In February, I took a road trip to Atlanta for a conference, and along the way, I had the chance to stay overnight in Knoxville with Laurie Knox. (Clearly, her last name brought her to the right town). She is my husband’s aunt. Along with the rest of Ian’s family, I have known Laurie since I was 17 years old, so she definitely feels like my aunt too.
During my stay, she gave me a walking tour of downtown Knoxville, and we made several stops. We had pizza and wine at a table outside, and with no shame, we sang along with the panhandling musician just fifteen feet away. (I promise it wasn’t the wine. Truly a lack of shame. And he enjoyed our harmonies).
But the best moment happened when we completely surprised each other with a level of recognition that neither of us expected. When we turned a particular corner, Laurie started telling me a story. She said that years ago at this very spot, she and others had dressed up as clowns to playfully resist a white supremacy rally.
She had not gotten very far into the story before I completely geeked out and interrupted her. “Oh my goodness! Wait, you were there? You were one of the White Flour people?”
I could hardly believe it, and I was stunned and delighted. David LaMotte, a phenomenal musician and peace activist, wrote a poem about this very moment, and I’ve known and shared that poem for years. How could I not know Laurie had helped create this powerful experience?
Here’s the experience itself:
On a day when the KKK came to Knoxville to hold a white supremacy rally, other folks in Knoxville came to the event dressed as clowns. And every time the KKK leaders of the rally shouted terrible, fearful phrases like, “White power!” the clowns pretended to misunderstand what they had said.
“White flour!” the clowns shouted playfully in response, tossing actual flour into the air all over everyone. They continued this approach throughout the rally, constantly “misunderstanding” the message and responding with playful protest. It was quite clever.
But most of all, it was powerful. Their presence took over the entire rally. As they clowned around, others began to join in too, and they transformed the energy of the space to the point that the KKK had to stop entirely, pack up, and go. These clowns transformed the spirit and message of the day.
My aunt was one of those people, and I didn’t even know it.
I am so grateful and proud of her.
I was able to surprise her too because I already knew a bit about this story. Back in 2012, David LaMotte launched a Kickstarter campaign to transform his poem, “White Flour,” into a children’s book. I contributed to that campaign, and I’ve shared the book and the video above with others (definitely check it out).
I had no idea she created this moment, and
she had no idea that David LaMotte created it into a book.
We surprised each other on that walking tour of Knoxville.
No matter how long we’ve been in relationship with people, we can still surprise one another. And no matter what challenges come our direction – including toward our town – we can still surprise one another with the power of relationships.