I decided to get in a quick power walk at our local park before church on this past Sunday—the day after the white supremacist violence erupted in Charlottesville. After my walk, I stopped briefly at a local store to pick up some toiletries. As I walked down the shower gel aisle, I passed a young African-American man ambling, sort of standing, sort of walking back and forth. I looked at him, and proclaimed, “I can’t remember what else I came in here to get!” This millennial I’m sure knew nothing about the musings of a menopausal woman! Yet, he looked at me and smiled.
I walked a little further pondering my plight before stopping by the cosmetics section to look at some other items. The young man ended up across the aisle from me stopped at another display. After glancing back at him a few times; I noticed what he was doing. He had stooped down and was stuffing items from the store shelf into his book bag.
I couldn’t believe it at first and thought, “Oh no!” I half turned to him and whispered, “you shouldn’t be doing that!” He said “I know ma’am. I’m sorry.” “Well stop that,” I more adamantly whispered. “There are cameras everywhere.”
He continued. “I’m sorry but I need some help ma’am.”
“Then I will help you. But put all that back.”
And one by one he emptied his book bag and put all the stuff back on the shelf.
Walking over to him, I put my arm in his and guided him away from the area. As we walked, I gently inquired, “what’s going on?”
I eventually led him outside to the sidewalk to speak with him in private and learn more of his story. Here was a desperate young African-American man on the brink of homelessness. He needed cash to rent a U-Haul truck so he could move his young family to another city to pursue work his relatives had told him about. Desperate times cause people to do desperate things.
I gave him the money he needed and listened to his plan. I then asked him if he would mind if I prayed with him. And right there on the sidewalk, I prayed with him for protection and guidance and work. I gave him our church’s card and asked him to call periodically to let me know how he was faring.
Where are the Aunties?
Now I am not sharing this story for any applause for me or any judgment of the young man. In the communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio where I was raised, older men and women in the neighborhood were prone to reach out to us and reprimand us. They were also present to help us—to guide us and get us back on the straight path when we strayed. We called these neighborhood friends of our parents Aunties and Uncles and didn’t even realize until we were much older that they were not the siblings of either of our parents. So now even though I had no idea who this young man was, I felt compelled to both challenge and help him. I guess I’m now one of the “Aunties” of the community.
Driving away from the store, I thought about the young white men in Charlottesville protesting the removal of General Lee’s statue from the public square. I thought, “where are the ‘Aunties’ helping these young white men? They must feel very desperate to march with such virulent symbols spewing hate.”
You know the protests really aren’t about General Lee’s statue, don’t you? The anger comes from a much deeper place, and the mixing of confederate and Nazi symbols reveals something deeper; more insidious and dangerous than preserving the memory of Civil War generals. Cultural heritage can be preserved in museums that can tell the story. I wonder if the desperation comes from a fear of having to relinquish the myth of white supremacy and a world that doesn’t just no longer exists, but never really existed except in the minds of people of the past and some today. This shattered reality must be shaking these young white men to their core.
I wonder where the Aunties are, the wise women (young or old) of their community, taking these young white men by the arm and stopping them from committing acts of killing and destruction that will ultimately destroy them from the inside out. Where are the Aunties telling their sons that the world has changed and they must also change to be a thriving part?
Where are the wise women who compassionately but forcefully tell their sons and nephews to “stop that, there are cameras everywhere?” Where are the Aunties that tell these young white men that racist, anti-Semitic Nazi and alt-right symbols just will not be tolerated in today’s America.
I am a change consultant who, for more than thirty-five years, has worked in all types of organizational systems delivering programs designed to build more purposeful and inclusive workplaces. I have served in my churches faithfully proclaiming the message transformation possible through the gospel of Christ.
Ministry for me does not end at the Benediction of a Sunday morning service. As you see from my encounter on this past Sunday, it often starts in various communities or with people needing or seeking to change. Whether training corporate leaders, or mentoring young people in my church, I don’t mind being seen as an Auntie offering help. I embrace the role.
So where are the Aunties? Where are the Sunday school teachers and pastor’s wives and associate pastors letting these young white men know that their actions are antithetical to the gospel of Christ, whom many of them proclaim to profess?
Where are the Aunties coming along side of these angry young white men saying, “I will help you?”
Where are the Aunties in the workplace and classrooms, reinforcing messages of equality and inclusion? Calling out ignorance?
Where are the Aunties saying, “I will help you make the adjustment into this new world that’s been in the making for generations?”
Where are the Aunties preparing these young men to thrive in today’s world?
Eric Hoffer, known as the working-class philosopher once wrote,
“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
For Hoffer, the learners were not necessarily the most educated. No, they were people who had learned to adjust to the changing world. The learned, however, were often much more privileged. Yet it was the learned who were adamant in holding fast to assumptions of a reality that no longer existed. Even today, the learned are unwilling or unable to look at their assumptions about the broader world and the others who live there.
So, where are the Aunties? Who is helping these young white men to check their assumptions about culture, race, ethnicity and gender? Whose helping them challenge and reframe their narratives?
Where are the Aunties saying to desperate, angry young white men, “there is another path…another way? It’s time for you to learn about the world as it exists now.”
My prayer is that behind closed doors in homes, and in the narthex of churches; in the hallways between classes and in break rooms in workplaces, more “Aunties” will muster up the courage to take these desperate young white men by the arm and say, “I will help you.”