A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)
As a former educator and children’s literature enthusiast, I’ve always worked hard to promote equality by encouraging my students and my own children to read diverse books and. I’ve read, taught, and shared books by amazing authors from around the world whose life experiences have been vastly different than my own. Literature inspires conversation, and I used these teachable moments to share the importance of respect and equality. All people are God’s people, and we need to treat them as such. I thought this was enough. But it isn’t.
George Floyd’s death in May 2020 spurred a long overdue, nation-wide movement to overturn the parts of our hearts and our society that implicitly and explicitly allow for racism to continue. And I’ve come to realize that it isn’t enough to read a lot or teach from my perspective. I have to learn from people who have voices and experiences that can help me really understand white privilege and the difficulties faced by people of color in our country. More than ever, I want to make sure I understand what my kids should know about equality and discrimination so they don’t repeat the same mistakes I have.
So this blog is a collection of what I’ve learned from a few of those conversations. I admire and appreciate the men and women who were willing to be candid with me and share their viewpoints on what I should be telling my children about racism and equality. Thank you to Joanna & Jamelle Hargraves, Gabrielle Sparangis, and JoJo Moore for your wisdom and your honesty. Here’s what they had to say.
Have Intentional Conversations about Equality
I engaged in conversations about equality and discrimination because I really want to learn. I want to teach my children the reality that their life experiences are going to be different than others. Honestly, I was nervous that it was even inappropriate to ask what I should be telling my kids. Thankfully, Joanna and Gabrielle were gracious and willing to share their thoughts.
Both women agreed on the importance of me leading these conversations with my children. Gabrielle explains, “[These conversations] start in the home. We lay the foundation.”
In his interview with Pastor Bill, JoJo stated, “The community as a whole needs to realize that things like this [discrimination] are happening to people of color. Silence is not going to help. Turning a blind eye to it isn’t going to help. We need everyone… to understand and realize that this is a struggle we deal with on a daily basis.” My kids and I need to recognize this struggle, even if we can’t fully understand it.
JoJo described one of the important parts of these conversations is related to equality and kindness. “We live in a world of different religions, different races, different creeds. But we all have to get along.”
Joanna reminded me, “The biggest thing is continuing to be open, as you’ll never truly be able to understand just like I cannot. The best we can do is continue to stay in the Word and use God’s justice as reassurance that evil will not prevail even though it is the real life of many.” My kids need to know that they may not “get it”, but they have to recognize the problem anyway.
Stop Talking about Racism
I don’t mean what you think. We definitely should be talking about discrimination, inequality, and how people of color are treated in our country. But Joanna pointed out that talking about race is one thing we all do that we don’t realize is wrong. “One thing [we don’t realize we shouldn’t do] is use the term ‘race’ as anything but the human race God created.” She suggested that, rather than talking about race, we call this injustice what it is: “Inequality, political issues, and sin is what this all is. It is what sets a Christian apart [that we realize] we are all one race.”
In a recent sermon, Pastor Bill Limmer took us back to the beginning of the Bible to understand God’s view of His people: “From the beginning, every single human being, regardless of what country they live in, what abilities they have or don’t have, what color their skin is, has value and significance beyond comprehension. This is the Scriptural worldview. It is one of the most radical in the world and is not held by many worldviews.” God created mankind in his image, and we are all a reflection of Him.
Address Equality at Church
As Pastor Bill explained, the Christian church is built on the idea that we are all God’s people and that Jesus died for all. Joanna and Gabrielle both stated the importance of churches engaging in the conversation of discrimination. Joanna explained, “So many are silent [on this issue] and that is the reason these outrageous things occur in my opinion… it is sad that there is a fear of having this discussion in church when it is necessary.” Gabrielle reiterated, “[Church] is a place where we are all supposed to leave our judgments at the door and hear and receive the Message. Enough with the fear. It all has to end to see a change.”
I admitted to Joanna that, as Communications Director at my church, I was concerned about saying “the right thing” in our communications. She encouraged me, “We all screw up. Make it clear that you’re not experts but that this is too important not to talk about.” My kids need me and other leaders at church to engage in these difficult conversations so they know how important it is to do so, and so they have the courage to stand up when they see something wrong.
Teach Real History
History classes cover what they consider are the “basics”, but we have to remember that school time is limited and history is told by the winners and the privileged. Joanna explained, “Teaching real history to our kids is necessary. We teach them about American wars, but we gloss over the lasting effects that leave the biggest marks on groups of people. There are so many good authors that should not be saved just for Black History Month.” As an adult, I’ve had the opportunity to read books on a variety of historical events. And I have been shocked on numerous occasions that adulthood was the first time I heard about these topics.
When your children learn about the Revolutionary War and George Washington, make sure they hear about the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. During the Civil War unit, don’t allow the study to stop at the Battle of Gettsyburg; study the 54th Massachusetts Regiment too and read some of Frederick Douglass’ pieces alongside the speeches of Abraham Lincoln. Don’t just look at Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust of WWII; learn how the Tuskegee Airmen and all-Japanese units who served in the war despite the segregation and persecution they faced in their hometowns. There’s more to history than the highlights in the textbooks.
Conversations and education are incredibly important. We all have to understand what’s happening and how our history led us to where we are today. But talking isn’t enough. JoJo explains, “Conversations are a step in the right direction. But we need to keep at it… we need to be on one chord with what the people of color are asking for.”
JoJo reminds us in his interview that we need to fight for accountability for police and other lawmakers. “It’s all about action moving forward… there needs to be a change systematically to make sure that this never happens again. A change in government, a change in local and national leaders.” People of all colors should use their voices to make these changes happen. “The time for words has long gone. We need action. We need our white friends and allies and our community… to act to bring about actual change.”
Next Steps in Promoting Equality
If I’m being candid, I hope that sharing this blog post is me doing something, pushing this conversations about equality in the right direction. I want to continue to grow and understand how people like me have been part of the problem, but also how we can part of the solution.
Pastor Bill summed up my feelings pretty well in his sermon on this topic. So here’s how I will wrap this up:
“White people often feel awkward and don’t know what to say. They truly don’t want to say anything wrong. But one of the things that is extremely painful in life is the silence of friends. Just be humble enough to say, “I need help because I don’t want to hurt.” So, begin the conversation with an ask. We can accomplish a lot more talking together than we can accomplish not talking to each other. And one of the key factors in communication is listening. I have heard it said there is a reason why God gave us one mouth and two ears. Use proportionately. Meet in the middle and look up to the cross. Because until the blood of Jesus gets on our minds, it won’t get in our hearts or our hands.”
Limmer, B. & Moore, J. (5 June 2020). There needs to be a change: A conversation about equity, equality, and Jesus. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twrjExMmxRI.
Personal conversation with Joanna Hargraves and Gabrielle Sparangis (30 May 2020).
Limmer, B. (7 June 2020). Race, racism, and a path forward. God is Here sermon series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/race-and-racism/.