As part of my awakening to my own complicity in the systemic racism in our country, I have made a commitment to educate myself about things in Black History that I did not know about. In order to do this, I have been compiling a list of resources to help me get better educated. This is a commitment that I have made to myself, to God and also to my friends and colleagues of color. I am doing this, not only for the month of February, (Black History Month), but as an ongoing process that I imagine will probably not end during my lifetime. Each time I read a new book, or watch a new film, or participate in an anti-racism discussion, I come to the realization of how much I do not know and how much I still need to learn. Thankfully, I have friends and colleagues who are very patient with me and who continue to teach me and guide me along the way. I have met almost 100% of these friends and colleagues through the American Baptist Churches, because we are a diverse and interconnected body of believers.
Central to my philosophy of mission, is the prayer that Jesus taught us. In the prayer that many of us recite every Sunday during our church services, Jesus reminded us to pray that things on “earth would be as things in heaven”. It is upon that prayer that I hang my entire theology of mission. That is part of what we do as leaders, believers, and followers of Jesus- to bring the light of heaven with us here – wherever we find ourselves on earth.
How can I be a bearer of light when I am still in the darkness of ignorance around the history and also current reality of my black siblings? How can I be a bearer of light in the communities where I serve if I do not have the correct information to be a teacher of truth? The answer is that I cannot. That is why I have been immersing myself in education and understanding, not only through much reading and study, but also through interactive discussions with my colleagues of color and through deep prayer and meditation.
The book that I would like to tell you about in this essay, is a book written by Ruby Bridges. The title is Through My Eyes. There is a photo and link the book at the end of this essay. I remember seeing the photos of Ruby as a young girl, in the first grade, being the first child to integrate in her school in Louisiana. I had seen the photos, and thought that I was familiar with the story, but in reality, all I knew was that a little black girl had been sent to a white school, that they were problems and that she needed to be escorted by federal marshals. I mistakenly assumed that only happened on the first day that Ruby attended the school and that, after she entered the school building, everything was wonderful and the people in the school understood how important it was for the school to be integrated and rainbows and butterflies surrounded the children as they studied together in harmony. That is truly what I think I believed. If I wondered anymore about what had happened after she entered the door of that school building, I allowed that thought to be ignored and overtaken by multiple other less important thoughts. The thoughts that kept me busy and away from truly wondering what had happened when Ruby Bridges entered that school building. After all, all of that happened long ago and we don’t need to worry about that anymore because our society is no longer segregated and we no longer have these problems……Lord, forgive me- for I often do not know what I do.
The truth of the story, which is told in the words of the woman who experienced it as a young girl, is painful and difficult to read. Yet it is important that we should know the truth. I will not give away the story as it is important for you to read it and digest it for yourselves. But I will say that it is miraculous to me that a girl as young as six years old survived that kind of trauma which went on for her entire first year at school. She was continually traumatized day after day in a number of different ways which she describes in the story. Ruby also informs us of the impact that these events had on her family. The impact was not good. Her father was let go from his job because of his encouragement for his daughter to be the student to integrate that school. Her parents were in different camps as to whether she should participate in this experiment; and the stress of that difference of opinion ended up destroying their marriage. There is one bright light in the story, and that has to do with her teacher who (not surprisingly) was a woman from Massachusetts.
Make sure when you get this book that you get the version that is written for adults. There are a number of wonderful versions of the same story that Ruby has written for children and I recommend that you look at those as well to share them with your children. Ruby continues to travel and speak about her experiences throughout the country and is indeed a hero.