This summer I have been learning a lot about listening to people. James 1:19 has convicted me a lot and has challenged me to grow as someone who is quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. I’ve quickly seen that growing to be that person is much easier said than done but I’m trying. I’ve been trying to be quick to hear these past few weeks. Quick to hear the stories of affliction, the stories of injustice, the stories of frustration, the stories of every kind of person. I’ve been listening and I’ve been weeping, because right now our nation is filled with stories of heart-break. Stories of families mourning the loss of their loved ones, stories of separation, and stories of segregation beyond what we have given recognition to. The stories outside of our country take the heart-break even further. Another extreme terrorist attack, taking over 80 lives, happened yesterday and the news is quieter because these tragedies are coming about new everyday. Our world is shaking, evil is present, separation is growing, murder is increasing, and conflict is abounding. How can our hearts not break?
As a 19 year old, I am heart-broken that the history I learned in school is repeating. As a 19 year old, I am heart-broken that the history I learned in school left out a whole lot of the evil that has occurred within the boarders of our own country. As a 19 year old, I am heart-broken that what is happening in the world now will soon be the history my kids will learn and see that as we took a few steps forward from the civil rights movement, we were also taking a few steps back. And as a 19 year-old, I am heart-broken because it has taken me 18 years to see the biases I myself have grown up with, to see the fight my friends of different races have been having to fight day to day, and to even see that segregation is still very present today.
These past few weeks I have been quick to hear and that has torn my heart apart listening to the cries of hurt— cries that have been present my whole life but I never heard until now. I’ve been trying to be quick to hear because people deserve to be heard and I also need to hear to learn and to see the problem that prevails. I’ve been trying to be slow to speak, because people need to be heard first and I also need time to even understand what needs to be said. I’ve learned that an argument does not need to be said. I also learned I really didn’t know what to say— but, that I needed not to remain silent.
Martin Luther King says, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” These stories, these issues in our country, these people who have been crying out— they matter. And I refuse to remain silent about these things that matter just because of a fear of saying the “wrong” thing. I really don’t have the right words. I really can’t pretend I even understand what my african american friends have struggled with their whole lives. And I really can’t say that I have never been one to be racist because as I’ve been reading in Benjamin Watson’s book “Under Our Skin”, racism rests within each of us— it comes down to not a skin problem, but a sin problem. We are wretched, selfish, and sinful. Ben Watson time and time again points out that at the root of it all, these problems derive from a heart problem… a heart problem that we each need to look at within and begin to change. And so I am not here to say that I have never held a bias, or believed a stereotype, or been racist. I am here to say I have and here to say how deeply sorry I am to my friends or to the strangers I’ve done that to. This apology is long over due.
I’ve been slow to speak, but I want to start speaking. I want to start speaking even though I don’t really know where to start. There is so much to say. First, again, I am going to say sorry. Sorry in particular to my high school classmates. For me, I genuinely enjoyed high school for the most part. I had my struggles and my times of not loving it, just as any high school student does, but on a whole I really enjoyed my experience there. My school was large, competitive to the core, and big. I always felt it was big in heart, big in it’s numbers, and big in the way it made it’s name known. Everyone knew about Lambert and I was proud to be a part of the school. One thing Lambert did lack at the time was diversity. My high school was not the most diverse school by any means and I always knew that. What I didn’t know and failed to recognize was the struggles my friends that made up the diversity population at Lambert faced. I loved my friends I had from all different backgrounds, cultures, and races— yet I was so unaware of the fights the had to face. I was unaware of how hard at times it must have been to attend my school. Because, as a white girl, I never felt the struggles they felt and so I never saw that there was a struggle. Yet, the struggle was very much there and I hate that I didn’t see it then to love my friends in it then. It took an incident at my high school to break out this year, while I was in college, to bring me into awareness of what some of my classmates and friends faced during their time at school. All of high school they were quiet about their struggles, and I understand why… because other’s just don’t get it. But, after this incident, people began to speak. I remember sitting in my dining hall reading what my friends and classmates had wrote about their high school experience and I was just in tears because I really had no idea. I knew some classmates had started a club for embracing diversity and I loved what they did, but I didn’t at the time why they started it. And now, I wish more than anything I could go back and be right alongside them in their club and in their video encouraging each other to stop the stereotypes and discrimination. So to my classmates, I am so sorry. I am sorry I was not standing beside you in support of fighting for unity. I am sorry I failed to see the struggles you faced. I am sorry for my ignorance. I am sorry for not stoping others when they said a race joke or stereotyped. I am sorry I have been silent for so long.
