Cece Jones-Davis: What can I do outside of Sundays to promote what I believe in the way that I live, in the way that I love, in the way that I try to care for people? There’s a scripture that says those who thirst after righteousness will be filled. Well, that word righteousness is interchangeable for justice, those who thirst for justice shall be filled. We’re all thirsting for justice in a lot of different ways and about a lot of different issues in the world right now.
Everyone Is Worthy of God’s Love: Cece Jones-Davis & Danielle Coke – Episode #257
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. The idea of loving others doesn’t seem too difficult when we put it in the context of those closest to us, the ones who support us, care for us, and who give love in return. But the love that God commands us to have as Christians goes beyond that love we have in small circles—and it demands that as Jesus first loved us, we must love others in return. In the Bible, we’ll find in I John 4:20–21, it says: Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. Our guests this week have committed their lives to show the world that there isn’t anyone who isn’t worthy of love—both God’s love and the love of their fellow man. We’re talking to singer, speaker, and social advocate Cece Jones-Davis, and digital artist Danielle Coke.
Let’s begin this week with Cece’s story.
Cece: I am Cece Jones-Davis, I am an ordained minister, a speaker, singer, activist, and I do my best to allow the stories of other people to live inside my life in a way that causes me to hopefully love my neighbor a little bit better by engaging and helping and caring as much as I can about others.
I’m from a very small town called Halifax County, Virginia, I was raised by my mom and dad, who was a school teacher, and my dad was a landscaper. I was also really influenced by my grandparents growing up. My mother’s mother, Leola, was a mother of ten children. My twin sister and I, she considered us her eleventh and twelfth children just because [we were] around her so much and, you know, just being at our grandparents feet on a regular basis was so nurturing for us. And we didn’t realize that we didn’t have much, we had no idea how little our family had because we were so nourished by so much love from our family members and from the wider community.
I’m Here for a Reason
When I was a little girl, I was really into church. I was raised Methodist. And, you know, I don’t think there were a lot of kids who got excited about revival. My uncle was a Baptist preacher in New York, and he would come down to Virginia every year to do revivals. I was so excited about this, I would go to school telling my friends, you know, “Oh my gosh, we’re having revival for the next three nights.” I always had an immense love for church community, for eating together every third Sunday after church, for helping my grandmother prepare food to take to our potluck.
As a kid, I was curious. I wanted to know more, even though there was a lot about spirituality that was really scary to me. And the older I got, that yearning just never left me, it constantly chased me down. And it drove me into pursuing God.
“As a kid, I was curious, I wanted to know more, even though there was a lot about spirituality that was really scary to me. And the older I got, that yearning just never left me, it constantly chased me down. And it drove me into pursuing God.” – Cece Jones-Davis
Thinking that we’re not enough, it comes from so many places, right? So it comes from outside sources, things that people have said about us, to us, throughout the course of our lives.
For example, I never thought of myself as a smart person, because growing up—I have a twin sister—I was regularly compared to her. And I don’t think it was ever intentional. But I was compared to her: “She’s the short one. She’s the tall one. She has the round face. She has the long face. This is the smart one. She’s artsy.”
God has had to do a lot of work with me over the years to say, “You are smart, you are enough, you’re not just what other people have said about you, whether it was intentionally to hurt you or not. And remember that you’re here in this space and this time for a reason, and that your voice is one that people want to hear. You’ve got something to contribute,” you know, you have to replace negative self-talk with positive affirmation all the time, because there’s always stuff trying to tear us down, whether it’s outside or inside. We have to have something consistently to counter it and usually consistently is our own voice. We’ve got to be able to say, “No, that’s not true about me. I’m here for a reason.”
“God has had to do a lot of work with me over the years to say, ‘You are smart, you are enough, you’re not just what other people have said about you.’” – Cece Jones-Davis
Walking Outside My Comfort Zone
Coming from a small town, I hadn’t been really exposed to much of the country or really much of various culture, and so it was important to me out of high school to go to college in a setting where I felt like it challenged me. So I decided to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., and major in sociology. Howard is a historically Black college. It was established during a time, in an era, where African-American people did not have the opportunities to go to predominantly white, higher educational institutions. And so I went to Howard and really saw how beautiful culture is, even more than an education. I went to Washington, D.C. and I saw with my eyes for the first time so many of the social issues that we talk about and I had seen depicted on TV or I had heard about on the radio, but I had never really seen for myself. I had never seen homelessness. You know, I had never seen someone pushing a grocery cart down the street. I had never seen anybody sleeping on a sidewalk. You know, I’ve never seen somebody, you know, just destitute, just busyness going on around them, but there they are, destitute. I had never understood poverty and crime and drug addictions and all sorts of things that you find when you go to a city, you know? And so that experience really opened my mind and opened my heart up to things that just broke me.
