Over the weekend I held two crucial conversations on race. One with a young adult relative who has been facing some pretty complex challenges that have resulted in him dealing with the issues and frustrations he is facing by acting out rather than talking it out. The other was in a sermon to the congregation where I serve addressing the pressing needs of our communities as exemplified in Ferguson, Missouri.
Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations writes that “at the heart of almost all chronic problems in our organizations, our teams and our relationships lie crucial conversations—ones that we’re either not holding or not holding well.” These are conversations we each have to have, despite the fear of being rejected or labeled, that speak truth. These crucial conversations speak the hard truths that we know in our heart of hearts, according to Grenny, involve strong emotions, high stakes and opposing opinions. Yet in our heart of hearts, we also know that truth is transforming and liberating.
To My Young Relative
My young adult relative has been dealing with some very challenging situations in his life. Honoring his confidentiality I will not go into details, but I will say he has been handling his frustrations in ways that can become deadly. His anger has landed him in a few fights of late.
The conversation I held with him, I’m certain, echoes the millions of conversations that have been held across the country this week by African American mothers/fathers, grandmothers/fathers, aunts/uncles, godmothers/fathers and other relatives,
“You don’t have the luxury of acting out in ways that may represent youthful bravado. Your actions, these days will get you killed.” I told him, “some of the folks you are hanging out with and fighting with these days, may end up settling their issue with you with a gun. Or the police may roll up on you all settling your issues and take you out of here. It seems police (some, not all) are shooting first and asking questions later and I don’t want to receive a call about you being gunned down in the streets. They don’t know you the way we, your family know you and love you.”
Ask the mothers and fathers and other relatives of Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, and Amadou Diallo. These names of young Black people have become too common household names and represent just the tip of the iceberg of unarmed young Black people killed by police or vigilantes.
My crucial aim in speaking to him was to help him stay safe. Stay alive.
To My Church
It was an emotional message for me. I cried the entire time I was finalizing it early that morning. The Twitter feed had been ablaze for the last two nights reporting the ongoing skirmishes and brutality happening in Ferguson. We are having our own America Spring, it seems. But I knew I could not not address what was going on in our country. I cried through most of the worship service. Sometimes the cry of lament is the heart’s way of talking to God about what’s going on around us—ask the Psalmists or the Hebrew prophets. The cry of lament is the intercession of the spirit that yearns for better, for help, for wisdom, for answers.
The Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus speaking to the multitude as they pressed toward him to hear the word of God. Jesus spotted and got in Simon’s boat and used it as a platform for sharing the Word of God (see Luke 5:1-11). That was it. We have platforms that Jesus can use to address the pressing needs of the multitudes.
Each of us has a platform from which to share the Word of God and speak the truth of the Gospel about the pressing needs of our communities today.
The needs are pressing…
• The need for hope for ways of solving problems in homes and schools and neighborhoods that don’t involve violence;
• The need for equitable access to education in our communities that is not dependent upon the unequal levying of property taxes;
• The need for images and portrayals of young African Americans, especially young African American men to shift. So much so that even though we have an African American president we also have young black men who look like him are being gunned down in the streets not far from home or in Walmart super centers. (And this post is not long enough to speak on how this president has been subjected to such disrespect);
• The need for the economic justice for Black and Brown men and women;
• The need for fair and equitable workplaces in which people in general, but especially people of color are given fair and equitable access job opportunities, job assignments and advancement;
• The need for human hearts to be changed and opened to the possibilities of the good news that God brought into the world through Jesus Christ.
Yes, like Simon, each of us has a platform upon which we can take a stand for justice. Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our current situation is one of the most crucial conversations any of us can ever have. And as Christ followers, disciples of Christ, we can speak the truth of the Gospel. You see, the Gospel is two dimensional at least—it is the message of salvation and transformation for individuals who trust in Jesus; and it is the message that transformed people transform the conditions in which we find ourselves. The gospel of transformation is relevant to Ferguson and to each of our communities today. The gospel of transformation (transformed people transforming our communities) is a crucial conversation Christ Followers must hold.
And each of us has a platform from which to hold these crucial conversations. We each have our individual platforms (our circles of influence, our friendship circles, etc.) upon which we can stand for and model what is right and advocate for peace, yet at the same time tell the truth about the injustices of our day.
I was blessed to hear a prominent African American Christian entertainer speaking at a multiethnic leadership conference. He’s quite known for dealing with social issues in his artform. When asked to speak on the issues occurring real time in Ferguson, he responded by recounting his childhood and how his mother told him about the conditions around the murder of Emmett Till. He proceeded to say, though, “that was her story not mine.” He believes things have gotten better since then. I slumped in my seat disappointed that this prominent entertainer had not used his platform to give a more real picture of race relations and racism today.
“It’s a lot better” does not convey the complexity of the story that we see unfolding everyday. Perhaps, “It’s a lot better but we still have a ways to go” would convey more of the truth. And I know some of you reading this will say his response was his truth. And surely he had the right to use his platform anyway he chose.
Yet as an African American female, I believe it’s time for us to speak a collective truth—‘its better for some but not for all.” Or even, “It’s “more better” in some place than in others.” And let’s face it, with the right triggering event what has happened in Ferguson could happen in suburban Chicago where I now live—or where you live. The issues in Ferguson, MO, Sanford, FLA and Beavercreek OH, Chicago, the Bronx, Los Angeles, and in urban and suburban centers across this country, are not black problems. These our human problems; they are our problems. They are not just individual issues but systemic issues, cultural issues that we, collectively must face and talk out and work on together.
That, my friend is one of the most crucial conversations we need to have today. We must take a stand against the violence and the disregard for life that is occurring throughout our country.
You have a platform from which to speak truth; from which to advocate for peace; from which to demand and work for justice; from which to pray and intercede. Please use it wisely today and muster the courage to have a crucial conversation on race and, and in so doing, speak to the very heart of the Gospel of transformation–the possibility for real change.