The Buzz: Joel Osteen, the DeValves, and Hurricane Harvey Teach Us About Allyship

What do vigilante boating rescuers, Erica and Seth DeValve, and Joel Osteen have in common – besides being hot topics of the week (for both good and disastrous reasons)? They all have something to teach us about what it means to be an ally.

Hurricane Harvey, one of the most disastrous storms in US history, has left us with a heavy heart this week (see the best way to help flood victims here), but it’s encouraging to see the outpouring of aid coming from all areas of the country. In times of tragedy, we often see the depth of human suffering and the human capacity for resilience and compassion side by side. This week was no different.

Videos of volunteers in boats, nursing home residents being rescued, and survivors finding their loved ones went viral, and continue to do so. These images and videos provide a break in the despair of this trying time, and they are a reminder that allyship in true form manifests hope. Allies, like those volunteers in boats who are wading out into the flood and those lifting up the voices of people most in need in the wake of such a disaster, manifest hope in moments of great heartbreak because they remind us of the strength we can find in human connection and in mutual survival.

Videos also went viral of Joel Osteen, the prosperity gospel-proclaiming televangelist and pastor of Houston’s biggest mega-church, Lakewood Church, which took a suspiciously long time to open for flood victims (for which he has been sufficiently dragged on Twitter). Osteen defended himself and the church saying, “We’re all about helping the city whenever we could – if they would have asked us to become a shelter early on, we would have prepared for it.”

Which leads me to my next point about allyship – you shouldn’t have to be asked. When the suffering is so great and your resources so abundant (similar to racism and white privilege or any -ism and type of privilege), allies have to be willing to act, to make space, and to potentially give up some of those resources.  Allies just do what they know to be right based on what they know to be unjust. You don’t ask the powers that be before speaking truth to power.

Which brings me to Erica and Seth DeValve. They became buzzworthy folks this week because Seth was the first white player in the NFL to kneel with his black teammates during the National Anthem, and his wife Erica reminded everyone not to make him into a white savior. This #woke couple reminds us that allies show up to support, not to supplant. Lifting up the voices of the marginalized and standing with them in their frustration does not require taking up space with ego or expectations. Rather, it requires that we sit in the knowledge of who we are in relation to privilege and power and stand in the gap as those without privilege and power lead.

So, allies (all of us), let’s learn from the Buzz this week: manifest hope, act with courage, and embody humility.

About Caroline Belden

Caroline Belden is a writer and social justice advocate who is passionate about pursuing equity and creating transformative and sustainable paths to inclusion and trust across lines of difference. She is an Innovation and Learning Associate at The Winters Group, Inc.