When you’re put into those situations and you’re seeing things for the first time, they quickly become overwhelming because you can buy a Band-Aid for a bump on the head, but you can’t fix the fact that someone is having mental health issues and refuses to sleep inside or you can’t help the fact that, you know, they don’t have money to stay in a hotel or a long term living environment.
And it was my last year at Howard that I realized that I needed to figure out exactly what I was going to do with my life. I realized that I had to start praying a little bit differently, and I had to start saying, “God I’m willing, I’m willing to do what it is you want me to do, even if what you want me to do scares me.”
Going to an Ivy League institution was too lofty for me to consider, you know, I would not have thought I was smart enough. I wouldn’t have thought I had enough money. I would not have thought that I could be considered for somewhere like Yale, but because God said it, I applied, and I got in. And I went to Yale for Divinity School. I spent three years at Yale Divinity School and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Worship, and the Arts, and it was those three years that were extremely foundational.
I also learned there that my ministry has, from the beginning, has been been about my public witness and about how I can outwardly face toward the world outside of the church. What can I do? And so I’m happy to be living in this time when I feel like my life can be used in some way to advance God’s kingdom and to stand up for what I believe God is on the side of.
”My ministry has, from the beginning, been more about my public witness and about how I can outwardly face toward the world outside of the church. What can I do? And so I’m happy to be living in this time when I feel like my life can be used in some way to advance God’s kingdom and to stand up for what I believe God is on the side of.” – Cece Jones-Davis
And if I can live my life on fire, if I can live my life as a flame, if I can stand beside something and illuminate it for someone—I might not be able to do it for everybody. And I have to be okay with that, everybody is not going to agree with me. Everybody’s not going to see an issue the same way that I see it. Sometimes we are just going to be so steeped in our own selfishness and our own misery and our own problems and our own thing and our own money and our own stuff that we are not going to be able to see. I focus on planting seeds and watering and trusting God to give increase.
Connecting People to God and Each Other Through Music
l was a worship leader for a long time. I started to think how, at that time of my life, worship leading was such a powerful platform to give people information beyond the music. Music is a healer, you know, music is a communicator, it is the universal language. Music is a convener of all kinds of groups of people from all kinds of places, it is such an easy tool to use to bring messages, to bring peace, to bring hope, just to bring awareness, whether it is spirituality, like spiritual awareness.
I just started to get a conviction about the fact that a lot of people over the years have really enjoyed listening to my music, listening to me sing, and I started to get a conviction about how many eyes were on me at any given time when it came to music, but what were they really taking away? And so I created a nonprofit called Sing for Change, which was about using music and musical events to gather people and to communicate information to them about social issues.
Music is such a powerful, powerful tool that God has given us, and more and more, I just want to use it for my own healing, for the healing of others, but also for the healing of communities.
God is healing
All because of grace, all because of grace
And a lot of times I’m connecting to God in the songs I’m singing to Him while I’m in the shower. A lot of times, I’m connecting with God as I’m sitting and having breakfast with my kids reading the Jesus Calling devotional for kids with them.
I have the Jesus Calling devotional book. My mom and my sister have it. And so all the kids in my family do Jesus Calling, so sometimes I’m connecting to Jesus through those little stories just like my kids are, you know what I mean? Sometimes I’m connecting as I’m sitting at my desk and I’m like, “Okay, now, Lord, I know we haven’t had a long conversation today yet, but Lord, you saw the calendar. I’m going to need you to be with me every step of the way.”
“Sometimes I’m connecting as I’m sitting at my desk and I’m like, ‘Okay, now, Lord, I know we haven’t had a long conversation today yet, but Lord, you saw the calendar. I’m going to need you to be with me every step of the way.’” – Cece Jones-Davis
My time with God looks different all the time. And I’ve stopped beating myself up about it. Right? Because I used to beat myself up listening to all these other dynamic, profound people and how they spent time with God. I used to beat myself up like, Oh my gosh, so that means I need to pray three hours every morning and then I’ll be just as profound, or, you know, I need to do it just like they do or whatever. Now, I do think that some things are foundational, scripture and prayer, I mean, you really can’t get away with that. You have to incorporate those things. But I don’t have a pattern. Not having a pattern is what works for me and God. To know that we are known and loved anyway, it’s the best thing ever.
Stay tuned to Danielle Coke’s story after a brief message.
Jesus Calling TV Show – Season 2 Now on Circle!
