Every February the nation observes Black History Month and recognizes the many contributions of African Americans to the United States and the world. Here at Focus on the Family, it’s no different. We recognize the special commemoration during our monthly chapel service with our staff and through other special educational and celebratory activities over the course of the four-week period.
While reflecting on the celebration, I was reminded about something that happened last August on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. The segment featured Heather McGhee, a black woman who heads a progressive think tank.
During the show, Garry from North Carolina called in and told her, “I’m a white male, and I am prejudiced.”
This admission wasn’t shared with anger, or pride. Quite the contrary – there was humility in his voice, because he was calling in to ask Heather for advice:
“What can I do to change? To become a better American?”
It took great bravery for Garry to be that vulnerable on a national TV show.
And it took bravery for Heather to answer with gentleness and compassion.
With great kindness, Heather encouraged Garry to get to know black families, turn off the news, join an interracial church, and read about African-American history. She urged him to foster conversations on race. She pointed out that most of us in the U.S. live in racially segregated communities, and we learn about each other from the bad things we watch on the news – and “it’s tearing us apart.”
Watch their original conversation:
Perhaps you saw that story when Heather and Garry’s exchange first happened last year. It went viral and social media and it was reported on heavily, especially because it was a soothing balm in the context of the racial unrest our nation experienced last summer.
But powerful as their conversation was, Heather and Garry’s story doesn’t end there.
Since that day, they’ve now had many other conversations. They’ve met in person on a couple of occasions. They’ve gotten to know each other, and they now have a genuine relationship. (The New Yorker recently featured a good article on their friendship.)
Three things jump out from watching their original video, and from following their story:
First, we need to be vulnerable. Garry admitted some things that few of us would dare share. He was honest about his fears and struggles.
Second, we need to give space for that vulnerability. In a recent interview, Heather shared that some of what Garry first said about black men in his original question were “painful to hear” as she’s the sister of a black man and the daughter of a black man. But instead of responding in indignation or condemnation, she instead chose to show understanding and empathy. She responded with gentleness and with a sincere desire to help. In that sense, she let go of her “rights” and sought to serve and love.
Third, Heather and Garry teach us race relations require follow-through. They kept seeking each other out, and Garry was committed to doing the work required to overcome his prejudices. Change and relationships do not happen overnight. They take time and effort, so we have to be willing to make that investment.
Christians should, more than anyone else, be leading in race relations. We need to lead through example and in humble prayer. We need to lead in love.
But in order to lead, we need to ask God for courage to take that first step in faith.
I’d like to hear from you: how do you see the Church leading in the area of race relations? If you’ve made an effort to break down race barriers, what have you learned in the process? What encouragement can you give to readers who want to make a difference in this area? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below.