A Community of Reliable Others

In his book, Cut Dead, But Still Alive, Caring for African American Young Men, my friend and mentor, Dr. Gregory C. Ellison, II outlines this notion of a “community of reliable others.” This community, he says, does three things:

  1. share their stories of vulnerability through “authentic truth-sharing” to “elicit fearless dialogue”;
  2. work to envision new possibilities in the midst of hopelessness;
  3. act prophetically in supporting and nurturing those people once ignored and “unseen” living in the margins.
    (p. 153)

This community of reliable others, then, becomes a critical component to the lives of those who live in the margins, those whose lives are often strained between the hope for an imagined future and the hopelessness often found in a present reality.

I know what it is like to live between hope and hopelessness; life as a single mother has proven itself to be a path that is not for the faint of heart. It often requires one to choose many other people, places, and things over the well-being of self. It often snuffs out the secret hopes and desires of a woman whose dreams were once bigger than life — who has laid them aside to meet the most immediate needs of kids who grow entirely too fast. It often leaves behind a burning hope that cannot be quenched.

In the last 10 months, I have traveled to Brazil, London, and Uganda. I graduated from seminary, had an article published in one of the largest Christian publications in the country, preached the good Gospel of Jesus Christ (twice!), wrote about and protested against issues that matter to me, worked with a high schoolers who were searching for God in the midst of chaos, managed social media accounts and curated blogs, hosted a workshop at Allume, wrote a small group curriculum for single moms, and a bunch of other stuff.

Today, I’ll set off on another adventure, one that will take me 6,000+ miles around the world to see God in a new way. To see myself in a better way. To see other people in the best way.

I don’t say these things to boast. I say them to give credit to where credit is due: my community of reliable others.

The community of reliable others who baby sit 10-year-olds and keep them happy and safe in my absence;
the community of reliable others who drop a lil’ somethin’ something’ in the PayPal simply because they thought of us;
the community of reliable others who come over with prepared food or gift cards or fresh flowers;

the community of reliable others who treat us to dinner;
the community of reliable others who make laughter a part of our day-to-day lives;
the community of reliable others who believe in me more than I sometimes believe in myself.

It is because of the community that this single mom can leave Decatur to do what she coined as her mantra for my last year of seminary: write, teach, and travel.

I didn’t really know what that meant when I first said it; it was vague and scary. It had no shape or real path. I just knew that it was what I wanted to do… needed to do.

Last night, I left Ashli at my moms house for the third weekend in a row. Between speaking at Allume, attending an FTE retreat, and finally, this weekend’s excursion to Israel, Ashli has had her fill of mama’s travel schedule! She wept, profusely, asking for me to stay home. She begged and reason in my mother’s kitchen, searching my eyes for the possibility of concession.

Sadly, she found none. (but we did manage to take this nice picture!)


You can imagine the heartbreak I felt having to leave behind this brown-eyed-girl who ached to have her mama stay home “this time;” you can imagine the tension between saying “not this time” to your child in order to say “yes, it’s time” to the call to go.

But it is the community of reliable others that have shared their own truths, their own moments of regret and triumph that carry me to say yes anyway.

It is the community of reliable others that envision new possibilities for not only my life, but their own — knowing that if I can stand at the water’s edge and be brave enough to wade through the proverbial waters, others can too.

It is the community of reliable others who are prophetic guides, using their own giftings to nurture me from the margins.

But I cannot help to think about the millions of single mothers whose hopes will never actualize because they do not have a community of reliable others to support them.

I think about the crushing realities of “not enough” and “not yet,” both of which seem to never actualize themselves because of the systems in place that make those possibilities impossible.

How do we become intentional about building a community of reliable others around single mothers across the globe, a community that helps us actualize our dreams? I’m reminded of the single mothers I met in Brazil and Uganda earlier this year who, too, were working towards their dreams. They have hopes just like me — and it’s because of community that they are able to finish degrees and build their businesses.

I cannot account for any of this on my own — I am only able to do these things because I have a community of people who support me. It is the only and sole reason.

Grateful for you who support me in ways I cannot begin to articulate.

This trip is for you. THANK YOU.

On the chase,

Alisha L.

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