KOH2RVA: Day 325

Rodney2Have you ever listened to a black pastor talk about the challenges his people face?

I did yesterday.

I had lunch with Rodney Waller, pastor of First African Baptist Church; one of his deacons, Booker Jones; and two of my deacons, Mary Ann Delano and Bob Palmer. We were talking about Rodney’s challenge from a previous meeting—that our two churches show Richmond what true racial reconciliation looks like.

I’m not sure how it came up, but Rodney told us that most of the people who live in the ghetto want to get out, “they just don’t know how.” He talked about black men who try to succeed and, for any number of reasons, fail (have you ever wondered who was going to get the job when there were three white men and one black man applying?). And then, because they feel like failures, they leave. And then, out there on their own, they shift into survival mode. And then, because they’re trying to survive, they begin to sell [drugs]. And then, to numb the pain of failure, they begin to use.

Rodney also talked about black women whose men have left them to raise children by themselves, and how it is nearly impossible to find the kind of job that will pay for child care and provide enough for their family to live on. Often they collapse into the safety net of social services and find it almost impossible to get out. And then they take a ride out to Short Pump (though not on the bus: it doesn’t go that far), and they see all these West Enders (“West Endians” Rodney called them) strolling through the mall with shopping bags full of high-end merchandise. “They want that kind of life but they don’t know how to get it and it makes them angry.”

Angry?

Yes, angry. Rodney said we need to acknowledge that there are structures of oppression in society that keep black people down, and that most of these date back to the time of slavery. He said, “I believe that many black people carry with them the hidden wounds of slavery, and those wounds keep getting opened up, and it causes pain.”

You can agree or disagree, but that’s pretty honest talk from the pastor of Richmond’s First African Baptist Church, and a good way to begin honest conversations that will be ongoing between our two churches. By the end of the meeting we had agreed to form a group of deacons called “The Twelve”—six from each church—who will continue to meet and talk and lead us to that place where we can show Richmond what true racial reconciliation looks like.

I summarized it like this: “Jesus told us to love our neighbors and you are our neighbors, but we can’t love what we don’t know so the first step, always, is to get to know each other.”

And that’s what we’re going to do.

As we were leaving I said, “You know what I’ve always dreamed of? An ethnic food festival, like the Greek Festival or the Armenian Festival. Why couldn’t our two churches get together and host a Baptist Food Festival?” We walked out laughing, trying to imagine what Baptist food would be (Fried Chicken? Sweet Potato Pie?), but it wasn’t a bad way to end a meeting.

It left our mouths watering for more.

4 thoughts on “KOH2RVA: Day 325

  1. This is an inspiring message. More churches need to this. God bless you all.
    Adrian Harward, Life Deacon, First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC.

  2. When’s the festival? Seriously, that meeting sounds like it could be a very productive start to something great.

  3. If it’s possible, please let me volunteer to be one of the 6 deacons from First Baptist — I moved to Richmond 70 years ago with my family when my dad became the Director of Race Relations for the Virginia Council of Churches, so all my life this has been one of the efforts of which I have been a part. Dad always called his work “human relations” rather than race relations, since he believed God meant for ALL His people, whatever color or nationality, to be of individual value and worth, and He wanted us to behave like family! It would be an honor and a privilege to be part of continuing Dad’s values and work, whether or not I’m one of the 6!
    Betty Ann

  4. Sounds like a very special meeting! I think the oppression touched upon here also relates to other races too – like it was well said about “we need to acknowledge that there are structures of oppression in society” – but this crosses racial lines as well – because there are a lot of white people (and Latino and mixed races) that also see the high end shoppers (or West Endians) and realize this American culture has always involved the “haves and the have nots” –
    even though another side note here is that more stuff and more buying power does not always mean more happiness – because those NOT in the ghetto still have very real problems – a different type of misery and a different type of oppression, and their anger and displacement has different variables – different “first-world” problems – especially because this is not our home here and we were built for another world.

    Anyhow, not to take away from the African American angle that was addressed so smoothly here – but my former teacher Mr Donatelli used to say, “The rich get rich and the poor have kids”- which I heard recently modified as “the rich get richer and the poor get screwed” – (no pun intended) – and may God give us all the grace we need no matter what our race, class, or pay grade.

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