I grew up in the south. From the age of six through my early twenties I lived Georgia, later in the Atlanta area, but in elementary and junior high years in the town of Newnan about forty miles southwest of Atlanta. The Newnan area was my father’s family home for seven generations since around 1788.
In my junior high years, our community went through desegregation. It was an awkward, confusing situation to a fourteen year old. There was bussing, protests, and in the 9th grade the school I attended had a run of 43 daily bomb threats.
I remember as a child going to the movies in our small town theater located in the court square. Whites entered the main entrance with all the lights, bought their tickets, viewed posters of coming attractions, and sampled tasty items at the concession stand. Blacks entered through a side entrance, paid the same price, had a small sliding glass window for their popcorn and candy, and walked upstairs to the balcony. I did not think much of it. This is the way it was and I knew no different.
For a few years we lived in my mother’s home town of Yankton, South Dakota. There were very few, if any, black people in the community. However, as a child I saw the Native Americans–The Sioux People–treated in a similar fashion, as second and third class citizens. As a young child I reasoned, “Every community has people they do not like.”
Even before desegregation hit our southern town of Newnan, I remember riding somewhere with my mother and as we drove though a certain neighborhood, she told us to lock the doors. I looked out the window as we drove through the black community. Evidently there was something to be feared. I saw tattered homes and cars, people in tattered clothes. They were poor and a thought came to my child’s mind: “I am better than they are.” Did you hear it? A seed of racism fell into the soil of my life, a lie that says I am better. I now know I am not.
During the last twenty to thirty years of my life, at various times and in various ways, I have dealt with my own sin of racism, and to be honest, the sin of my fathers and forefathers. I have repented (a good church word that simply means “turn around”). I have had to recognize things in my own heart that were wrong.
I don’t know all the answers to this calamity in our nation and world. I do not have solutions for immigration, social injustice, and prejudice against various groups whether based on ethnicity or religion. I do know this: if change comes, it begins in me. Am I called to be a “world changer?” Maybe only in this respect: I am called to be a “me-changer”, and that’s how I believe the world gets changed. One heart, one life at a time. This is a life-long process.
We are to become people full of compassion, mercy, kindness, forgiveness; a generous people caring for those in need. This is the American ideal I was taught, and I have seen us as a nation rise to it at times. Often we have not. It is my prayer that we will again.
So how about you? Are there subtle bastions of racism that lie beneath the cultured persona you exude to others? Would you like to be a force for good, a force for change in this world? If so, I invite you to join me at Canterbury on May 20-21 for a Conversation on Race. We are calling leaders, people of influence, and concerned citizens of our Central Florida community together to dialogue and dream together about what might be, what we can do to make a difference. Your voice matters. I would love to have you join me on this journey.