Lately, like many Americans, my heart breaks over what happened to George Floyd. It brings back to my memory an injustice against blacks I witnessed years ago. There was no death or physical violence involved, but there was still damage done.
I’m posting here a story I wrote about the traumatic event, which comes to my mind again and again, especially when racism is in the news. This story was first published in 2007.
After the story I’ve added “The Rest of the Story.” This contains some thoughts that have come to me over the years, which I haven’t yet shared. The Lord has told me that for me healing comes as I write about difficult issues. Often healing comes for others as well, as I write what the Lord lays on my heart, and they read it and are encouraged. I do pray for complete healing in me, in the three young men in the story and for all those who have been mistreated because of the color of their skin and even for those who have done the mistreating of these precious souls that God loves. We all have sinned, and I praise God that He is a God who delights to show mercy. (See Micah 7:18)
This verse also comes to mind in regard to the racial issues in our country: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV).
I pray that you will take the time to read all I have written here. Then I pray you will ask the Lord, “What’s my part? What should I do?”
What’s Your Black History?
Black history month has come and gone. But I’m still asking a question of my family and friends: “What’s your black history?” What I mean is, “What were you taught about African-Americans?”
Then I tell them some of my black history.
I grew up in a “lily-white” area southwest of Chicago. I didn’t see black people every day. As a child, I heard talk of people leaving their neighborhoods in the city because “colored people moved in.”
I remember warnings about driving through black neighborhoods— especially at night. I’d ridden on the elevated trains with my parents, but some of my relatives warned against doing so because of “all those colored people.”
One memory stands out from my youth. I was maybe 10 years old and was swimming in a public pool in the next county on a hot summer day sometime in the 60s.
“Why are there hardly any people here?” I asked my father.
“Because colored people swim here,” was his shocking answer.
Some days, as I see the terrible effects of racism continue in our country, I feel ashamed of having been born white.
On one particular day at my large, mostly-white church a number of years ago, my then-teenage daughter invited three black male friends from her high school to Sunday school. She left them for a little while to go to the bathroom and when she returned, her friends were surrounded by security guards. One of the guards shouted at them, “You don’t belong here!”
Why? Because certain people saw three black youth dressed differently than their own teenagers and concluded they were part of a gang.
When these young people walked around in the book store, as one lady told me indignantly and “took more than one piece of sample candy,” people concluded they were thieves. When these teens who were poor, and therefore hungry, looked in different classrooms for cake they’d seen someone eating, it was assumed, “they’re casing the joint.”
Instead of doing what the Bible says “Love one another as I have loved you,” (John 13:34), frantic calls were made to security to deal with criminals on the premises.
These young men were gracious, despite their treatment. What broke my heart even more as they saw me crying was when one of them said, “Don’t feel so bad, Mrs. C. We get treated this way all the time. We’re used to it.”
I had to face a fact, though. If I’d fully embraced the lies I’d been taught, I might have reacted the same way others in my church acted. I thought back to times in my recent past when I crossed the street if I saw a black man coming and how I avoided entering a checkout line if the clerk at the register was black.
The ladies from my church, whom I knew as loving, caring Christian women, denied acting out of prejudice. No apologies were ever offered.
If I’d asked those involved in that incident, I suspect that the answer to these questions would have been “never.” “When was the last time you hugged a black person, entered a black person’s home, or invited a black family into your home?”
When I asked these questions of a friend recently, she said, “I don’t have the opportunity.”
I used to think the same thing until I prayed about the issue. Then God opened doors. He opened my heart too.
My daughter brought scores of black friends home from school. Sadly, they told me other white parents wouldn’t let them in their houses.
Then I was invited to teach Sunday school to teens at a black church, and I accepted. After befriending some ladies who were members of another black church, I was invited to speak at a women’s retreat there. I joined integrated clubs and groups and attended integrated church services. As a Hospice volunteer, I started to choose black patients to care for. Not long ago I spoke in a black church at a black friend’s funeral about how she had impacted my life. At that moment, I thought how racism could have robbed me of that.
I discovered if you truly seek racial reconciliation, you will find it. And once you integrate your life, you’ll have to confront racism – in those around you and in your own soul.
