Saturday, I had the opportunity to talk with a young woman who is a student at a local college.   She is studying PR and Marketing and self described herself as “a black girl.”

We got to talking and I asked her if she was from around here.   Her answer kicked off a very interesting discussion.    A couple of things that she said:

  • She is not from West Michigan and as soon as she graduates, she will not set foot in West Michigan again.   “I’m gone and I’m not coming back.”
  • When I asked her why, was there a problem with her college?   She said that her college is a great place for a person who is a minority.   I believe the terms she used describing her school were – “understanding, kind, open, and acceptance of everyone no matter what they look like.”
  • Outside of her school, she said that West Michigan is very unfriendly, very stereotypically close minded, very unwilling to blend with others who aren’t like them.   She said that she is a waitress and is the only black person on staff and she is amazed at not only the things her white co-workers say but also how they seem to have no concept of how their words hurt someone who isn’t part of the white power group.
  • We had a discussion about church and how there are very few churches in West Michigan (a very small percentage) where a single (not necessarily not married, but just 1 person) person of color  would walk into the church 10 minutes before their Sunday morning service would start.   What would the reaction be?   How would that reaction differ if I, as a white person, went to an all black church (btw – I would consider it a privilege to be invited to an all black church).
  • We talked about Madison Square Church – where my family and I attend and how we, as a church, are constantly wrestling with how to worship and lead and work as a joint group of mixed and diverse communities and how it is very hard but it can be done.
  • We talked about how do we change this?   How do we get rid of the racism that is causing so many problems in our world?    She laid out a very convincing case that the way to defeat racism is from the inside.   We need to work one on one, one person reaching out to another person and reaching past the difficulties, reaching to understand their viewpoint and reaching to help them understand your viewpoint and to acknowledge that your viewpoint might be very harmful to others and might be based on years and decades and centuries of ill will and unfair activity.
  • It’s two days later and I’m still processing what we talked about.   I’m amazed at this young woman’s perceptivity and intelligence and also her willingness to discuss difficult things with the antithesis of what she is – a middle aged white guy (me).   It was a big step on her part.

It was a step in the right direction for both of us.   She is going to give my information to the head of a group at her college that combats racism and hopefully we can connect them with Madison Square and make a bigger difference.

A chance meeting?

Nope, not a chance.

God knew that both of us needed to discuss a hard subject openly with someone on the other side of the color spectrum.

Pray that more of those type of conversations can happen.   Our community and our churches and our nation need it.

Tom