This is a safe place, right?
All right, cool. Then I’ll tell you a story.
I’ve called the cops on myself.
More than once.
I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t need assistance. Nothing was wrong.
It was a preventative call. I’m black, and I was working at a campus ministry where I always had a minivan full of black teens.
Parents, grandparents and guardians entrusted me with their kids.
So when I went to a location where people may not be used to seeing a group of African-Americans, I’d call the non-emergency police number and explain what I was about to do.
I’ve probably done it about three times in my life. And I’m fairly certain on one occasion the police were called on me.
I’m not mad. I’m not bitter at the person who called. I’m hoping to be someone who through the work of the church actually helps with racial reconciliation.
And as optimistic as I may be in that work, I still know that some people have been taught to fear brown skin.
Depending on the lens through which you view this story, you either think it’s crazy, or you think it’s completely understandable.
I’m just trying to give you insight on what it’s like to process this world through my eyes.
And if you’ve seen the Central Park video of Amy Cooper calling the police on Christian Cooper this week, it would give you some insight on why I’d want to establish first contact with the police and get my story out there first.
Thankfully, the Cooper situation didn’t escalate.
Unfortunately, many other situations in 2020 have escalated.
Way too many have escalated to the point of death.
“MY SKIN, MY SKIN!”
One of the things that inspired former Brooklyn Dodgers manager and president Branch Rickey to bring in Jackie Robinson and integrate baseball was the story of Rickey’s college teammate Charles Thomas.
In 1903, Ohio Wesleyan was in South Bend to play Notre Dame. Thomas, the team’s lone black player, was denied entrance to the Oliver Hotel.
Rickey eventually convinced the hotel to let Thomas sleep in his room. Later that night, Rickey found Thomas in the room, crying into his hands, and saying “my skin, my skin” between sobs.
It’s been a sobbing-into-our-hands “my skin, my skin,” type of spring for many people in the African-American community.
We’re still grieving Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in Brunswick.
And then we learned about Breona Taylor in Louisville.
No one died when Amy Cooper called the police to Central Park, but it’s still traumatic to see how quickly our skin can be weaponized against us, and how quickly a situation could escalate.
Before we could even fully process the Amy Cooper story, we learned about George Floyd. And like Ahmaud, it’s accompanied with a graphic video.
I was just telling a friend that it’s so much to process that I’ve completely forgot we were in the middle of a global pandemic.
I check in with my friends. They all say the same thing.
“We’re just tired!”
WAFFLES WITH CHIEF WILLIAMS
Shortly after the riots in Ferguson, my cousin, one of my best friends and I met up with Staunton City Police chief Jim Williams.
If rioting is the language of the unheard, we wanted to establish those lines of communication. We wanted to hear and be heard.
We asked questions of chief Williams for about an hour, to try to get a better understanding of police work and the national divide between police forces and black communities.
I’ve been thinking about that meeting with chief Williams as I’ve tried to process the most recent set of riots. I’ve heard rioting explained as making the community feel outside what people who are denied justice feel inside.
Not trying to affirm rioting.
Not affirming looting.
Just trying to understand.
If I could offer you one resource to listen to on riots, it would be this six-minute video of rapper and author Brady Goodwin, Jr.’s story about a riot question at his Bible college.
It’s not a pro-riot or anti-riot piece, but an important contextual piece that adds to the nuance of how we process what we are seeing.
HE JUST WALKED IN TO MY HOUSE (LOL)
One of my best friends growing up – we called him IV because he was fourth generation with the same name – would come over to my house and borrow shoes.
He wouldn’t even knock. And once when I was still in the shower at the time we were supposed to be somewhere, he literally came in my house and got me out of the bathroom.
IV and I were just that close.
Out of all of my white friends, I think Kyle Bumgarner was the first to just walk in my house without knocking.
As well as the first to come to family reunion in New Market.
He called for me for my birthday on Thursday, and he was asking me how I was doing with everything that was happening in our country. He was one of about eight white friends who called to check on me or lament with me.
It’s relationships like the one I have with Kyle – who feels right at home making himself a plate at the cookout – that help me remember the work is against racism and not a people group.
LOVE DOES WIN
There’s a famous episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Will is trying to secure a basketball scholarship, but so is the guy he’s competing against. At the end of the game, Will purposely lets the other guy score the game-winning bucket.
Will’s competitor in the game was a father, and Will wanted his rival to go to college even more than he wanted to go.
He saw losing as winning.
There’s a paradoxical nature to the Christian faith.
As I watch all that African-Americans have experienced this month, I’m reminded about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s paradoxical vision for winning.
No doubt, most people would see this as losing.
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you …
Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us for half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”
THE FINAL SAY
A line from one of MLK’s most famous speeches envisions a time when people will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
The Bible’s story concludes with John giving us a vision of heaven, and it’s King’s dream realized, only better. In Revelation 5:9, our different colors make up a beautiful tapestry as a racially and ethnically diverse choir sings out praise songs.
As we witness black bodies dead in the street, that day feels so far away.
We can’t wait for the day when we stop mourning our people dying and start celebrating the death of racism itself.
But until then we fight for justice.
With love as our weapon.