I need to confess something. I’ve had lots of black friends over the years but I never once asked any of them to share their experiences with racism, prejudice, or bigotry.
I don’t know why.
Maybe I wanted to keep my head buried in the sand.
Maybe I was afraid of what I’d hear.
Maybe I knew I’d feel compelled to act and didn’t really want to.
Maybe I thought I couldn’t do anything about it.
Maybe I didn’t think.
In light of recent days, there is no longer the option to not think. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking. The question that haunted me was, “Why is racism still an issue in our country?”
As I sat with that question, the answer came to me, and I was horrified by the answer — “It’s because of me.”
You see every forest fire begins with a spark and I’d seen the sparks– racial comments, jokes, and slurs. I had heard them and chosen to ignore them.
I could have spoken up for my black friends, but instead, I avoided uncomfortable conversations and potential conflict. And the fire grew.
Now, I am humbly asking the black community to please forgive me for ignoring these sparks. I’m sorry I was not brave enough to shine my light in the darkness. I wish I’d had the courage to stomp out the sparks.
But I didn’t. Until now.
One conversation with one black friend changed me forever.
My friend, Felicia, a black woman, teacher, mother, military wife, daughter, and sister was gracious enough to sit on my front porch and share pieces of her story. She never shed a tear, it was a matter of fact. The way it was.
She told me about going with a white friend to the Club on the military base where her husband served as a Colonel (officer). As the hostess took their names she wrote an “O”(officer) by the white woman’s name and “E”(enlisted) by Felicia’s name. In doing so she made the assumption that Felicia’s family was a lower rank. Her friend spoke up. And in doing so, she shined a light on the darkness of this woman’s prejudice. Or I guess you could say, she put out the spark. (Hopefully, that hostess learned to ask and not assume. Here’s the thing, if the friend hadn’t spoken up then the hostess definitely wouldn’t have learned. Now, at least, there’s a chance.)
Felicia, shook her head in disbelief as she recalled the time she visited a local hardware store in order to pick up an air conditioning filter and the man working behind the counter told her the filters for the window units were in the back. She told him she did not have a window unit and never had then asked why he would assume that! She shined the light on his racist remark, putting her foot down on the smoldering spark.
Felicia went on, “Once when I was selling my home, an interested couple knocked on the door and when I answered they asked to speak to the homeowner.” My quick-witted and smart, friend closed the door, opened it again, and said, “Hello, this is the homeowner.”
Once again she shined the light.
When Felicia’s son was in the third grade he excitedly asked a white friend to come to play at his house. The friend asked his mom and upon returning said, “My mom says I can’t go to your house because you’re black.”
Felicia’s son innocently explained, “It’s okay because I’m brown!”
That day Felicia was forced to explain what racism was.
Felicia looked into my tear-filled eyes and said, “Amy, it’s time to shine your light.”
She was right, it was past time.
Her words reminded me of something Jesus had said:
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15 NLT)
The problem was I had put my light “under a basket.” But today, and every day moving forward, I pledge to place my lamp on a stand and to be the light of the world that Jesus called me to be.
Change starts with me.
Change starts with you.
We can’t change the past but we can change the future.
Will you join me in shining the light?
Amy Chumbley and her husband Eric are both Kentucky natives and have been married 28 years. They have two adult children, Megan and Sam. They enjoy traveling, hiking, walking their dogs, and spending time with their kids (when possible).
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Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX. Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of several best-selling books, including “Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment” which is available now on Amazon.