Jesus Calling is back for Season 2 of the TV Show Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith, which premieres on May 18th. This season is hosted by Susie McEntire-Eaton and features so many wonderful stories from artists, celebrities, sports figures, and more. You won’t want to miss these real-life stories from people like football legend Kurt Warner, country superstar Reba McEntire, worship singer David Crowder, and beloved coach Tony Dungy—and many more. Tune in every Tuesday and then again on Sunday starting May 18th, on Circle TV. For more information on how to get the show via cable or on streaming devices, visit Circleallacess.com.
Narrator: Our next guest is digital illustrator Danielle Coke, who has a passion for using her voice and her talents to bring about a much-needed change in the world. Danielle shares about her own faith, and how she seeks to love her neighbors well, just as God loved us.
Danielle Coke: My name is Danielle Coke, and I am a digital illustrator and social justice advocate, and I aim to use my art and my words to help make complex ideas surrounding social justice and race more digestible and easier to understand.
So I was born in Brooklyn and raised kind of in New York, but moved to Georgia at a young age, maybe around third grade, and both of my parents are from Jamaica. And so we grew up in a very Jamaican household: Jamaican food, like all the culture, was very present in my household.
And another thing that was super important to them that I adopted myself was faith. My dad was a pastor at a church for a long time. And then when we moved to Georgia, he joined a pastoral team at the church that they’re currently at now. And they really taught me about what it meant to love God and love Him for myself. So I’m super thankful for that.
I’ve also always been very creative. I would get in everything, I’d get in Play-Doh, I’d get in paint, I’d get in crayons. And so as I got older, my parents noticed and I would paint canvases or terracotta pots, I’d make gift baskets. I just always wanted to use my hands. And that led me to dabble in graphic design as I got a little bit older.
I loved art, but I never viewed it as a career path, it just never occurred to me. I did it for fun, but decided to go to school, to go to college for business. And I graduated with my Business Administration degree, and I got a job at an event planning agency. And it was there where I quickly realized that event planning is just not for me.
But I got in the door through a marketing and graphic design position, and I only viewed it as a way to get into the industry. But I quickly realized that I just enjoyed it so much more than the event planning side of things. So in August of 2019, I quit my job and decided to freelance and do art and graphic design full time. So I started a little business where I would help positive mission-based brands use social media for maximum impact, whether it was through designing social media content for them or branding or anything like that. And I did that for a few months.
I’ve also always been super passionate about justice related issues, racial reconciliation, all of these topics. And so in January, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and I saw the opportunity to kind of create an illustration that was different from the cute stuff that I would normally draw. And I wanted to speak truth to his legacy and kind of reframe what I feel like his holiday had become to what I truly wanted it to be about, and I did so. And when I posted it, it was shared by people I didn’t know, like, I saw people outside of my family and friends sharing it. And I was like, Whoa, this is weird. I only have like seven hundred followers. I said, “Huh, I wonder if I keep going with this, if maybe I can illustrate harder topics and get more people to be willing to listen if it’s pretty.”
So, experiment. I would draw about things like how it’s important to see in color and not say that you don’t see color, and how to navigate race-related conversations in a healthy way and what allyship means. And I just started to dive into those issues and people continue to share my work and share my work. But that’s kind of how all of this came about.
A Passion for Racial Justice
I believe that a lot of personal life experiences helped to shape that current passion for racial justice, and it stemmed from growing up occupying predominantly white spaces. So because of my design experience, I found myself working for predominantly white churches, predominantly white organizations. I also, growing up, I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, a town, I mean, not necessarily my neighborhood, but my town. And then even as recently as last year, I worked at a predominantly white organization full time.
So all of these instances helped shape the passion that I have around racial justice, because I’ve witnessed what happens when diversity is not a priority or equity, I should say, is not a priority. And so because of those experiences, I grew increasingly more passionate about the importance of pursuing God’s heart in this area and making sure that people understand you don’t have to be a professional diversity/equity inclusion facilitator. You don’t have to have a degree in racial justice to recognize the importance of it and to help people not only feel like they have a seat at the table, but that anyone from a historically underrepresented community is valued, is worthy, and should feel included in any space that they occupy. So that’s kind of how that passion grew for me into what it is now.
“All of these instances helped shape the passion that I have a racial justice because I’ve witnessed what happens when diversity is not a priority.” – Danielle Coke
I did some research early on into the power of artivism and using art as a form of activism as well as the power that illustration has on the human mind. And it’s so interesting to think about how it’s tied to nostalgia, people equate illustrations with cartoons and things that they remember watching growing up when they were feeling more comfortable and their guards were let down. And so what I found with these illustrations is that when someone is scrolling through their social media feeds, they’re seeing all sorts of messaging. And when they see an illustration, it’s almost as if their guard is let down and they’re like, Oh, this is nice. This is pretty. I feel comfortable looking at this. And then when they start to engage and digest the content, they’re like, Oh, this is changing my perspective.
