My Change

A year and a half ago my city erupted in riots and protesting after a police shooting, revealing decades of pent-up racial tension in a very segregated city. Most of the people of color live in East and West Charlotte, and those with white skin tend to live in North and South Charlotte. My older son with special needs attended a school in East Charlotte at the time, very close to the sight of the shooting. In fact so close, during it, Sam's school went on lockdown and then he didn't go to school for two days because of protesting. Until this point, all the racial tension I had seen on the news was just that, news. Sure some of the stories impacted me more than others and hung heavy on my heart, but it wasn't until we became a part of the news I began to see, if I wasn't a part of the healing I was part of the hurting. On paper I am by no means a racist, I never use racial slurs, I have black and mixed family members, and I think I am kind to people of all colors and ethnicities. So, I assumed I was OK, if I wasn't contributing to the problem that seemed good enough. But those dark days in Charlotte showed me I needed to do more, I needed to examine my own life, asking myself, "what was I doing to love those with different skin colors than myself?" I needed to change. I began praying for God to help me find avenues to build friendships with people that looked different than me and I reached out to the few of the African American friends in my current circle to ask them how all of this was impacting them? This was not groundbreaking action, but it was action. Over the next few months, God opened doors for me to be a part of starting Young Lives in Charlotte. West Charlotte HighSchool the once all black and still highly African American populated Highschool would be the first Highschool reached out to by our leaders. So, about eight months after I started praying for relationships with people of color using my GPS because this was foreign territory for me, I rolled up into a community center in a "black" neighborhood on the West Side of Charlotte.  I put on a big smile as I entered the community center to help throw a baby shower for our new teen mom's but inside I have to admit I was so nervous, wondering,  what the girls would think of me. It has been ten months since I stepped into that room and began "my change" with a, "Hi, my name is Rachel, what is your name?" I can not say I have solved racial tension in Charlotte, but I can now say I have good friends with brown skin, my co-leaders, Katrina, Janesha, Shelley, and Regina, women who I am partnering with to love on and mentor our teen moms. I can say I have teen mom friends who are both Hispanic and black, girls I am praying for, supporting and hoping for big things in their lives. I can say that I am slowly understanding more of what it is like to be an immigrant or the child of an immigrant in America and what it is like to be black in America. I can say my heart in more invested now when I hear news like what happened in Charlottesville and what the President allegedly said this past week because now, I really know people who are genuinely hurt by these actions and words and so it hurts my heart more deeply.  I do not share this story to boast because really I haven't done much and I have much left to grow in but I share this story to encourage you that you don't have to sit in the tension anymore, the tension between disagreeing with the injustices we see and taking steps to end it. The price today is not nearly as high as it was in the 1960's, we merely need to enter into the lives of those who are different than us(racially, economically, religiously, ethnically, educationally, intellectually.) To listen, to become friends, to allow their sorrows to become our sorrows and their joy to become our joy.  Then if the time ever becomes necessary, you will be ready and willing to suffer and fight with them against injustices because the differences won't define your relationship it will be your friendships, your love, your shared humanity. If you feel a tension in our world and in our country ask yourself, "where do I need to change?" and when you do I firmly believe the tension in the world will lessen and maybe one day as MLK dreamed eradicated.

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Rachel Baxter