Though her family sometimes received food stamps and occasionally had their utilities cut off, Marcie Alvis Walker’s parents led her to believe that they were an average middle-class Black family. They encouraged her to pursue her dreams and told her that if she worked hard enough, she’d achieve them. The small catch was that Walker’s dream was an elusive one for any cash-strapped and undereducated Black woman: being a New York Times–bestselling author. Now, as a published non-bestselling author, she wishes she’d had a backup plan.

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The second semester of my freshman year of college, I found Jesus. When it happened—it being when I came before the saints and admitted I was a sinner in need of a savior—all I could think about was how happy my mother would be. She’d been sending (tithing) her good, hard-earned money (disability and welfare checks) to every pompadoured, polished, bedazzled, fork-tongued televangelist for years in hopes of saving her wayward children.

I found Jesus because in the first semester of my freshman year, I’d found love. That fall, I slowly fell for a wiry, bespectacled boy from Chicago whom I’d mistaken for a professor because he carried a briefcase and wore a shirt and tie with impeccably creased dress slacks. He seemed taken at first sight of me. I was conceited with the stuff of youth, complaining but delighting in being the chosen object of his infatuation.

“That boy has such a crush on me,” I’d tell my roommate, pitying him whenever we spotted him staring at me from across the common room of our co-ed dormitory. “All I did was say ‘hi,’ and now he follows me everywhere. See? I feel bad for him,” I’d tell my friends whenever we caught him watching us from a lonely table in the corner of the student union. That poor, lovesick boy, we’d sigh.

But since I was vain and he was besotted, a better match couldn’t have been made, not even in a Nora Roberts romance novel.

This boyfriend was not only a Dapper Dan but also a church boy who spent his summers training to be a preacher at his church back home in Chicago. One night, after fooling around and doing everything but actually “doing it,” he asked me if someday I could see myself as the First Lady of his very own church. Rather than say no, I answered, “I’ll have to pray on it.”

For weeks, I let the suggestion sit on a shelf until it curdled. To wear those wide-brimmed, bedazzled hats and white nylons and respectable pumps seemed a lot to ask of a girl. Besides, I was gonna be the next Danielle Steel / Terry McMillan / Larry McMurtry / Fannie Flagg / Alice Walker / Toni Morrison. How were my books gonna be forever wed to bookshelves that were wed to Oprah’s lips that were wed to blockbuster movies if I married a preacher? What preacher’s wife wrote sex scenes in the name of Jesus?

The answer didn’t matter, because I ended up marrying the wanna-be-preacher because he came from money (his mother drove a brand new Honda Prelude and his dad a Cadillac sedan), and if I couldn’t get a BA, I’d do as my mom said and get an MRS.

When we divorced (you can’t be surprised by this), I found Jesus again, but this time in Austin, Texas, with my brand-new husband.

In Texas, I found out that the Bible Belt richly rewarded its Jesus-loving women. Christian publishing was a nearly billion-dollar industry, with Beth Moore, Sarah Young, Jamie Ivey, Jennie Allen, Christine Caine, and Lysa Terkeurst being some of its most commercial lil’ darlings. But none of those writers intrigued me more than Priscilla Shirer, with her halo of natural hair and chestnut brown skin.

A former bible study leader at the Zig Ziglar corporation, Shirer was often the lone Black face on the main stage of sold-out Christian conferences. Her father, Tony Evans, was the Bill Cosby of the Southern Baptist Convention, only without the sex scandal or the sweaters. The family—dad, mom, two sons, and two daughters—was as clean and tidy as the Cleavers. Holier than the Obamas. And Priscilla outshined them all. She’d even outdone her illustrious father, topping bestseller lists, filling megachurch sanctuaries, and even packing movie theaters.

In 2018, when confronted with the Black Lives Matter movement and the church’s role in electing Donald Trump—who infamously equated white nationalists and neo-Nazis with their counter-protestors at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—a white Texas pastor used a video of Shirer to defend his “colorblind” Christian worldview. In the video, Shirer said:

“I do not describe myself as a black woman—because that gives too much power to my blackness. I don’t want ‘black,’ my race, to be the describing adjective, the defining adjective, as a woman. I am not a black woman, I’m a Christian woman who happens to be black!”

I am a Black woman. Nothing else matters unless this fact is first and foremost, because it is first and foremost whenever I walk into a room or look into a mirror. Why anyone wouldn’t want to describe themselves as Black when they are indeed so makes it seem like there’s something better than being Black. For Shirer, that something is being Christian, as if being Black is a sin that needs to be washed away.

The summer I first told my mother I was going to grow up and be a writer, I was thirteen and practically living on roller skates, like Tootie from The Facts of Life, and my sister’s and my favorite song was “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen, whose head was a shroud of braids with beads, and so, of course, my sister and I wore our hair the same as hers, and the whole summer long, our heads clacked like a beaded curtain whenever we turned to answer the sound of our names being called. It was the summer Reagan’s government cheese was all any adult talked about, and the summer I finally got a brand-new orange, brown, and mustard-gold ten-speed—a Huffy Santa Fe—for my birthday, and everybody on the block came over for cake and hot dogs and my brother put the speakers out on the front porch so we could have a dance competition to the 12″ version of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” and that day, no one could’ve convinced me that there was anything higher than being Black. Young-Gifted-and-Black Black. Black-Is-Beautiful Black. Black-Power Black. Black-Lives-Matter Black. And so, forty years later, I wrote a book about how loving Jesus while being Black in America was just about as holy as a person could be, because of the amount of forgiveness you’d have to have to keep that kind of joy and that kind of faith in a society that feigned colorblindness to not see you.

So when I think about Shirer saying, “I don’t want ‘black,’ my race, to be the describing adjective,” I feel a little sorry for her, because I know what it costs to be a Black woman in America. I wrote the book on it. And then I feel a little sorry for myself, because unlike Shirer’s books, mine didn’t become a bestselling moneymaker. For a minute, I was mad about that.

But when I think of what Shirer said—“I am not a black woman…”—my mad envy fades away and I’m thankful, because maybe Jesus made me as Black as Sister Morrison and Sister Angelou and Brother Du Bois and Brother Baldwin for a reason. Or maybe some other God saw fit to make me as Black and as sacred as black ink on a white page. But it’s really none of my concern how I came to be, only that I know that I am that I am, and I will be what I will be.