A few years ago, I worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a Regional Black Campus Ministries Coordinator. That meant I was in charge of overseeing all of IV’s black chapters, black staff & non-black staff working with black students in MI, OH, W. VA & Western PA. I’d been doing work with black students specifically -by request and calling– for over 10 years before I stepped into that role.
In short? I had a lot of black folks in my life on a regular basis. This tempered all of the places I didn’t have any black folks in my life on a regular basis: my home, my neighborhood, my Church, etc. To be fair, my (white husband) & I did attend a black Church for 5 years, 2000-2005. Since then we’ve been at a growing (majority) white, hipster-ish Church.
A year after I left InterVarsity, I started to FEEEEEEEL it with all of the feels there are to be felt. I started to question every. doggone. thang.
NUMBER ONE: Where are my black people, for crying out loud?
Why don’t I have more black friends whom I see on a regular basis?
Why aren’t I reading more black authors?
Why am I default interacting with mostly white bloggers online? (Hint: they are typically easier to find).
Why aren’t I shopping, living, interacting with more black people on a daily basis?
Where can I find some black people, cuz I’m finna lose it?!
Where are my safe spaces? Do I have safe spaces with black folks? Where, God in heaven, am I safe on this planet? 2013 was SUCH a bad year for Black Americans.
In 2011, I was working with & for black students & staff.
In 2012, I was working with a multi-racial group of high school students with a black supervisor.
In 2013, I was working in an all-white office setting.
Work environment is important.
Last year, around September, I hit a major snag. I was very angry about issues pertaining to Black Americans.
Trayvon. Renisha. Chicago.
I knew, instinctively knew if I didn’t get around my people —-in a healthy context, I would shrivel & die. Shrivel. Die. Rinse. Repeat. Though I’ve been more intentional in other ways too.
That’s why I took the plunge. That’s why I left our White Church which is lovely, wonderful, inspiring and full of the Spirit.
That’s why I left even though my husband couldn’t come with me. We knew he needed his relationships with his white peers, recently developed. We knew he needed white worship music to enter in. We knew if I heard another white worship set I was going to hang myself upside down by my pinky toes.
I need to lose myself in the repetition of Gospel music, the hootin’, the hollerin’, the breathy yells of the black preacher. Right now, not always, I’ve needed a more welcoming entry point.
There are costs to this choice. I’ve made a great deal of decisions lately that have tremendous cost, all of them, including moving on to a new Church have come through some level of desperation in what has been a time of grief, transition, anger, fear and mess.
Yet, the first time I took my baby boy’s the black Church they responded in a typical but sad way, letting me know this type of uncomfortable transition will serve them in the long run.
Ransom: “I’ve never been around so many black people before at once. I was scared.” Sigh.
Rhys: “I didn’t get to play very much, we had to talk about the Bible too much, Mama!” Sigh.
Keep in mind I don’t speak for all black folks, sometimes leaving is the only way to save yourself. My leaving doesn’t diminish the worth of what I’m leaving, rather I’m pursuing the worth in something else of great value.
The rub for me is that my white neighbors, co-workers, friends, blog friends, blog readers, church members, family members will feel under-valued, under-appreciated, under-fill-in-the-blank. It’s not that at all. If I lived my whole life and made every decision based on what I believe would make my white peers happy no one would respect or appreciate the puppet I’d become.
I’ve been the only or one of few blacks in many, many all white settings for a very long time. My whole life actually. People know this, and know it hard: I can no longer burn myself at the stake to keep whites warm.
I’ve been there, I’ve jumped the hoops, I’ve written reconciliation, I’ve taught reconciliation, I’ve lived reconciliation, but in order to keep engaging reconciliation I need safe black spaces because I am dying in the current trajectory. Escaping to a black Church is my last hope at this point.
You want me in the game? You want me to write about race relations? You want me interacting with whites asking all manner of hurtful questions? You want me whole? You want me alive? Get me to safe spaces. That is what I need. Heal up my wounds so I can go back into battle. Right now? I’m down for the count.
A happier, healthier me usually means taking some risks and taking care of my needs in healthy ways. I have no inclination to deny that I’ve also taken unhealthy risks and pursued getting needs met in unhealthy ways, but here is one way I’m getting it right: I’m leaving the White Church for the Black one because I need to.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.