A big part of why I’m so passionate about justice is tied back to my relationship with God and how I view His calling for our lives. So my favorite scripture of all time is Luke 10:27: You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. And part of the reason why that really shaped the work that I do is that when it comes to loving your neighbor, it sounds really good in theory, and we all want to be able to do that fully, but when it comes to things like disagreements or not having the same lived experiences, it can put a barrier between you and the love that you want to have for your neighbor. And I love the fact that in that scripture, loving God comes first because it’s through that love that we are empowered to fully love our neighbors as ourselves, because for me at least, I found that it’s hard to do that completely of my own accord. And so that love that I have for God and cultivating what it means to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength really helps direct the relationships that I have with people in the everyday. And it only makes me want to pursue justice and want to understand other people’s lived perspectives, and want to help change people’s minds.
“A big part of why I’m so passionate about justice is tied back to my relationship with God and how I view His calling for our lives.” – Danielle Coke
I encourage people to seek the scriptures about how God is consistently calling us to seek justice and love mercy, how He’s giving us stories like the Good Samaritan and illustrating what it means to not just walk past by someone who is struggling, but to help them, lift them up, and be there in a tangible way. And so that’s the first thing that I encourage people to do, is to first understand God’s heart in that area and help Him equip us to love our neighbor as well.
“I encourage people to seek the scriptures about how God is consistently calling us to seek justice and love mercy, how He’s giving us stories like the Good Samaritan and illustrating what it means to not just walk past by someone who is struggling, but to help them, lift them up, and be there in a tangible way.” – Danielle Coke
Worthy of God’s Presence
I also have a very particular process when it comes to actually creating. Most people don’t realize this, but the drawing in and of itself is like twenty percent of the work. What really takes up the most time is the research on the front end that goes into it, and then how I organize and structure my ideas to make sense in a tangible way for someone who didn’t do the hours of research that I did. So I’ll sit, I’ll look up a specific topic, and then I’ll take away maybe three points or four steps or five takeaways or something like that that I can pull that’s tangible and easy to follow along with. And then I’ll decide how to structure that information in a way that makes sense visually. And then I jump in with the creativity and the drawing and the art.
I would definitely say that one of my favorite pieces, it’s called Worthy, and it’s an illustration that depicts armies of different skin colors, and the word worthy, is written on each arm, and they’re kind of together in this illustration. And so the beauty of it was that it grew to mean no matter what your skin color is, no matter what your ethnicity is, we are all worthy of love. We are worthy of being valued and we’re worth fighting for.
“We are all worthy of love. We are worthy of being valued and we’re worth fighting for.” – Danielle Coke
Narrator: As Danielle wraps up her time with us, she shares a passage from Jesus Calling, September 28th.
OPEN YOUR MIND AND HEART—your entire being—to receive My Love in full measure. So many of My children limp through their lives starved for Love because they haven’t learned the art of receiving. This is essentially an act of faith: believing that I love you with boundless, everlasting Love. The art of receiving is also a discipline: training your mind to trust Me, coming close to Me with confidence. Remember that the evil one is the father of lies. Learn to recognize his deceptive intrusions into your thoughts. One of his favorite deceptions is to undermine your confidence in My unconditional Love. Fight back against these lies! Do not let them go unchallenged. Resist the devil in My Name, and he will slink away from you. Draw near to Me, and My Presence will envelop you in Love.
I love that passage so much and I love the idea of abounding in God’s everlasting love, and a big part of what I talk about is loving God with everything and loving your neighbor as yourself, not only because that’s what we’re called to do, but because there’s so much healing in that. And just the idea of being able to abide in the love of Christ gives you confidence and gives you the power to really fight against the lies that try to creep in, especially in this hard work, hard but holy work that I find myself doing and a lot of us find ourselves doing in the season, remembering to draw near to God and allowing His presence to envelop you in that love is really something that keeps me going.
If you’d like to hear more stories about having the faith to love others who aren’t like us, check out our interview with Linsey Davis.
Chad Robichaux: I’ll tell you, this is a battle on my mind and a battle I believe many men face, this battle that said I have to choose between being a warrior and being a person of faith. Essentially, I have to make a choice between masculinity and Christianity. And so I made a deliberate choice to put God out of my life and say I could do that later when I get older. And I believe the decision left a giant hole inside of my heart that filled with hate and rage and anger and bitterness.