ATLANTA – God’s story in ours. God is writing a story upon our lives, which ultimately reveals His glory, through our hands, heart and feet, to give hope, love, opportunity and purpose – in other words, dignity.
So I was humbled when a young woman told me, “Thank you so much for sharing about the topic of racism. I have never heard a white male speak about this and it was so refreshing.”
I was recently privileged to speak to about 80 college students – many of them from African-American, Asian or Latino descent but a majority white. To Atlanta they came, from Ohio State, Miami University and James Madison, to serve through the Medici Project, as an alternative Spring Break destination.
In 90 minutes during my eight-year (and going strong) journey with God to do inner-city work, I shared with the students about what we do through the basics of Dignity Serves curriculum and my experiences loving people who live on the streets.
It was a natural fit with the students at Medici, a non-profit that educates young people about the economic oppression of inner-city neighborhoods. Exposure to the realities of poverty can tap a multitude of compassion and service, beyond religious and culture boundaries.
The students eagerly leaned it to listen as I told them my story, one that is continually shaped, transformed by those around me. How did God choose a white farm boy from Bumpville, Pa., and plop me in the middle of an economically oppressed neighborhood in Atlanta?
I told them about my family, about my debilitating burnout from ministry, my eye-opening exposure to injustice in our world. And then I told them about men and women, so very different from me, who mentored and shaped my life through Polis and Dignity Serves.
Then, in the midst of sharing, I felt the tug of the Spirit to tell share what I have been learning from my friends and mentors of color, their spoken words a canvass of impressions about what it’s like to be a minority in our world.
Racism and white privilege are deeply personal, because as I have witnessed firsthand the way our culture typically perceives certain people of color. And I am not just talking about the way one race perceives another race.
I shared the pain of being with a friend of color in a restaurant that was predominantly white. The penetrating and hateful glares he endured from other patrons seared my soul as well as his. And I am indebted to pastors, mentors, and leaders of color who have heightened my awareness of such everyday indignities.
It was at this point that students who were minorities began to nod and to shoot up their hands in agreement.
Afterward, when a female student approached me to share how “refreshing” she found my views, I responded that I was honored to speak out. I have learned so much from my neighbors, who are predominantly African-American. I told her that I am honestly a better person because I have learned from a different culture, to appreciate the dignity of all people that often goes overlooked.
Daily, I see people I love affected by a prevailing attitude of superiority. That condescension violates God’s basic commandment, and I grieve.
So I encourage people from the majority culture to listen, to embrace and then to speak out. Listen to people who are hurt. Embrace the pain and frustration. Speak out at the appropriate times, when the Holy Spirit prompts you.
Be emboldened to give voice to others, to treat everyone with respect.
Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.