One Sunday, a member of our church came to the pulpit after attending a Promise Keepers event. He talked about being raised to use the ‘n’ word, and in his profession as a policeman it was common practice. He went along with other officers even though as a Christian he knew it was wrong. That evening, choked with tears, he confessed before the congregation his racist attitudes and actions. The beauty of the moment reached a poignant peak when a black man, a fellow Promise Keeper who was visiting our church–walked forward and put his arm around him while he confessed his racist sins.
I plan to keep asking, “What’s your black history?” even as I continue to deal with my own—not just in February–but every month of the year.
The rest of the story: The above article was published in The Lookout in 2007, at least five years after this incident happened. I also had this piece posted on CBN.com sometime after that. Several years ago, as articles about racial issues were in the newspaper, I had a shortened version of this piece in the Tampa Bay Times in the letters to the editor section.
Although this trauma happened to me and these young men approximately 18 years ago, whenever stories about injustices against blacks come on TV, I think back to that day. I find myself feeling regrets. One is that I didn’t tell the senior pastor what happened. (He retired from the church and moved away not too long after this incident.) He said he cared about racial issues, but back then I felt distrustful of people and their view of blacks, so I felt certain he would take the side of those who ordered these young men to leave, especially since one of them I believe was a close friend of his.
I did talk to a black pastor at the church the same day about what happened. He told me how he had to be careful of how he dressed, and that not long before he had faced racist attitudes while visiting a white patient in the hospital. He didn’t act surprised by what I told him. I also talked to an associate pastor who was apologetic and said, “You should invite the youth back to the church. Dinner will be on us.” They weren’t interested in going back.
I did take them back in the early afternoon on the day they were told to leave. As I approached the church building, one of the ladies (she was quite elderly) who called the security guards earlier shouted to someone, “They’re back. Call security again.”
It was as if I was invisible. I told her they were my guests. She didn’t care. So I talked to the security guard who arrived, with the three teens present. This particular security guard was Hispanic, and stated, “Their kind don’t belong here.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked. “Do you mean poor people? People who aren’t upper, middle class whites?”
She didn’t answer my question, but stated, “They were in parts of the church where young people don’t belong.”
Our family of four had been attending the church for many years, my children had attended the school attached to the church, where I also worked as a substitute teacher. My daughters had never been told there were parts of the church where youth don’t belong.
I could not convince this person that these youth were not evil. I wanted her to see how funny, kind, and gifted they were. Two of them (brothers) had a kind, loving mom and dad as well as a stepmom. The other had a loving mom. All of these parents worked hard to support their children, even though they had financial issues and lived in a rough neighborhood.
This security guard never addressed these young people or looked at them. She acted like they weren’t standing there as if by doing so, she could cause me to take them away quicker.
I did talk to another security guard later—a middle age white male. He said that he had worked in the inner city and loved black youth and had no problem with them being on the property. Apparently, he had reacted to the hysteria (racism) of those who had called security and went along when the youth were asked to leave. The youth group leader said he enjoyed having them in the Sunday School class.
One reason people got worked up is that not long before the book store had been robbed—not by black youth—but by well-dressed, upper middle class youth who attended the Christian school. I heard that they had walked out of the store with a large jewelry display case. What I surmised is that workers in the book store were so distraught about this previous thievery that they thought getting rid of these black youth (perhaps believing all black youth are thieves) would prevent further losses in the church bookstore. On that day, when I talked to a worker from the bookstore on the phone she said when she saw them in the store she had asked them if they had any money, and they said they didn’t, so they didn’t belong in there.
“And how many times have you asked my daughters that question?” I asked. “Or anyone else?”
“Besides, I didn’t react negatively to them because of the color of their skin but because of how they dressed,” she said.
“That’s wrong too,” I answered.
One of the young men wore a doo rag. She possibly thought it was something he would suddenly use to cover his mouth and then would pull out a gun and say, “Give me everything in the store.”
Another wore one of those sleeveless undershirts some call a “wife beater.” They were not going into the church service—just the Sunday School—and our church had a casual dress code for youth. Another had his pants sagging. Not long after, many of the white youth in the church wore the same style. I don’t think any of them were kicked out of the church.
Ironically, not long after this traumatic incident, I attended the women’s Bible study at the church, and the subject was racism. Beth Moore talked on video about how racist her grandmother was. During discussion time, I went to the front and told how badly I and the black youth I worked with (at the black church where I taught Sunday School) as well as my daughter’s friends were treated out in public and even in our church. I didn’t give details, but one of the people who called security sat near me. She said nothing to me after I spoke.
