Yesterday morning I was invited to speak about the shooting and protests at AG Middle School here in Charlotte for Bulldog Prayers, an interfaith gathering a half-hour before school. They told me to hope for 50 folks. Close to 150 students packed the gymnasium, along with a significant portion of the teaching staff.
Here's what I told them I was trying to do in my own response, and perhaps what they could try themselves as well:
Don’t refuse to see what needs to be seen. It's easy to hide in the busy-ness of our daily lives, and it's easy to turn away when we don't want to see what's there. Don't let ourselves off the hook. Look and see, even if what we see is hard to see.
Acknowledge the ways in which we've inadvertently or knowingly contributed to some of the brokenness we’re facing. At this point I told them it wasn't fair for me to ask them to do something I wasn't willing to do myself. So....
I confessed that, despite my best intentions, I’ve contributed to a reality that inherently places my African-American brothers and sisters at a disadvantage and me at an advantage, for no other reason than the color of our skin. It's an advantage that means, statistically speaking, someone who looks like me has a better chance of getting into college, getting the good jobs, and not getting arrested.
I confessed to hearing “Black Lives Matter” and being tempted to think, “But ALL lives matter!” And in so doing, missing the whole point. It's not 'Black Lives Matter More.' As my friend David Lamotte says, if someone wants to add a clarifying word, it'd be 'Black Lives Matter Too.' Which needs to be said.
I also confessed that I tend to take for granted the women and men who serve in law enforcement; that I don’t always appreciate the good work they do and the immense risks they take every day just to do their job; and the good people the vast, vast majority of them are.
SEEK OUT BOLDLY
Most of us spend our lives surrounded by people who look like we look, think like we think, share the same values we do, and have pretty much the same life experience we do. If all we ever do is stay entrenched in our own experience, we can’t expect to grow and learn.
So we need to intentionally seek out people who are NOT like us. If we’re a Christian, have a conversation with someone who is Jewish or Muslim. If we’re white, have a conversation with a black person, or Asian or another. Talk with them. Learn from them. See how their views and values differ from ours, and don’t be afraid or defensive about those differences. The more we can have those conversations, the better we’ll be.
When we have these conversations, really listen to what is said. Hear their story and refrain from passing judgment or making qualifying statements. Acknowledge their joys and their struggles. Honor and value their perspective, even if we don't necessarily agree with that perspective.
There's more I could have said - there's certainly more I can do myself - but I only had ten minutes before the school bell rang and they handed out Bojangles biscuits. Anyway, it's a start; and a start is better than nothing.
What would you have added to the list if you were speaking to them?