Relationships I have formed and the lessons I have learned from my black brothers and sisters have been life giving and guided how my wife and I raised our children.
As we watch the images of our cities rupturing and our communities staggering forward with unremitting fear and uncertainty of what is next, what are each of us left with to consider? We are stunned, saddened and silenced by the absurdities around us.
Chances are you may well arrive at a point within where you feel your own conflicted thoughts and biases. I would humbly ask that you each take some serious time, find a quiet space, and examine your own conscience.
The seeds of my conflict began in a household of 10 brothers and sisters in the ’50s and ’60s behind the closed doors of our Capitol Hill home here in Seattle. There was no escaping poverty nor the vitriol that flowed from the blistering words of my father’s lips. My social and cultural formation had taken root, and it affected me deeply.
When I entered Meany Junior High School in 1965, I was immersed in a school that was 90 percent black. Fear and trepidation pulsed through me as I struggled with my own biases and misperceptions. Hooking up with a group of kids on the basketball team was the beginning of my transformation.
My eyes and ears opened further when I entered the great halls of Garfield High School, which was predominantly black. What I learned in the classrooms, hallways and on the basketball court helped educate and prepare me for college, graduate school at Seattle University, and would later guide me through a fulfilling career in the juvenile court system.
The relationships I formed and the lessons I learned from my black brothers and sisters have been life giving and ultimately guided how my wife Janet and I raised our children. I continue to see the effect on my life today, as it directly influences my work at St. Vincent de Paul.
The racial divide that engulfs us is equally a relational divide. I claim no cultural awareness expertise, but I have found in my limited experience that if we pay attention to each other and listen carefully and respectfully in our homes, work places, churches, streets and community centers, and reveal our own truths and show our own vulnerable humanity, we begin to connect with the core values of one another. Our soul lightens. The seeds of a healthier community begin to take hold.
This is arduous, humbling work; it takes energy and courage, especially when the voices begin to rise around us and the tension tightens in our gut. In those situations, we can choose to flee the scene or stay in the moment and hear the full story. We must talk to each other about our doubts and fears that get in the way of forming healthy relationships. It is unnerving and sometimes difficult to be fully present and extend an empathetic ear. We must become aware of the ingrained thinking that conveniently labels and stereotypes those who are different from us.
The wise poet and writer Wendell Berry asks us to imagine lives that are not our own. Doing so takes empathy, putting ourselves in the skin of the other.
What are our choices? Living in fear and isolation suffocates human life. There is a base need in all of us humans to live fully in community. Creating time and space in our lives, slowing ourselves down to hear each other mutually lifts the human spirit. Arming ourselves with a listening and compassionate heart, staying present, and seeing the face of one another are the moments when healing and understanding take root. Our world is better for it.