Written by: Abby Perry
We gathered in my living room, February of 2015, 7 women and nearly as many babies sleeping on their mothers’ chests. We were a lounge pants wearing group of IF: Local participants, hearts hopeful for refreshment, souls expectant of the Spirit’s movement. Oh, how He moved.
This was the February after Michael, Eric, Tamir. This was the Gathering when IF seized the moment, when they refused to be silent on an issue though they had not solved it. That’s a hard thing to do. We like to have our ducks in a row, us Christian folk. We like to know what we’re going to say and what we want you to believe when we finish saying it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, really, until there is. Until that way of thinking keeps us from having conversations because we aren’t sure which way they will go, until it keeps us from talking about events past or present because we don’t have all of the specifics, and more than that, because we don’t have solutions.
When Latasha and the roundtable participants walked onto the stage, it was clear that this was something we hadn’t seen before. The way of asking questions, the honesty of the answers, the cleverness of “the elephant in the room” passed from person to person to indicate whose turn it was to speak, this was not a summit for solving the world’s problems, it was a spacious place for knowing one another, for listening. That was the point. The words were important, but the profundity was in the listening, in the honor shown by locking eyes, by the lack of interruption, by the facial expressions that said, “I want to hear you.” This table was about holding space for one another’s stories.
Over the next few months, racially charged tragedies were relentless. Articles were everywhere, social media posts of differing and staunch opinions flying wild, creating endless rabbit holes of comment threads that were often better left unread. It was all very disheartening to me, which, as a white woman, I realize sounds absolutely ridiculous. What did I have to be disheartened about? Nothing. But I suppose that was the point. People were suffering, unheard, treated unfairly, and what could be done? On the day that the OU fraternity story came out, my soul could no longer withstand the conviction. Posting articles on Facebook wasn’t going to be enough any longer.
“Remember that race roundtable? Could we do that?,” two friends, Amy and Andrea, and I pondered by email.
Yes, we all have “A” names. We are also all white.
We acknowledged this immediately, the fact that without input from friends of color this effort was fruitless. Thus began the awkward invitations, and the gracious responses of four women – Carole, Jessica, Jenny and Zoe. A few weeks later, we gathered around a table. And it was not perfect. We still had “too many” white women, three of us out of a group of seven. But when we prayed, when Carole opened the Bridge to Racial Unity guide and began to lead us, God’s grace spilled out over our imperfections and He laid the soil of holy ground, making fertile the place for tender confidences, for stories, for repentance, for forgiveness.
Six of us continued to meet every few weeks after that first night. And then Charleston happened, and all we wanted was to be in the same room together, to grieve this atrocity around the table with the people who had proven themselves humble and strong enough to lament, to bear the weight of hurts, questions, anger, repentance. It was then that we realized the fact that this group had accomplished its essential purpose. We had crossed the bridge from fellow members of a group to deeply bonded friends, the kind of friends who can talk about the hard things and trust that there is fierce grace in the depths.
We were on fire when we met after Charleston. Hot with anger, racked with grief, overcome with passion, it was time for us to do something more, and we knew exactly what it was. Since the first night we met, we had discussed the possibility of helping other groups get started. And this was the time. Nationwide, hearts were broken over the tragedy in Charleston. Many who had been hesitant to enter the racial justice conversation were ready to take a step toward engagement. So, we decided to host a night at Amy’s house where we would share what our group had been doing, perhaps model a round table, offer resources and, if participants were interested, get new groups started. To our great surprise, over 100 people came, joining us on that holy ground.
Since then, new discussion groups, a book club which hosted a community event to discuss The New Jim Crow, and a Facebook group have all been started. A class at Texas A&M University took us on as a project, spreading the word throughout the campus and community. We attended a vigil for victims of police brutality hosted by a black fraternity. We partnered with a church to host a public reading and discussion of Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
“So…what exactly is the point?,” you may ask. We have found that the point is to gather those willing to lean in and listen, to engage in the ministry of reconciliation, to believe that this will lead to change. Perhaps, at first, the point is simply to acknowledge that change is needed.
I encourage you to consider how you can join in the story. My prayer is that more and more of us will become fiercely convicted by and convinced of the ministry of reconciliation which God has given to us, that we will be willing to overcome the fear of the confusing or unknown, to repent of bias or bigotry. May we bear the image of God as we bear the weight of one another’s hurts, confusions and questions. May we be seekers of the holy ground and may there be many who stand alongside us.
Abby Perry is an old soul, better in writing. She’s a wife to Jared and mother to Owen and Gabriel. In 2016, she is recording her first full year of observing the Christian/liturgical calendar on her blog www.JoyWovenDeep.com. Abby also writes on her family’s journey amidst the realities of Gabriel’s neuro-genetic disorder, listening to the Spirit in the midst of suffering and social issues. She is engaged in the ministry of her local church, orphan care and bridge-building racial reconciliation efforts, as well as serving as a part-time Program & Communications Coordinator for a nonprofit organization.