This story goes way back – so get into your wayback machine. I was lucky to be raised in an affluent suburb of Chicago. The schools were well funded and I was able to attend college. I graduated (I know I still have trouble accepting that they let me out – I think they just did not want me around anymore – I mean I never got caught doing anything bad) and was able to get a job as a programmer, back then programmers were treated as fancy clerks, it took like 15 years before programming became a hot field and then we were called software developers or software engineers.
So in the early nineties I attended a training with a colleague and friend of mine in New Orleans. We drove so I could take my family. I remember stopping in Mississippi for a meal and walking in and the air was electric – Oh it needs to be said that my friend is black – I mean it was tense – you could feel it; like everyone was looking at us and there was a feeling that I had never had before. I looked at him and asked if he want to go somewhere else to eat and I will never forget his saying “No, I think it will be alright”.
This was very eye opening for me. I was not raised racist. I also did not have a lot of black friends growing up – but I did have a few, yet I thought that I had no prejudice or discrimination in me (yeah pretty arrogant, I know). And ever since that experience I realized just how much my privilege affected my life. Before this I knew I was lucky, yet how lucky really came home when I felt the tension in the air.
For a while in the mid nineties I attended a church in the Cabrini Green housing projects. It was a Quaker church. I never once felt threatened or in danger, cause there just is lot less crime on Sunday morning. I swear each time I entered that church, when the doors opened it was like I could FEEL god’s presence blowing out of the building into the neighborhood. It was called the Chicago Fellowship of Friends. I was sad when we left that church and even sadder a few years ago when we attended the very last service. I got to know many people of color during that time and still see some of them every know and then.
Recently, there have been all these reports of Police gunning down unarmed black people. The reports just keep on coming and each one is worse than the last one. And some lady had a TED about how they have done studies and we ALL have racial bias – and there was an online test (I took it, and yes I have bias 🙁 ). And, I remember that restaurant in Mississippi and when my friend (the same one mentioned earlier) reports that he got a ticket, I respond “I am so glad you made it it alive” I should not have to say that. This is NOT how things are supposed to be.
Yet I struggle – what am I to do? Should I go protest? Should I yearn and strive for activism? Should I sign petitions? I oppose the lack of equality in our society. And yet, to be honest, I benefit from the current structure – so if I oppose it, then I am going to diminish myself in society, I am going to lose privilege’s that I have become accustomed to and … well I am going to suffer. And I am afraid of what the changes in society might mean for me and my family and our future. I understand and believe that more equality makes life better for everyone, yet ‘my life is good’ (I have Randy Newman now singing in my head and ‘You old bag’ is the next line, can’t get it to stop playing), and so I struggle.
Now we get to the real meat of this article. In April, via Facebook I found out that Bryan Stevenson was going to be giving a free lecture tomorrow at a local high school. “Honey, what are we doing tomorrow?” We ended up going. And he said something like (you can see him on TED here if you want) “the thing to do is to go spend time with people who are different from you, the ones the system neglects and disenfranchises” AH sound practical and helpful direction. I’ll take it. So I have a friend who attends a church on the West Side of Chicago. And now I try to go as often as I can – maybe twice a month at best. And the music is FANTASTIC – good old fashioned bluesy Gospel with really amazing singing. I am slowly getting to know the people. It takes time. And if my attending this church is helping to erode the walls of divisiveness and separation. Well then I will try to continue to be as present as I can.
So I have no advice for you and no verdict on #BLM or Kaepernick or even an idea how to respond to all these unprosecuted unwarranted shootings – I am angry, yet getting angry is not that helpful – action speaks louder than anger. But I will say, for me, visiting this church has been a joy and it is good for my soul. And maybe there is a way you can do something like this and help to erode a little bit of the walls of misunderstanding that we seem to have erected – and maybe it will be good for you. Any chance for improvement is better than no chance.
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