yourself with people who have instilled hope in
This was a piece of advice I received early in my
Whether at home or in my study, I was encouraged to
place pictures of those I can turn to when I’m in
need of inspiration and courage.
On the wall in my study hang photographs of three
people who remind me that this vast work in which I
participate began long before I arrived, and will
continue well after I’m gone. Each hangs in its own
frame, as a reminder that their stories are their
own. Even so, collectively, these stories intersect
the hopeful vision of what humanity can become.
In one of these frames hangs the portrait of former
slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. There is
perhaps no greater story of overcoming oppression,
injustice, and imprisonment.
As a slave Douglass was equated with ‘things,’ like
cows, pigs, or oxen. These ‘things’ were property,
and so was Douglass. Slaves resisted this
categorization by appealing to their masters when
overseers were unnecessarily violent or abusive. If
their masters responded with compassion in one
situation, the assumption was that similar treatment
for other slaves would follow. This compassion
acknowledged and therefore humanized slaves; this
was something that the system of slavery could not
afford in order to remain effective.
Douglass’s formative moment of self-discovery was
his personal resistance to an overseer, which
Douglass describes as his last flogging. This
scuffle ended with Douglass drawing blood from his
overseer, rather than the other way around.
Following this act of resistance, Douglass was never
Even more importantly, this incident was the turning
point in Douglass’ ‘life as a slave.’
“It rekindled in my breast
these moldering embers of liberty; it brought up my
Baltimore dreams, and revived a sense of my own
manhood. I was a changed being after that fight. I
was nothing before; I WAS A MAN NOW.” 
Through this experience, Douglass experienced a selfhood
resurrection ‘from the dark and pestiferous tomb of slavery, to the
heave of comparative freedom.’ While still physically a slave,
Douglass recovered his personhood, and began to experience his true
identity as a ‘somebody.’
All of us are somebody’s. Like Douglass, all of us have a story to
tell. While our struggles may not be as extreme or dramatic as
Douglass’s, we glean from his narrative that we all posses the
strength to somehow rise above those things, which keep our true
selves at bay.
Perhaps some of us have already been liberated.
Others among us stand on shaking legs, as we search for the courage
to be somebody.
Frederick Douglass hangs on my wall not just because of his role in
shaping American history, but also his journey engaging the
necessary work of being emancipated from the age-old lie that he
could be only a slave and nothing else.
Douglass hangs on my wall as a reminder that I can
that you can
that we can
be liberated into the freedom of our true identity.
Douglass hangs as a reminder of the profound belief in human
equality and the hope that everyone may discover his/her true self.
So I ask, friends: who reminds of you of this in your space?
[Adam Quinn, Pastor First Presbyterian Church
 Douglass, Frederick. “Autobiographies: Narrative of the life of
Frederick Douglass, an American slave; My bondage and my freedom;
Life and times of Frederick Douglass.” Ed. Gates Jr., Henry Louis
(New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1994), 286.