Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Whitney Young Jr. are all names we’ve heard over the years, especially during Black History Month. These days, new names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are fresh in our minds. Over the past year, America has faced old challenges in a new way and we’ve all felt it, perhaps some for the first time.
The issue of racial injustice is embedded in the fibers of our nation. As believers, we must acknowledge this and boldly take our place. If we have no concern for problems that don’t directly affect us or our families, we should be asking ourselves why? And if we are directly affected, we must find a way to exhibit grace in an effort to be a bridge. When one suffers, all suffer.
Perhaps over the course of the past year, you’ve thought, “This is uncomfortable. Why can’t we just move on? Where do I fit in all of this? What can I do?” Well, the answers to those questions might depend on what you’re looking at.
The challenges we are facing as a nation, and as followers of Christ, are not unique to our time. There’s no way to fully appreciate the gravity of racial equality without looking back at the history of our country, and the path that led us to this point. Looking back isn’t always easy but is necessary to approach present day challenges with a basis of understanding.
Make the effort to seek out information that may not have been taught in school, or to find new names and historical figures beyond those that are most popular. Embrace a heart of humility as you watch documentaries or read articles that unpack the joys, pains, struggles, and progress of Black Americans. Ask God to soften your heart and give you understanding as you learn things about our nation’s past that may be new.
Today, America has reaped the fruits of prominent architects of public policy and law that uplift and free the oppressed. The accomplishments of leaders like Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court Justice, and so many others cannot be understated. Laws prohibiting the segregation of schools, discrimination in housing, and efforts to prevent minorities from voting were pivotal to our society.
But they weren’t passed that long ago, and generations of belief systems and ideas don’t change overnight. So, Black History Month is a celebration of progress while acknowledging that the work is still unfinished.
As believers, the Bible calls us to carry one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ. The Bible also instructs us to humbly value others above ourselves and to look to the interest of others instead of our own. Step into bearing the burden of Black Americans by consciously seeking out information to better understand their life experiences right now.
Perhaps one of the most practical ways to begin bridging the gap is simply by being a friend. Ask questions to gain understanding, but also be willing to listen to the answers with an open heart. While your view and perspective may be completely different, a mutual willingness to hear may be the first step to finding a way to relate.
Be aware of the current events that continue to challenge our country. From police brutality and mass incarceration to healthcare disparities and education gaps, there are very real issues taking place in our country today. Keeping up may seem overwhelming, because it is sometimes. But even if you don’t catch every article or headline that has been deemed newsworthy, there’s a good chance that a neighbor, friend, or coworker has a valuable experience they can share.
Sometimes the hardest vantage point to focus on can be that of a mirror. Are you a part of the solution or have you just been silent? The past year has caused all of us to look inside of ourselves at some point. More importantly, we should all be asking God to look inside of us, to search our hearts, and to call out the things that aren’t pleasing to him.
It is not enough to say or do the “right” things that seem popular in a moment. No matter our race, color, or creed, we all have to have clean hands and a pure heart. Heart issues are often not obvious to us because we carry them in deep places. Only God can help us identify and uproot bad seeds. Invite him.
After looking back at history, assessing the present by looking inside of ourselves, the natural inclination would be to look ahead. But the only way we can hope to move forward is if we look to Jesus first. Jesus is the embodiment of unconditional love. As his followers, this is our charge as well.
Jesus never suggested that we love one another, he demanded that we do. Love is not self-seeking but seeks to honor others. As Christians, the indwelling love of Christ that lives in us uniquely equips us to engage and tear down the remnants of racial oppression that continues to divide.
Frequently, we see Jesus reach out to people who were different from him because he knew achieving meaningful relationships required stepping outside norms. As he reached out, he also looked back, to advocate for and to defend those who were looked over and not being heard. May we all have that same level of courage and conviction, and may we respond in kind.
This Black History Month is different than any other simply because we are at a different point in history. So don’t treat it the same this time around. Do something new. Learn something new. Reach out to someone new. Most importantly, use it as an opportunity to spread the love of Jesus in a new way.