The Lord has not given me permission to leave, so I’m still a member at this church. So is one of the people who initiated the call to security that day years ago. I confess I tend to avoid her, but some days I’m filled regret that I didn’t go to her and talk more about the issue. I guess I wasn’t up to hearing more excuses and having shame dumped on me for bringing such inferior youth (because they were black) to our pristine, mostly white church. I did realize along the way that some blacks are allowed on Sundays—those who dress and act white. Also, females who wear their African garb, and missionaries.
I do know that I need to completely let go of bitterness toward this person, which sometimes suddenly wells up in me again. What comes to mind is “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I do keep her in my prayers, and God has brought me lately, now that I’m retired from day job, back into the women’s ministry where I see her and interact with her.
A couple of years ago as I was reliving the trauma of what happened that day because of more stories in the newspaper about injustices toward African Americans by the police, I asked in a small prayer group meeting at the church, “Can we pray against racism in our church and in our country?”
I was shocked when my prayer was censored.
“There is no racism in this church,” one of the people in the group insisted.
Ironically, one of her closest friends was among those who had my daughter’s guests kicked out of church.
“There is no racism in society either,” insisted another member of the prayer group. “There are just evil people.”
She was Hispanic, and apparently thought I was only talking about blacks and saw them all as evil. On the way out of the room, a man in the group who also had worked with black youth and brought them to church, said he often saw racist attitudes from white church members.
I regret that I didn’t go back and try to pray my prayer again. I didn’t tell my trauma to this group. I figured most would probably be on the side of kicking out my guests. When I mentioned in the group that I had suffered various traumas while attending our church, one of the people said, “You just need to let go of all that.”
One thing that the Lord reminds me of is that what happened was years ago, and even though that prayer group wouldn’t pray with me, I have prayed and others have prayed with me. And I have a prayer request that says, “Please end racism in this church and in our society,” on the prayer board in the church prayer room. I also have a prayer request there that says, “Lord, please integrate this church.”
On Sunday, I put these two prayers on the “prayer wall” on our church’s website:
“Please join me in praying that all of us in this church and in the body of Christ will examine our hearts and ask God to remove any racist attitudes or mindsets. Also, pray that racism will not exist in any form at our church and that all will be truly welcomed, and that we will become an integrated church with people from all races and colors worshiping together. Pray that we as Christians will live integrated lives.”
Prayer #2: “Please join me in praying that God will intervene in the unrest in various cities in our country—that the violence, looting, and fire-starting will stop. Pray also for the family of George Floyd for comfort and peace from the Lord. Also, pray that many will come to know Christ through this crisis.”
The church website is set up that each time someone prays the prayer which was submitted, an email comes that says, “Someone prayed for you.” Receiving those emails has been such an encouragement.
I believe by faith God is answering these prayers I and others have prayed. I see some new black attenders on a regular basis at our church, and at certain events, the church is integrated.
Not long ago, the Christian rapper, LaCrae sang at our church. I felt encouraged when I saw so many black youth and their parents present on our church campus.
Not long ago, these words were on a sign outside our church: “All are welcome here.”
Every time I saw that sign, I felt a little sad and wondered, Is that really true? It wasn’t true back on the day my daughter and I came to the church with three black youth. Maybe things are different now. I’m praying by faith that it’s so.
As far as the three youth from years ago, our paths have crossed again. One of them suffered a fall and has an injury that keeps him in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, he is unable to work. He is always happy to see me, and he does have a relationship with the Lord. Another of the youth struggles with mental health issues, but is overcoming them and has worked steadily for two years. The Lord has given him beautiful hymns. The last time I saw him he had a real hunger for the Lord.
The other young man whom I only hear about from their sister and who is a brother of youth number two, works full time and would say that Jesus is his Savior. None of them attends a church, as far as I know.
I have regular contact with their sister, who wasn’t there on that sad day and came for the first time on a different day. She was not kicked out of the church, and she attended a number of times.
“It was your church that got me started on the Christian path,” she has told me more than once. These days she is a leader at her church.
When I talked to her yesterday, she said, “First, it was your unconditional love that got to me. You invited us into your home, and you fed us. We never were treated like that before.” Then she said, “Going to your church meant so much to me. I really felt the love of God there.”
I pray that everyone who walks through those doors and the doors of my home—no matter who they are—will say those same words.
“Glory” by John Legend and Common