Thursday, September 30, 2010

One heart at a time

Night before last, a voice from the past left a phone message for me. She invited me to a Neighbor-to-Neighbor (n2n) gathering and it warmed my soul. In poking into the back of a big filing cabinet my husband was casting off, I discovered an n2n scrapbook two weeks ago that tugged at my heart's memories.

With a six-month-old, I screwed up the courage [in retrospect, I know it wasn't just me] to host a neighborhood conversation on race relations after the 2001 Cincinnati riots. It seemed a simple thing that I could do, given I was pretty much tied to home with an infant and toddler. For three years I was committed and active in this diverse group: marching in parades, fostering media attention, attracting members and, finally, helping plan and emcee a local forum. Funny thing is, one of my daughter's was throwing up that night, my husband was out of town and I was out of luck. I missed the forum and, from there, life intervened and I pretty much left n2n behind.

Yet this group persevered through some amazing and tenacious leadership and a dedicated membership to continue nine years later.

Last  night's potluck was special. I reconnected with some wonderful old friends and met new faces. I kept waiting for the meeting to commence, but the visiting never ceased ... at least not before I had to leave. It was simply a group of friends connecting over a meal.

And then it struck me as the beauty of the entire effort. When I had been so busy recruiting, planning and organizing, all that was necessary was to show up with an open heart. Perhaps, however, the ease of last night's communion would not have happened without what came before.

I learned so much in that group. As my friend Frank always said, overcoming racial tension "begins one heart at a time." I was dumbfounded to hear of the blatant and less-pronounced discrimination some of these new friends faced and still encounter. Curley said racism has not gotten better, "it's just gone underground." These are all local people, maybe not my immediate neighbors, by my neighbors nonetheless.

In one of the early "programmed" n2n meetings, Jill and Kent presented a study on the Good Samaritan parable in which we probed the truth of that story in a way I had not before, exploring just who is my neighbor. It was riveting then and is so very deeply seeded within me, even now. Interesting that n2n was not formed as a faith-based group and yet the core that gelled and regularly convenes nine years down the pike is. Another instance, I believe, of a group God called together that would not have touched each other's lives otherwise.

One of n2n's biggest lessons for me was recognizing white privilege. As a woman, I could identify with the times I felt discriminated against and as a pushed-down minority. However, I still had the Caucasian- birthright thing working in my favor.

I wrote this years ago as the result of n2n and it still speaks my heart.

To be black is to know the pain
silently. To have been told you’re
nothing, but when you respond
no one white is there to listen.
Listen to the pain, the stories,
the past. In that listening
is acknowledgment.

To be white is to feel shame for
something we think happened
a long time ago, not realizing
the wrong still exists. To be
white is to want to do, to fix
because we think we can. No one
ever told us we are nothing.

To be one, we must really listen to
each other; accept the stories
that are painful, express sorrow.
That long-denied acknowledgment –
just maybe – can heal enough so
those hurt can look ahead to the
things we can do together.

We must remember, not dismiss,
the past to forge a future free
of those mistakes.

• Exactly who are my neighbors?
• Who have I discounted?
• What lessons have I learned when engaging with someone different from myself?
• How do I encourage those relationships?
• What do I give/receive?

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