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From Teen Mom To Ministry Leader, Sarah Jakes Roberts Is Proof Of Restoration In Evolution

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It's hard not to gravitate to Sarah Jakes Roberts. Minutes into our phone call, I am reminded why I, and thousands of others, have found solace in her ministry. She is a force of a spiritual leader, whose magnetism is inextricably tied to her superpower: transparency.


If you've ever seen the first lady and co-pastor of The Potter's House at One LA and Denver in her element, it's difficult to imagine that she once avoided the spotlight that comes with her family name. "I feel like the manifestation of our purpose has different stages: shock, reality of impact, and then there's intentionality," the Don't Settle for Safe author tells me. "I think up until 2015, I just lived in this phase of shock where I felt like, Wow, people understand what I'm saying. I felt this whole time that I was living in this box and on this island, and no one understood but me."

"I feel like the manifestation of our purpose has different stages: shock, reality of impact, and then there's intentionality."

As one of five children to Bishop T.D. Jakes, the West Virginia native spent more time in church than most. In the Mountain State, her father's small congregation felt like kin, but that sentiment would change dramatically once he shifted his ministry to Dallas in 1996.

Only eight at the time, Sarah sensed the gravity of the move but couldn't anticipate the scrutiny that lied ahead. As The Potter's House swelled in size (today, it is home to over 30,000 members), so did the pressure to appear infallible.

As a child, she quickly became acquainted with false rumors surrounding her father's ascension. She also heard the secrets members exchanged about each other and witnessed how men and women bold enough to own their humanity were isolated from those who opted to pretend they had their lives under control.

Sarah attempted to blend in with the latter in an effort to keep her name out of the gossip circuit, but she struggled to find a ministry she believed she could add value to. She soon became content with fading in the background, where she would ultimately discover her tribe – a group of kids who couldn't pinpoint where they belonged in church and itched to experience life beyond the politics of it all. With a desire to feel normal, Sarah didn't merely test the limits between The Potter's House and the world outdoors. She tore through them.

Less than a year after Time magazine deemed T.D. Jakes "America's Best Preacher," Sarah discovered that she was pregnant at 13.

Although her family stood by her side as the judgment poured in, the shame that loomed wouldn't be easy to shake. Sarah worked tirelessly to finish high school early while raising her son, but her attempt to redeem her image unraveled in college as she sunk into an unhealthy relationship (and, later, marriage) marked by infidelity and deceit.

"I think that toxic relationship was my drug of choice," she reflects. "Other people may dive into work, they may dive into alcohol, they may smoke something. For me, that relationship was a distraction from me having to deal with my own pain and issues, and I don't think that I could get to a place where I was ready to receive love again until I figured out why I needed to be distracted from myself."

"I don't think that I could get to a place where I was ready to receive love again until I figured out why I needed to be distracted from myself."

On the brink of divorce, Sarah launched a personal blog as an outlet to address her hurt through prayers and stories that mirrored her own. In this space, she didn't have to conceal her brokenness. Here, she had the liberty to own her scars.

Little did she know, she would draw an audience of women longing to do the same. "I didn't really think that it was ministry but the more that it became increasingly clear that it was, I just made a vow that I was going to be as authentic and transparent as I could be," she says.

Her memoir Lost and Found: Finding Hope in the Detours of Life, a vivid look into her biggest trials and the grace she collided with through them all, followed in 2014. "I felt so many of my experiences were interconnected that I could not paint just half the picture for the person reading it," Sarah insists. "I wanted them to see the full scope of how I ended up in some really challenging but, ultimately, defining moments of my life."

In the years to come, she would rediscover love, expand her family with husband Touré Roberts, and settle into a purpose far greater than she imagined.

sarahjakesroberts.com

"I'd say 2017 is when I really decided to embrace fully that I have a call and that my call is unique to where I am, and it's not limited to where I'm invited but rather it is maximized when I use it to build things that reflect the people who are attached to it," Sarah explains.

This July, she did just that with her first-ever Woman Evolve conference in Denver. Over two days, women in attendance heard from the likes of Angela Rye, Michelle Williams, and Tiffany "The Budgetnista" Aliche during a life-altering experience that promoted both spiritual and practical development.

The idea for the event came to life when the first lady made a notable observation at a women's conference she spoke at earlier in the year. "It stood out in my mind that the women had on these 'Squad Goals' shirts that had Mary, Esther, and Ruth on it, and I was like nobody ever wants Eve to be in their squad goals because Eve messed up so bad by eating from this forbidden fruit," she exclaims.

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As a result, Sarah committed to studying the Book of Genesis where she discovered that Eve's story didn't end in disgrace as common legend would have it after all. "There's this moment when God tells her that her seed is going to crush the head of the serpent," she points out. "If Eve could evolve past her mistakes, she could give birth to something that would ultimately bring restoration. For me, that is the foundation of Woman Evolve – the idea that at some point, we can all identify with being Eve. We can all identify with moments where we knew better but didn't do better, but if we're willing to evolve, then the sky is the limit and restoration is possible for us."

Beyond the pulpit, Sarah is motivating others to not merely survive but thrive in their most trying seasons through her Wild Women fashion collection released this summer. "I think everyone just wants to live in the Promise Land without recognizing that who you become in the wilderness earns you the right to live [there]," the pastor affirms.

"How we maintain our character, our integrity, our faith, and our hope in those critical moments where we feel defeated, where we are disappointed, is ultimately what gives us the power to try again, lift our heads, and keep it moving."

Whether through her Woman Evolve store or upcoming Night In The Wild tour, which starts in Maryland this November, Sarah is igniting a movement that challenges what it means to be a modern woman of faith. "I really feel like I know people online, so I am most excited about connecting with people who have resonated with my messages and with my life," she expresses. "I'm looking forward to that connection and sisterhood."

sarahjakesroberts.com

With nothing less than a transformative adventure in mind, she assures us that walls will come down to get to the heart of all we can become. "I think we, as women, can do very well in surface-level conversation, but it really takes intentionality and transparency for us to be vulnerable, and I think that when someone sets the tone, it allows us all permission to say, 'Well, I'm struggling too,'" she explains. "I'm looking forward to creating an environment by setting the tone with my own vulnerability that helps us to see that the woman I may envy is actually going through something that I can help her with and together, I believe that we can create momentum that allows all of us to win."

In many ways, Sarah Jakes Roberts has become who she once searched for within the walls of the church but couldn't find – a woman who walks in the assurance that her missteps do not disqualify her from God's love or divine use.

"It's really humbling," she says while taking in the full scope of her growth. "When I finished the Woman Evolve conference, I had so many women tell me, 'Congratulations,' but I told them that I'm just glad to be a part of it because this is exactly what I would have needed to keep me from going through the things that I went through. I know that it is helping women who are like me, so I have peace that I had to be the one who struggled and cried so other people could be free."

For more of Sarah Jakes Roberts, follow her on Instagram. And find out more about her Women Evolve movement by clicking here.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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