penalty abolitionist work in Georgia and is an ordained Baptist minister.

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On finding your voice…

By on September 21, 2011

shapeimage_2-8This past Friday night, I bundled up my three and a half month old in her Moby wrap and met my good friend downtown for a protest. We joined 2,000 people and marched through downtown Atlanta, asking the state to grant clemency to Troy Anthony Davis, a man who is sitting on death row because he never got a fair trial. While Davis has been in prison, another person has confessed to the crime and seven of the nine witnesses have either recanted or altered their stories. The trial, which took place in 1991, was fraught with police coercion and judicial mistakes. No murder weapon or DNA evidence ever linked Davis to the crime. In short, there is too much doubt surrounding his case. (You can read more about it here.) If you’ve been following the story, you know clemency wasn’t granted. As I write, the case is still undecided. A one hour delay has been granted on the night Troy Davis is set to be executed.

On Friday night when we got home, my little girl had a new trick. She had learned to scream at the top of her lungs. Something about the protest brought it out in her. She found her voice – she learned to be loud. In fact, she practiced her scream – a happy, loud scream – all night long.

As an ethicist who loves a good metaphor, I couldn’t help but but be thrilled that my daughter found her voice at a protest. As I tucked her in bed that night, we prayed for Troy Davis. We prayed for justice. We’re still praying. As I write, I know that it is possible that the state I call home will silence another voice – an innocent voice – for the sake of consistency and process. There’s too much doubt, and death is irreversible. All we can do is pray for justice.

Tonight, as we watch the news and wait, my baby girl can’t sleep. For some reason, she’s not herself. She’s fussy and needs to be held. I hold her tight and hope for a better world. I hope that this vengeful, unsafe place where she was born will become more just because we’re learning to lift our voices together. I’m glad she’s learning that sometimes, you just have to scream.