RESCHEDULED: This lecture, originally planned for Sept. 8, has been rescheduled for Sept. 15 at 4 p.m. due to Hurricane Dorian.
For Tena Clark, a rural Mississippi-born author, remaining silent about injustice is as wrong as betrayal: “You’re just as guilty.”
“Silence, to me, is a deadly sin,” she said, mentioning abuse and mistreatment of minorities.
“It doesn’t mean you have to walk around fighting and arguing about everything you hear,” she said.
But Clark believes simply speaking up to say, “That’s not OK,” or “Explain that to me why you think that’s OK,” can help.
Doing her part on speaking out, Clark wrote a book.
Clark will speak at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home at 4 p.m. Sept. 8 about “Southern Discomfort,” her memoir about growing up in the South. The event is free.
She’ll read her book’s prologue, talk about her life and why she wrote the book.
Clark will also talk about similarities between herself and the home’s namesake — “there are some intersections which are pretty obvious,” she said — but attend the event to find out which qualities the two writers share.
Reoccurring points in a phone interview with Clark, who lives in Atlanta, are treating people as equals and perseverance.
Growing up, she kept seeing African Americans treated with inequality, a consistent “drip, drip, drip” of discrimination. She was told, “well, that’s just the way it is.”
She said she knew there was something wrong when the color of someone’s skin defined them.
Clark mentions two lines in “Walk the Line,” a song she wrote: “I’m no better than you/You’re no better than me.”
Clark learned to speak out and trust what she saw. If, for instance, she saw someone beat up another person, then “it’s not 'Well, maybe they were just playing around',” she said.
And when it comes to discrepancies in her own life, she learned to persevere.
Clark was born into wealth in 1953 in a tiny Mississippi “fairy tale,” according to her book’s press release. “But behind closed doors, Tena’s life was deeply lonely, and chaotic.”
“It would have been very easy for me… to have really gone in different direction,” she says. She could have numbed herself with drugs or been self-indulgent.
Clark wants to excel, learn and never repeat injustice she saw. She mentions an idea from American poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes about ships: They’re not built to dock safely in harbor, but for storms.
“You can either let your pain and dysfunction that you grow up in… define you, or let that lift you up and embolden you and just make you a better person,” she said.