On the Side: January 2021
|One Body, One Spirit, One Hope
by Carol Mason Shrader
The May Day pictures from my daughter’s fourth grade moving up ceremony are some of my favorites. The girls are dressed in matching white dresses with ribbons around their waists and flower crowns in their hair. Those flower crowns alone made them appear angelic. But the fact that those little friends had skin tone ranging in every color made the photos seem like a little slice of what heaven will be. In hindsight, I was feeling pride about that. I thought we had found the way to move race relations forward in this next generation. I thought we had reached a better place—these girls cared far more about what they had in common than the skin tone that might otherwise separate them. Oh, what I was feeling was definitely pride bordering on smugness in the ease with which this could be “fixed.” Three years later, my heart broke when that same little girl got in my van and asked me why the tables in the cafeteria suddenly seemed divided by color.
What happened in those ensuing years to cause the divide? Had it been gradual, and we didn’t notice? Or had it truly been an “awakening” as this group reached their teen years?
As open to discussion as I could be, we talked and problem-solved and tried to own anything that might have happened to cause the divide. Ultimately, we went to the bookstore and grabbed some books that I worried were too mature for her, but that I hoped might help her understand how her friends were feeling as they approached adulthood with skin that looked different than hers.
And too mature or not, the books made her cry, and then made her angry. And then left her frustrated as she realized awareness alone is not enough of a fix.
A new year dawns this morning. 2021. It has been 156 years since slavery was abolished in this country. It has been 67 years since Brown vs. the Board of Education integrated schools. And it has been 57 years since the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race and color.
And it has been seven months since George Floyd was killed, setting off a cry in this country from a people who are tired, scared and frustrated that their rights are still not guaranteed.
And for me, it was as if my van door had been opened and thousands of people climbed in asking me what had happened. Had this been gradual, and we did not notice? Or was this just an awakening in our country that we have not reached an age of equality.
Side By Side Executive Director Robin Morgenthaler and I have been figuratively riding around in my minivan trying to learn and grow. Robin admits that for years she thought she was ok having one “thing” for God’s kingdom and that was adoption. This summer she realized she could no longer have one singular thing:
“The whole issue of social injustice for me was something that I put up on the shelf and when I chose to take it down and read about it or engage in it, I did. But those moments were brief, and I basically put it back up on the shelf when I was ‘done’ saying it wasn’t really my ‘thing’ for God’s kingdom. I wasn’t passionate about it, but I was passionate about adoption and I thought that was enough. It is not. I need to see the injustice. I need to react to its unfairness and not settle until it is just and fair for all. So, it is no longer acceptable for me to put this ‘thing’ back up on the shelf. That is not obedience. If it is a problem for my sisters of color, then it is also my problem.”
In the months following Floyd’s death, Side By Side reached out for help and wisdom from women of color in our community:
“It has been hard to hear that women of color, even just one, have sometimes felt uncomfortable, unwelcome, or disregarded in a group setting because of the color of their skin; this is lamentable. We’ve been taking steps to learn how Side By Side can become a space where ALL women feel embraced. Our vision is to see our beautiful diversity fully represented,” Robin said.
In order to begin the process to achieve this vision, the Side By Side Executive Team is committed to making all Side By Side chapters welcoming to all women of color and have put an action plan—currently with 13 steps—into place. One of the steps of the plan is that the Executive Team is reading the book I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown and discussing it in monthly meetings. The team is also actively seeking gifted women of color who are passionate about SBS to bring diverse perspectives to the table. We are also organizing a list of resources and encouraging our chapters to utilize books written by women of color.
“I want to help our sisters who have still-unvoiced hurts share their experiences,” Robin said. “We want to listen, learn, seek forgiveness and pursue healing. We want to do better.”
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV).
Last month, my children and I took a drive to Washington, D.C. (we needed to get out of our house). We walked around a bit before getting back in the van and driving home. But in our brief visit, we were overwhelmed by the art that has been painted on the boards that cover the windows at St. John’s Church across from the White House. The boards were placed in response to riots. The point of the boards is to protect the windows. And so, if they just sat there in the window, it would be enough. They would have done their job. But St. John’s did more. They invited the community to come and paint the boards. And in the painting, the community used the boards that resulted from the riots, that resulted from the pain and anguish of a people, to spread hope, love and even unity.
One of the boards was painted with the word Ubuntu. I came home to search for this meaning. Ubuntu means, “I am because you are.” It is an African philosophy that places emphasis on common humanity, oneness, you and me both. Sounds like Ephesians 4 to me.
Oh my friends, I had no easy fix for my 13-year-old when she climbed in my van that afternoon. I don’t have easy answers today. There is no magic switch that can fix the problems with race relations in our country. There is no easy answer to further diversity in Side By Side.
I quietly observe as my now-15-year-old daughter posts on her social media about race and standing up for her friends. I have learned enough to not be prideful in this. Rather, I recognize she is doing what we all must do—move relations and understanding forward one step at a time. One step toward oneness.