A couple of years ago my colleague, Gerald Britt made a statement that set me back. Actually, the impact of his words virtually knocked me down. I can't remember what we were discussing, but I do recall that we had been together at a conference where we both spoke about our work and about the challenges facing inner city communities in America.
At one point Gerald said, "Larry, its really hard when you realize that you are regarded as 'a problem' by lots of people. It affects your self-understanding."
Gerald spoke to the immediate and extended affect of racism and racist judgements on the lives of millions of our fellow Americans. To have one's life classified as basically "a problem" is a devastating reality that I would never have thought of had he not been so honest a friend.
It took me a full day to come back to him. I told him that while my opinion didn't really matter and that I had no claim to comment on his life or his experience, I did want him to know that at no time did I ever consider him to be "a problem." In saying that I realized it was hollow and insignificant when placed alongside the brutal, unrelenting reality he attempted to describe to me.
What a burden to carry and to unload.
On Thursday as I sat out on the steps at "the porch" talking to homeless persons who strolled by, I met a very quiet, reserved and observant gentleman. He passed by several times, finally stopping to pick up a bottle of ice water that I had available.
As he drank his water, he finally spoke, asking me what I was up to. I told him about the project we were building across the street and of my desire to simply listen to people. I explained that we didn't want to "invade" the community and make stupid mistakes. We wanted to hear folks regarding the neighborhood, our project and what the people who lived nearby hoped to see developed.
As we talked, he said something that pulled me back to Gerald's comments.
"You know," he began quietly, "people think its dangerous here, that we're dangerous. But, we're not. We're just like everyone else, just working through issues, just trying to get on with life. We're not dangerous."
What if your life was regarded by most people as a dangerous life, a person to be avoided?
Something to think about as we continue to dismantle stereotypes that plague our perspectives and continue to injure others.
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