Amber Cullen is the organizer of “Until Name Becomes Prayer,” Monday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. at Summit Artspace. The event, which will feature Samoan immigrant, poet and arts educator William Alfred Nu’utupu Giles, is free and open to the public and will pay homage to “every indigenous and immigrant mouth that had to become a history book.” The night is sponsored by Summit Artspace, local artists, local organizations and community members from all over the country.
Organizer of “Until Name Becomes Prayer”
Writing, painting, movement, cultural organizing
How do you describe yourself?
“Artistically, I’m just someone who’s trying to make sense of the world around them. Whether it be unpacking Whiteness through art, exploring expression, asking questions of justice, or finding the remnants of a Christian faith that can be True, I seek to make sense of my own experiences in my world. I describe myself as one who mediates among and lives in the in-betweens–between cultures, between contexts, between communities. I am a convener, an organizer, a listener, a lover, a friend.”
What is an object that describes your art and your work?
“My object is a photo that was taken on the Navajo Nation in the Southwest. I was a part of the LISTEN project through Intervarsity USA, and spent a week in community with a group of Natives and non-Natives, learning about community and transformation from local leaders, elders and neighbors. Being from Ohio, the trip brought to life much for me that in my hometown I was unable to wrestle through due to our own ignorance around indigenous communities.
“And being in the Church, too, invited more questions as I was in a group with Native Christians and learned of complex realities around faith, culture and trauma. This photo in particular struck me, as we were at my friend Shy’s grandmother’s house, patching their family’s hogan (used for ceremony) with another layer of clay. Juxtaposed in front of the hogan was a flag that Courtland, a Native leader on the trip, had displayed on his car as we were working. For me, the juxtaposition of all I was seeing invited me into questions and active repentance. There was so much that I did not know, and did not understand. All I found that I could do is listen, just as the trip asked me to do.
“This photo describes my art and my work because it holds all of the questions that I’m seeking the answers to in the Midwest as I explore theology in paradox, integrating what I’ve learned in other contexts into my own home of Akron, Ohio.”
What are some projects you’re working on?
“A lot of my time lately has been spent organizing ‘Until Name Becomes Prayer.’ I see this project as the capstone of all I’ve wrestled through in the last five years since I first recognized that White Christians (me) did not know what it was to love their neighbor because they were afraid of them. This project specifically is centered around indigenous communities, and my journey in unpacking the layers of what it is to love Native people when my home is The Cleveland Indians and Plastic Leis. My heart for this event is that we all leave a little more open to those around us in community, and that we each continue in our own journey of learning how to care for one another better.
“A lot of this project connects with the work I do as the Director of Communications at South Street Ministries, where we are constantly in in-between spaces in order to bring people together for a common good. We are “unlikely partners taking shared risks to renew our community for Christ’s sake” and offer youth programming in Summit Lake–Bike Shop, Open Gym, Girls Studio, AfterSchool, and Summer Camp, and The Front Porch in South Akron–a multi-functional building which houses employment services, reentry support meetings, employment services, The Front Porch Café, Faithful Servants Free Urgent Health Care Center and The Akron Leadership Foundation.
“Founded in 1997 by Duane and Lisa Crabbs, South Street Ministries has grown into a large community of neighbors dedicated to following Christ and advocating for and working alongside the Summit Lake and South Akron neighborhoods. At South Street, I describe myself as one who creates spaces–whether that’s for girls to unravel their Belovedness through Girls Studio, walking alongside staff/neighbors/donors to write stories for various journalism platforms, or making sure that our team (and others involved in grassroots work across varying faith traditions) is cared for through spaces of reflection and spiritual formation. To me, everything is very connected in that I see all of my work as communicating story towards caring for one another better, which for me is aligned with my convictions in learning from the leadership of Jesus.”
Why did you choose to be a part of “Until Name Becomes Prayer?”
“I guess a better question for me is why I chose to organize ‘Until Name Becomes Prayer’ in the first place. Again, for me, it’s connected to my own personal journey. I did a year-long service program in Philadelphia called Mission Year in 2014, and one of my teammates was Polynesian. That relationship was the start of how I grew into a love of indigenous people, and how I began to understand historical trauma and my role in that, from a context of The Cleveland Indians and Plastic Leis.
“I carried that love back with me to Akron, but struggled to know how to express or apply it here. When I saw that William Nu’utupu Giles, a Polynesian slam poet, was looking for spaces to perform across the mainland, I saw an opportunity to invite my community into learning as I had learned. Because of my own personal experience in the context of relationship, I know that we will be transformed and changed in ways that we didn’t know we needed. I know these things to be true because I have lived the transformation myself in the context of relationship. I organized this event as one who lives in-between communities, seeing the needs from varying perspectives–whether it is for healing and connection, or education, listening, and learning. I see cultural organizing as the work of the future to move forward, together.”
What excites you in your work?
“I am excited when I see vision come into embodied life. I remember when South Street Ministries collaborated with Gum-Dip Theatre for Girls Studio and we applied principles of Theater of the Oppressed, having a vision that these principles would lead the girls to healing and community. It was incredible to see our final forum theater performance where we saw in the girls just that–healing, empowerment and community. I am excited when I see people owning their stories and journeys as I walk alongside them to write, create or ask questions rooted in deep, active listening.
“I am excited when I see how my journey, story and wrestling has led another to reflect on their own life and journey, and they feel empowered to make choices as a result. I am excited by influence, movement and change. And for me, again, that’s connected to the ache to see the liberation of the Gospel embodied in each person, and Shalom/the Kingdom of God embodied on earth.”
What are you looking forward to?
“I am looking forward to all that Will’s leadership will bring us here in Akron. I am looking forward to people having to wrestle through new questions, and for us to see our home through another’s eyes. I am looking forward to so many communities I love and care about collaborating to bring this event together. I am looking forward to living into the love we dream about. I am looking forward to redemption. I am looking forward to grace. I am looking forward to Home.”