Friday, May 1, 2015

Baltimore, Brokenness and My Story

The emotional tension today from the Freddie Gray case was heavy in my workplace... As the State Attorney announced the charges against the police officers, the emotional atmosphere became even more intense. This blog is not my opinion on the charges, the character or past or actions of Freddie Gray nor of the police officers involved.

It is just what is on my heart, living in a day where racial tensions still exist and I just want to share my story and my journey with dealing with the issues of racism, poverty and social justice because they are part of the story God has written for me...

As a child I had a best friend who was African American, I loved her with all my heart, we had a "Bracelet Club" and we formed a  singing group and we even were in a talent show together. We ran around the neighborhood everyday and I never thought anything about her color.

In middle school, I had an amazing teacher who showed us a video about segregation and showed police officers hosing down young African American people and showed Martin Luther King and we listened to his speech... I cried like a baby...I began to understand that something very evil had occurred in the past and although I was not around during that time, it hurt and broke my heart.

As I grew older and went to High School, things started to change, my town was predominantly white, though as I said- I had African American friends and never really thought too much about race, surrounding areas "bussed" African American kids into our school and it was the first time I ever felt racial tension. I was afraid of it. During the OJ Simpson trial, someone had broken into our school and wrote profanities in our breezeway that included the "N" word...I walked through the breezeway unaware as groups of African American students got in my face and screamed at me, cussing at me...I grew up loving rap music and although the race issue was still present, for the most part I just enjoyed the culture and diversity that was brought into my life as my school became more integrated.

As I went on to college and went to a Christian school, I majored in Social Work and went to the satellite campus they had in Philadelphia. I was allowed the opportunity to attend Temple University. My classmates and I were minorities. My teacher openly discussed on an ongoing basis the "white privilege" that white people had. I remember sitting in class crying because I felt guilty and I didn't know what I had done wrong. It was very confusing for me. I had another teacher who was from Africa who blamed white missionaries for problems in her country...more guilt, shame and confusion...

And then I began doing internships...
My first was for Mercy Hospital's homeless outreach program in Baltimore. I walked through Lexington Market where there were men standing on podiums yelling words of hatred towards white people. I was terrified. During my internship I saw inner city "projects" and saw things that changed everything for me...
...people wandering aimlessly, children in the streets- crying with no mothers in sight, women standing on corners dressed to sell themselves and young boys huddled in groups, listening to music and yelling...I felt anger, I felt devastation and I felt hopelessness all around me...

Then I interned at homeless shelters and pregnant teen programs in Philadelphia...I went on a "mission trip" to New York City and went into homeless shelters and subway stations where men slept in boxes and again my heart broke...I became angry because I didn't know how to help people who seemed stuck in a cycle of poverty, violence and hopelessness.

And today...those same feelings return as I listen and watch and see what is happening so close to home...

As a professional I work with students who have disabilities. I help many young African American males and females who live on the edge of poverty, have learning disabilities or mental health problems, most without fathers, many who are very hard-hearted and I sit across from them as a white professional woman and I often feel the same helplessness and hopelessness that I felt in the past.

They want me to tell them how they can escape their world of government dependence, drug dealers, fatherlessness and single mothers they never see because they work 2-3 jobs, when they can't read, they don't know how to get or keep jobs and they want me to explain to them how it is possible to escape from their world without turning to crime.

I meet with Ex-Offenders who have disabilities who tell me their stories of growing up without fathers, with mothers on drugs and how they made bad choices and now after spending 20 years in prison- no one will hire them. I see that young face in their older, hardened eyes as they open up about their desperation and need for hope. So much regret and so much despair...

I can't write and "pretty things up" and express anything other than what I have experienced. I don't believe that Racism is to blame for everything and I also don't believe that Racism is "over and done with".  I don't know enough about what happened that night, I wasn't there, all I know is that something has happened that has revealed to us a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.

What I DO believe is that hatred comes from hearts filled with sin and that this hatred has nothing to do with color. I believe that sin is the evil we must all fight together and that the ONLY ANSWER to the ANGER, PAIN, BITTERNESS and HOPELESSNESS of these times is JESUS CHRIST.  JESUS is the only one who can bring healing, restoration, and unity between people. He is the one who brought us, sinners, to God, by dying on the cross.

I won't give up hope, although I spent a great deal of time today as I drove home from work feeling hopeless, angry, and frustrated at all of this mess...it broke me down and I prayed and I prayed and I remembered who my hope was and I remembered that the same God who rescued me from my sin, is the same God who loves, rescues and knows every hair on every head of every person in this world. This is the same God who promises that...

2 Chronicles 7:14
"...if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

It's interesting...after work today, every time I saw an African American, I felt myself wanting to reach out, be friendlier, kinder and more intentional than every before. There was a bus driver eating ice cream outside of McDonald's and I slowed my car down to ask her about the traffic and joke about her kiddie cone, her "dessert before dinner".  We laughed together and I told her that a local accident had cleared up and she smiled and thanked me for letting her know. Then the young man and lady at the drive-through...both African American, the young man was extremely polite and sweet to me and the young woman as well. I wanted to hug them.

Sounds silly, but I don't know...maybe, just maybe...God will bring something amazing out of all of this darkness...drawing us to one another and reminding us to show His love to all people. To look deeper into people's eyes and without words speak a universal language of unconditional love and acceptance and when we do this, maybe we can break the strongholds of racism, poverty, violence, and hopelessness that our Enemy has been creating, crafting, and trying to grow from day #1...

I felt hope return tonight as I reflected on how the Lord has touched my heart for my African American brothers and sisters...and we ARE brothers and sisters...I won't pretend to understand your suffering, I won't pretend to know what it is like to be you, but I will stand by you and with you and for you and ask my sweet Jesus to bring about healing and hope for all of us as only He can...I will pray that salvation, justice and healing will come to all parties- the police, Freddie Gray, the community, the angry looters, and that one day in Heaven, we will all be joined together in unity. That is my hope and I don't care what kind of mess the media proclaims and shouts out at me, it is what I will stand for and I will not back down.

I wanted to share what Tony Evans had to say about all of this:
Tony Evans on Baltimore

Good words of Hope, my prayer for sure...




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