I recognize the hurt and the problems that existed then and exist now, but I still don’t understand it and I don’t think I ever fully will because the truth is, I don’t face the same struggles and fears. My fears now are for the students I will one day teach— fears that they will still have to face the same struggles my friends of diversity are having to face right now. Some where along high school the Lord planted a desire in my to teach. As that desire grew, a desire to teach inner-city grew. I am not quite sure why, considering my experience with poverty and inner-cities is very slim, but I do know that my passion is very real. Overall, I am passionate about people and I am passionate about how we each have a story. I think a main reason I am so passionate about inner-city is because those kids have stories that need to be heard and need to be written— not by what others think their lives will be, but by themselves and the great potential they have to beat the odds. Inner-city kids shouldn’t have to have odds to beat. A kid should never just be expected to end up in jail because he has a troubled home life. No. A kid should never be held back or confined by the neighborhood they live in, the parents they have, and the life they’ve been dealt. Every kid has potential, every kid has worth, and every kid has a story. Yet, that’s not what every kid is told and that, that right there breaks my heart and fires me up. It fires me up to get inside the walls of a classroom and believe in every kid the Lord puts in my classroom. It fires me up to speak and to make a change. I don’t know who my students are yet, but man do I love them already. I love them and I weep alongside them right now as they just had to live through this horrifying week in our nation’s history and as they’ve already had to grow up with so much brokenness.
I begin to feel hopeless the more I recognize the issues at hand right now. But, I know that that hopelessness is just a part the devil’s schemes. And I refuse to buy into that. I refuse to sit in a place of silence and hopelessness. Our country has a lot to work on. Individually, we all have a lot to work on in our hearts and in our actions. But there is hope. I see hope arise out of the one who gives us hope. That hope starts with prayer first and foremost. Not just a hashtag about prayer but the broken record prayer of crying out to our Healer and our Savior in need, in faith, and in trust out of the darkness. The hope also starts when silence stops. Stories need to be shares, voices need to be heard— from everyone of all different races, and care needs to be given. When compassion and communication are lacking, darkness thrives. When compassion and communication are in action, hope arrives.
Unity is a beautiful things and it’s something our country lacks. Our churches remain fairly segregated and the body of Christ remains a broken body of Christ as we all remain separated. We need to stand together— as ONE. My senior year 5th period was the closest thing I have felt to unity in diversity. As I said before, my school was not very diverse, but for some reason, my 5th period AP Lit class was very diverse. We all came from very different families, cultures, and backgrounds and we all had very different hearts and passions. Now, you really could say that about any class… but in order to say that you have to know your classmates. Mrs. Langley is a teacher who makes it a priority for her students to know one another, to respect one another, and to embrace one another. I learned more about myself and more about my classmates in one year than I ever had before. Mrs. Langley challenged us to a do a big mid-year project called “50 essays”. It was exactly what it sounds like. We each had to write 50 essays all about ourselves— with various topics, questions, and themes of course. We had so much freedom though in what we wrote about and how we even designed the collaboration of all essays. When we all finished, we had a party in class celebrating our finish but really, now I see, we were more so celebrating and embracing our unique differences. We each got to share 1 of our 50 essays with the class, whichever was our favorite. It was by far one of my favorite days of high school. My class was brilliant and full of beautiful stories, passions, and heart. My class was full of students that were white, black, asian, middle-eastern, hispanic, gay, straight, a sexual, christian, hindu, religious, atheist, athletic, musical, artistic,mathematical, literary minded, comical, to everything in between. My class ended up going to colleges all over the country from UC Berkley, to Yale, to Berry, to Tech, to UGA, to FSU, to Kentucky, to UNC, and even more. I was definitely an underdog in that class when it came to academics, but I loved it because I was embraced, challenged, and people took the time to listen to what I had to wrote. I got to express my passions about people and even about my faith. I then got to listen to my classmates share about their families, or about their passion for photography, or I got to see their humor, or their heart-break. Not everyone in that class was an english mind, but everyone in that class had a mind flowing with passion that was ready to be poured out onto paper and I believe that’s why we were all willing to write 50 essays and why we were all excited to hear 30 something essays shared in class. Also, throughout the year we had to memorize a poem. We could choose any poem, as long as it was pretty appropriate. We had a lot of freedom to express ourselves in the poem we chose, and even one student wrote her own poem— it was incredible and got a standing ovation.. Getting to hear what poems my classmates chose to memorize was the best— it was another way of celebrating our different passions— yet a chance to be unified in full support of one another’s choice of expression. My 5th period AP Lit class heavily influenced my character, my confidence, my love for literature and a lit class, but most importantly it showed me the gift that diversity is. A gift that so many of us refuse to open. We need to start opening up that gift in all classrooms, in our work places, in our communities, and in all cities and streets.
I wish I could go back and see the gift 0f diversity earlier while I was at high school. I wish i wasn’t silent the few times I did recognize the racial injustice. But I am going to stop wishing I could change what has been done, and I am going to start speaking. I am going to stand alongside my friends of all races, all sexualities, and all backgrounds. I am going to continue to be quick to hear. I am going to try to learn more of our nations history— more than the bias information given to us in textbooks. And I am going to continue to pray, hope, and fight for reconciliation. And if I ever stop doing any of the three, I want to be called out and I want to be pushed out of silence again and again because people’s lives matter now and they will continue to matter. I’m learning being pushed out silence involves speaking up, reaching out, and living out a pursuit of peace and a pursuit of unity.
And so again, to all my friends, classmates, neighbors, and strangers I’ve met— I am sorry for my ignorance and for the times I was to quick to speak but very slow to listen. I am listening to you now and my heart is breaking along side you. I don’t understand your pain, but I am with you and I am opening up the gift of diversity and hoping we can all begin to enjoy and embrace it together— as ONE.