Jarvis. A black man raised in the depths of the inner city projects on the East side of Nashville. His arm is wrapped in a tattered, worn bandage that covers an old bullet wound. The wrap he wears around his arm helps with the pain from nerve damage. He will tell you he is not surprised that he was shot 4 different times during the 15 years he lived life as a gang member in Nashville, TN. He joined the gang when he was just 12 years old, and confesses that the way he grew up was traumatizing, uncertain, and violent, but yet he loved it. Each of the 30+ tattoos that cover his body tell a different story of a significant season from his past.
Question: To my white friends, if you walked past Jarvis on the street downtown would you label him a thug? Would you be uncomfortable as he approached you? Does it matter what the color of YOUR skin is or where YOUR neighborhood is to answer that question honestly?
Guess what you wouldn’t know just by passing him on the street? You wouldn’t know that he now goes back into the neighborhoods that he helped destroy and tries to rebuild them. You wouldn’t know that he married his wife, Jenene, in a beautiful wedding ceremony at my home 8 years ago. You wouldn’t know he is a faithful husband and a father to four young sons. You wouldn’t know that he and Jenene are also foster parents to two young girls that needed a home to call their own. You wouldn’t know that he has faithfully worked the same job as long as I’ve known him, providing for all 8 members of his household.
Kelly (myself). A white, suburban mom, living in the prominent area of Brentwood, TN, just far enough on the outskirts of Nashville where there is low crime, white collars, and top rated schools for my children to attend. I’ve been married for almost 29 years to the father of all of my children. The closest thing I have experienced to gangs is my children joining sororities and fraternities in college. And if you know me well, then you know I am not a fan of tattoos.
Question: To my black friends, if you walked past me on the streets of Brentwood would you have a certain perception of me as privileged, or perhaps even a possible racist based on that perception? Would you be uncomfortable if I approached you to engage in conversation? Does it matter what the color of YOUR skin is or where YOUR neighborhood is to answer that question honestly?
There are also some things you may not know based on your perception of me. You may not know that I have 9 children, 4 of which are children of color, adopted from Ethiopia. I’ve been married to my love for 29 years because I was married at the age of 17 with a teenage pregnancy underway. I run a nonprofit that allows me to travel to Ethiopia to serve people in need at least 4 times per year. I also have experienced a traumatizing past that is now the driving force for what I do today.
But just from perception, Could I be another white girl walking my dog in the park that decides to call the police on a black man while he is bird watching, only because he makes me feel uncomfortable by the color of his skin and he dared to ask me a question? I certainly look the part.
Could Jarvis be another gang member that I see portrayed in the movies or one of the people I see looting the stores and setting fires in Nashville during a protest? Why not? He certainly looks the part.
There are some hard questions we need to ask ourselves.
What do you assume about a person of opposite race and color that could easily fit into a mold of everything you have been trained to think about that person?
The labels, the perceptions, the stereotypes, THE WORDS behind what this world creates. Words like RACIST. Words like THUG. THE BLACKS. THE WHITES. It’s what we live IN everyday. It’s what we live WITH everyday. It’s what we BECOME in the midst of it. And it’s the very thing that pushes us away from one another and creates a divide that seems impossible to bridge. Why? Could it be, that in our society, to not know and understand those of another culture could easily make them inferior? Or perhaps a racist? Or maybe a thug? What word do you use?
It is proven that our worldview of others determines the value we put on their life, especially those that don’t look like us. Could it even mean the difference between life and death?
How is it that we live in the year 2020 and a man can be strangled to death in broad day light by another human being while he begs for air and others just sit by and watch it happen? And yes, we take notice that it is a black man getting the air choked out of him by a white man in a position of power with his colleagues standing around him allowing it to happen.
Why should we dare bring up race in this scenario? Why shouldn’t we? Story after story of unarmed black men and women getting killed at the hands of white people. We see it over and over. This is a 400 year old story! It began in 1619 when men and women were kidnapped from Africa, brought to America, and forced into slavery to be bought and sold and treated as nothing more than animals traded for agriculture and cargo…all at the hands of white supremacists. That is how Africans were initially brought into this country, AS SLAVES, so how can we just disregard that? Now, for 400 years, African Americans have been trying to declare that their black lives STILL DO MATTER in the midst of these past generations of slavery and human dignity being stripped of them. Who can hear their cries for justice? Did the Civil War bring freedom? The Emancipation Proclamation? Did Martin Luther King Jr and all his efforts? They all have done their part, taken steps forward, and chipped away at the many layers of 400 years of sin that was brought on by my white race that created a world view, placing African Americans below that of a white race.
