A Prayer for Pimped Butterflies and Pessimists

Two powerful sounds came together this week.

The first set of sounds accompanied the video footage of a South Carolina law enforcement officer taking the life of South Carolina resident Walter Scott.

The second set of sounds accompanied the lyrics of Washington D.C. based rapper Wale on his new song, The Pessimist (feat. J. Cole). The track is a powerful lamentation on the different members of our society whose Hope tank is on “E”.

Wale’s song opens with this clip from the 1992 Seinfeld episode, “The Fix Up”, where George Costanza is explaining to Jerry Seinfeld why he’s had enough of being hopeful.

George: I mean it’s gotten to the point where I’m flirting with operators on
the phone. I almost made a date with one.

Jerry: Oh, so there’s still hope.

George: I don’t want hope. Hope is killing me. My dream is to become hopeless. When you’re hopeless, you don’t care, and when you don’t care, that indifference makes you attractive.

Jerry: Oh, so hopelessness is the key.

George: It’s my only hope.

We can laugh at George’s frustration with the state of his love life. We can relate to his desire to throw up his hands, throw in the towel, and give up on the entire dating game.

But Wale’s song (and this post) are not about the George Costanza’s of our country…they are about our nation’s “Pimped Butterflies”…

Album Cover for Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 release, “How to Pimp a Butterfly”

Over the past few years we have seen a steady stream of tragedies which, though occurring in different cities…to men of different ages… at the hands of different kinds of law enforcement officers… have produced the same result….and sent the same message to our young men.

Over the past few decades we have also seen a parallel stream of tragedies in cities and towns across the country which, though occurring for various reasons… resulting from the actions of various parties… using guns acquired through various means… have produced the same result… and sent the same message to our young men:

That their lives are worth less.

The question of what message our society is sending about whose lives are worth more is a valid one, and it is being engaged by many strong voices in this moment. The debate of over which form of death is worse: Death by an Agent of the State or Death by a Peer in the Neighborhood is also being engaged by many strong voices. However, with each casket, containing each young male, I grow less interested in these conversations.

Whether from social cancers festering within their communities, or institutionalized viruses coming from outside their communities…the mental, emotional, spiritual, and psychological immune systems of our young men are under assault.

With each national incident that appears on my TV screen and Twitter feed, I ask myself, what is the antidote? What ought to be the words coming from people of good conscience, good will and good sense in this moment? What counter-message should we be providing to our young men?

This post is an open letter to men and women of all (and no) faith traditions who are engaged in the work of seeing and supporting the “Pimped Butterflies” who live in communities all over the country. That said, as a person of Christian faith, my life is centered around the practice of praying and engaging the texts contained in The Bible… and so from that place, I offer this passage:

“but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts” – The Bible, New Testament, Romans, Ch. 5, verses 3-5

Like I said, this an open letter…not a sermon…so I will close with questions and not with commands:

  • Are the sufferings of our young men our sufferings as well?
  • Is the physical, mental, emotional and psychological suffering of our young men producing perseverance in them or in us?
  • Is hope what prevents them from being put to shame? If so, what does the hopelessness articulated in Wale’s song mean for our youth?
  • What has been poured into the hearts of the young men in our country?

In the spirit of Hope. In the memory of Mr. Scott. In the prayers for our young men.


– Day G.

Host, Class of Hope & Change