“I love hearing the personal stories of those in the Be The Bridge Groups. We all have different journeys. It’s encouraging and inspiring to see the transformation when others begin to get it. I’ve asked several friends at many different stages to tell their “Be The Bridge Stories”. I believe there is something in each of their words, that many can connect with. From the person who starts out with only a willing heart, but not knowing where to begin. To the person who opens their home and heart to someone different from them ethnically. Let’s cheer these ladies on as they embark on a journey to dismantle racial injustice. Every step matters. Although, the journey can be daunting the first step begins with you. I asked my friend Kristi Porter to share her story. Maybe you can relate”.    Tasha Morrison

Growing up, I had some friends that looked like me, and some that didn’t. I honestly don’t remember giving it much thought. But looking back, I admit that I grew up in a mostly white bubble. I don’t believe that was due to any sort of intentional bias by my parents or myself; I think it was just the natural result of being drawn to people like me. I mean, don’t we all go around feeling like oddballs enough? From choosing friends to hiring employees, I think we all have that inclination. Similar is familiar. Familiar is comfortable. Comfortable is good.

Fast forward an undisclosed number of years, and I grew up (mostly). I moved from a very small city to a very big one—Atlanta. It was huge and diverse and beautiful. My world expanded in so many ways for which I am forever grateful. And I discovered words for a concept that I’d been preparing for my whole life without realizing it: social justice.

My path was changed forever the day I heard about human trafficking. So, I dedicated myself to understanding this atrocity. Since I prefer an immersive education, I read oodles of books and articles, scoured social media, started talking about it with people around me, and even attended frequent local events. As I became more informed, I learned about the overarching concept and forms of slavery, and I expanded my definition. And then after a while, I went from reading to attending to talking to volunteering to leading in the Atlanta abolitionist movement.

After that I began seeking out larger events where I could continue to be taught by people who knew more than I did. I love to learn. And I love a good conference! Thanks to Google, I found The Justice Conference. It wasn’t just about slavery and human trafficking, but all kinds of social justice. Sounded interesting. And . . . it was being held in Los Angeles. I mean, come on. Any excuse to be in SoCal, right?

There in February, though I did not expect it, it happened again. My heart expanded to include numerous other forms of social justice. It wasn’t that I was unaware of them (poverty, war, refugees, racial relationships, women’s rights, etc), but I was finally able to connect with them personally. And most importantly, I learned that I could love them and want to know more about them, without sacrificing my devotion to the end of human trafficking and slavery.

Now we enter 2015, and the beginnings of Be The Bridge. My friend, Latasha, started working on this new concept, and I was lucky enough to provide some opinions early on. Then it gained crazy traction and momentum, and friends in Atlanta started forming Facebook pages and discussion groups around the idea of Be The Bridge. I thought it was awesome, but it was their thing. I had enough on my plate, and could support them without directly being involved.

This past summer, I went back to The Justice Conference for a second year, bringing two friends with me. While many areas of social justice were still explored, the theme of racial relationships was the dominant conversation, due to the events of the previous year. It was at that conference that I had a turning point.

I realized that, despite my love for social justice and support of my friends, I was not educated enough on this topic to have the kind of conversation I needed to, and wanted to, when the subject of race was brought up. I’d kept it at arm’s length, focusing on my niches, and inevitably doing myself a disservice. It wasn’t, of course, that I was doing anything wrong or that we don’t need people focused on human trafficking and slavery. It was that this was the social justice conversation everyone was having, and desperately needed to have, and I didn’t quite know what to say. I didn’t want to just listen now, I wanted to speak. I wanted to understand. I wanted to educate. And, where I could, I wanted to help provide healing for a hurting country.

It was at that point I jumped into the Be The Bridge community. And I started reading more books and articles and having more discussions. It also became another way to connect with people who loved all kinds of social justice. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch, people coming together online and in person, despite the fear and craziness going on in the world. It’s a bit of a refuge and sanctuary. And it’s a safe place for asking questions.

Now that I am (more) grown up, I have come to realize that these are the people I’m drawn to, the justice seekers. They are similar, familiar and comfortable. We have a kind of kinship. Even when I may disagree with them, they warm my heart. And the one of the best things about them is that they come in all colors, backgrounds, shapes and sizes. There is as much in common as there is different, and I think that’s the best way to learn. Also, it’s a great way to build a bridge.

“There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Kristi Porter is a Christian, creator, leader, writer, funny girl, abolitionist, multi-tasker, filmie, foodie, tree hugger, daydreamer, locavore-in-training, consultant, traveler, conference-goer and entrepreneur, to name a few. You can find her online at kristiporter.me.