That is why I am still placed in the category of the racist white girl in the park. That is why Jarvis is still looked at like a black thug. It’s years and years of sin that runs deep with blood on our hands. It’s 400 years of wrong labels and stereotypes of the opposite race that we ALL have to overcome.
So here we are today in the year 2020 continuing to see one senseless death after another of black lives at the hands of white people as if we are still in the 1960’s. My own black sons continue to get pulled over by police in my own community and asked if they have drugs or a gun in their car before they are even asked for their ID. None of them have been given a ticket because there was never a reason to pull them over in the first place. I have three black sons and I have three white sons. This has never happened to my white sons. It has happened repeatedly to my black sons.
How do we overcome this? How do we even begin to create a better world to live in?
It’s simply through RELATIONSHIP.
People of color are no longer our slaves. They are no longer our “help” that I saw at my Grandparent’s home when I was a child. We have finally reached a generation where they are our sons and our daughters, our brothers and our sisters, our friends and our neighbors. They don’t just polish the silver for our tables. They must take a seat at our tables and eat with us, and we at theirs. They are our neighbors, our family. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself. It’s time to completely demolish this wall of divide that others have been chipping away at and devoted their lives to for years. It’s time we, as white people, as the ones who started this, be the ones to finish it by shaking off the dust and the divide of our forefathers. It’s time we raise our voices, OUR WHITE VOICES, and stand in the gap for those we love, and declare that black lives matter. If we want change then let’s begin to bridge the gap and be the change.
The reason I cannot be silent, the reason people are rising up, the reason people are angry and all hell is breaking loose now, is because there is a shaking that is happening. It’s a shaking that looses a stronghold of 400 years of wrong world view and segregation. It’s not just the battle of the black people in America anymore. It’s a battle for humanity. It’s ALL our battle that call ourselves Christians and children of God.
Of course as in any stand for justice, you will see more injustice. You see those who have no control, those who bring vandalism and senseless acts of emotional reaction. But again, we must be careful not to take one group of bad apples and group them into the same category of race. Black or white people that carry out senseless acts don’t represent ALL black people or ALL white people. Cops that carry out senseless acts of injustice don’t represent ALL cops.
I’m speaking up for the freedoms of my 4 black children that have every right to not be judged by the color of their skin but to be seen as the amazing human beings that they are. I’m speaking up for Jarvis who has the right to be heard and understood, even by people who look completely different than him. I’m speaking up for people who look like me that get misjudged and assumed a racist because we are white.
I learned that by taking time to get to know Jarvis, inviting him to my home, hearing his story, his dreams, and his failures, it opened my eyes to him as a person, not just a stereotype. It did the same thing for him. He had no white friends before spending time with my family. It takes time. It takes effort. Shane and I have been friends with Jenene and Jarvis now for 10 years. Our kids play with their kids. They come over and hang out with our whole family on holidays. So now when I run across a man that looks like Jarvis, I don’t see a stereotype that the world has created, I see a person. That’s why I don’t see just another man being murdered at the hands of white power as he goes on a jog, I see my son, I see my friend. When you create relationships it becomes personal. And yet, for people of color, it’s ALWAYS someone’s son or someone’s friend, and yet it happens over and over again and no one listens to their cries for justice. It’s sad to me that it has taken 400 years to truly open our eyes and our hearts to begin to bridge this gap and love other human beings the way God intended for us all to be loved. We are not there yet. I’m sure I will make mistakes along the way, but I am determined to carry this burden that will not be lost on me. If the world hasn’t heard their cries for justice up to this point then let us rise up and add our voices to theirs. It’s time to live the way God intended us to live, as one nation, under God, indivisible, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. May we be judged for our righteousness, not the sins of past generations that we help carry on to the next.
Psalm 72:2 May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.
How did a suburban mom like me get to know an inner city guy like Jarvis? We both broke through the comfort zone of believing that everyone had to be from our own neighborhood, look just like us, and talk just like us. It’s an interesting story that changed us, otherwise we would still just be a racist and a thug in each other’s eyes.
God help us love like you love. Let us come together in unity. Let us pray for our nation until we see the dust of the old finally settle into new growth. Abraham Lincoln had an opportunity in his generation to chip away at the wall of segregation. Martin Luther King Jr was given an opportunity in his generation to knock down another layer of racism and grant new liberties.
What will this generation accomplish? Who is sitting at your table? For the sake of our children and their children, it is our turn to end this ongoing battle of racist divide once and for all. Let us start by listening. God help us if we are ever confronted by a man that says “I can’t breathe” and we don’t even take time to hear his voice.