Point of View
How can healing take place?
by Burel Ford
"It's not enough to choose proper attitudes toward minorities and then wait until they cross your path. To be a part of the healing, you must take the initiative."
For nearly 40 years I hated myself. I also hated white people. Why? Because I always felt inferior to others. Equality and justice were not a part of my experience.
In 1993, two African American men invited me to dinner. During the meal, we laughed and cried about the “black experience” in America. Our conversation was better than most of this kind, however — it was filled with love rather than spite. These men, with their bright outlooks, were different.
When I asked why, they said they belonged to Jesus. “God heals the soul,” they said.
We read the Bible together, and I too gave my life to Jesus. God took away the hate I had of myself. He made me whole, and I began to love all people, regardless of race, culture, handicap, or gender.
When I share this story with my white friends, especially those in the broad-minded Northwest, sometimes they are surprised. It’s hard for them to grasp the depth of hurt people of color still feel due to lifetimes of racist encounters — subtle or otherwise.
Most Christians say they believe in racial equality. They understand God loves all people equally regardless of race, gender, and abilities. This is encouraging on the grand scale.
But these values are not translating enough into intentional effort to ensure justice for everyone. Many people of color continue to feel marginalized or discriminated against — in both secular and religious institutions. There is still much pain, even among your brothers and sisters in Christ.
How can healing take place? It can begin by one truthful relationship at a time, inspired and touched by Christ’s love. As we learn about people unlike ourselves, we develop empathy and love for them. When we love someone, we want what is best for them.
When I was a junior at Michigan State University, my newly assigned roommate complained, "Of all the people here — 22,000 guys — I have to room with a black guy. I don’t like black people. This is hard to stomach."
I approached our resident assistant who provided no answers. Then I met a senior named Kent, a black man in a similar leadership position. He said, "You have two choices: Run and get another roommate, or help change his mind. If you run from this, you run your entire life. If you change his mind and try to be the most exemplary man on the planet, it will be good for the both of you." I chose the latter.
During the semester I treated him with respect. When I wrote a term paper on Martin Luther King Jr., I shared it with him. He loved it. He saw the positives of King’s work and the work of white people involved in the civil rights movement. We became friends. In fact, his parents, who had taught him to hate, invited me to a Minnesota-Michigan State football game.
I no longer hate myself or others. What made the difference? Christ’s love shared through relationships — one-on-one, shoulder-to-shoulder friendships. In these relationships, I have changed for the better and so have my friends.
It’s not enough to choose proper attitudes toward minorities and then wait until they cross your path. Some people don’t feel welcome along these paths. To be a part of the healing, you must take the initiative — get outside of your comfort zone, reach out, and make some new friends.
Burel Ford is director of Multicultural Services at George Fox University.
Editor’s note: While this commentary addresses residual hurt from apathy or inaction, overt racism continues. Following this column’s submission, a close friend of Ford’s was stabbed to death in rural Pennsylvania. Racial epithets were scrawled on the wall in blood.