New Interracial Group Breaks Bread Together and Considers Next Steps
Awareness. Humbled. Illuminating. Hopeful. Awesome. Frustrating. Enlightening. Encouraging.
On January 13 at the Ada Jenkins Center, approximately 75 people shared one-word descriptions of their personal journey in exploring the nature of racism and the meaning of diversity. The question was asked by Rev. Joel Simpson, Associate Pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, at the culmination of a four-month exploration of racial and cultural diversity.
The impetus to explore and discuss the roots of racial divide, tension, and disparity, was launched following the horrific events last August in Charlottesville. In response to the tragedy, clergy from Davidson and Cornelius organized a candlelight vigil on the Village Green for concerned citizens to meet in prayer to consider the tragic and racially charged incidents. As the nation witnessed the violent clash of “alt-right” and white supremacists and those opposed to torch-bearing protestors, race relations appeared to be perilously deteriorating.
In the aftermath of the vigil, Rev. Simpson organized concerned citizens into small, diverse groups to meet and share personal experiences relating to diversity. About 75 people of white, black, brown, and other ethnic and cultural backgrounds expressed interest and organized into 6-8 person groups to share experiences and opinions relating to racial and cultural issues. The groups were encouraged to meet six times in four months, and to focus their meetings on particular discussion points.
The first topic was “Why is this encounter exercise important to you?” The most common response was a desire to have a better understanding of other cultures, to make sense of current race relations, and to foster diversity in relationships.
Another topic was “Confederate Monuments: What are they about, and why are we arguing about them so much?” This topic was delicate and painful to some, and inflammatory to others. The protests and violence at Charlottesville were ignited, in part, by the pending removal of a Confederate monument in that city, but there was an example close to hand. A Confederate soldier’s monument stands in front of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, resting on private property not owned by the church. It was vandalized after the Charlottesville tragedy, and offered a good touchstone for discussing local racial tension and insensitivities.
The small groups came together at the Ada Jenkins Center last Saturday to share a pot luck meal and talk about their experiences. Professor Rodney Sadler, author, educator, and Baptist minister, presented opening remarks about “What’s next, and where do we go from here?” Sadler said, “Racial conciliation is not popular work. Race? Again? Haven’t we moved beyond that?” He acknowleged that people are tired of talking about race relations, and are ready to work towards solutions. Sadler said he was impressed that a racially diverse group of people came together to discuss sensitive topics in a safe and open environment, but moreover, made friends and valued relationships.
He continued, “You have finished the first level of work.“ He encouraged attendees to continue to meet in small groups, and, perhaps, form reading clubs. He recommended the book “White Like Me,” by Tim Wise, which examines the concept of white privilege. Another was “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander. Sadler also recommended involvement by joining existing groups and associations dedicated to rectifying social injustices. His message was clear—creating positive change is not a passive act. You must be present and participate.
“Race is synthetic; therefore, you can deconstruct it and dismantle it,” Sadler said. He noted that overcoming racism carries a cost.
The cost to some may be paying higher taxes for better schools for children who need it, or bond referendums for housing. “To every advantage there is disadvantage,“ he said. “We will have to sacrifice to overcome racism. At stake is humanity itself,” he concluded.
The two-hour gathering at Ada Jenkins concluded with a discussion of a name for the group. The agreed upon name is “Unity in Community.”
Robert Lum is a retired FBI Special Agent and consultant. He and his wife Cathy have resided in Davidson since 2010, along with their furry and cheerful companion, Murphy. Robert now enjoys the more peaceful life in Davidson, and looks forward to meeting interesting people with stories to tell.