Sunday, November 30, 2014

Free Hugs are the Key to Racial Reconciliation?

Can you believe it that a ‘White’ police officer is allowed to hug a ‘Black’ kid who is carrying a ‘free hugs’ sign? The story behind this viral picture is that a young kid was in tears because of his fear that violence seems to always arise between ‘White’ police officers and ‘Black’ men or teens. This police officer actually asks the young boy for permission to hug him. Little did this officer or the boy know that their pictures would be all over the Internet and the news that night?

If there is an image that could bring hope from the last week in Ferguson it’s this picture of this larger than life police officer giving a real hug to this young man! I know that most will forget too soon about the hundreds that protested in a peaceful fashion and what remains will be the stores that were looted or burned to the ground by a small group of real thugs. Now is time for there to be the opportunity to dialogue about what happened and why. It is so easy to always put the blame for situations like this on racism or what I have called the youth disconnect. Instead, what would happen if we were quicker to be like this young boy with a sign that wants to do something positive instead of screaming something out that insights a riot in an already torn down community!

The path to racial reconciliation begins when you consider how you make friends with someone of a different racial background. It’s all too easy to allow perceived differences to push you to being prejudiced against a stranger or make an assumption that someone is bad because they are wearing a hoodie or have tats.  Just as the surprise when a ‘White’ guy or couple go into a neighborhood of color and enjoy eating at a local restaurant.

I will be the first to confess that as a community worker my initial assumption was that I’ve got my work cut out for me as I ‘fix’ these kids and teens that come out of generational poverty. Yet, the reality for many others and me is that we learn just as much about life from our neighborhood kids and teens as they do from us. Just as racism works both ways so does reconciliation! As I choose to listen and learn from my friends of color so they too see that our race can’t totally define who we are.

I too tire of the violence that too easily erupts over what seem to be senseless choices. How often have teens or young adults done ‘beer runs’ where the local merchant now has a gun and shoots the thief as they run outside the store. The complex issue of police actions in difficult circumstances will continue to be a problem where young and old push the limits of morality!

I would hope the memory of thanksgiving 2014 would be of a young boy with a free hugs’ sign! The work to restore a torn community and the families that have been devastated by the Michael Brown incident will continue. We pray for real reconciliation and forgiveness on all sides!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

We know who killed Michael Brown but who really murdered him?

I know that in the heat of the moment common sense never prevails. Too often I have to pull my foot out of my mouth after I’ve said something that I know just shouldn’t have come out. The reality is that sticks and stones do hurt and kill but so do my words. This last week a grand jury of 12 peers made a decision, which the public has become the jury, as to whether or not Officer Wilson killed or murdered Michael Brown on August 9th.  After having watched the aftermath of both peaceful protesting and the unfortunate choice of some to turn Ferguson into a war zone it’s time to admit our part in this tragedy.

I lost my mom to breast cancer after a 10 year battle and more recently my dad succumbed to a disease that robs a person of their memory and their ability to eat, swallow and breath normally. I personally understand the hurt, anger and frustration of losing a loved one who shouldn’t have died. Yet, the facts reveal that we all have a role in the outcome of life’s events. The old saying that we are either part of the problem or part of the solution must be heard! We can’t stand on the sidelines of life’s journey and watch evil triumph over good.

Yes, I believe that everyone, myself included, has some onus for the murder of the Michael Browns out there. It is so easy to walk away from circumstances that we might not have created directly. Yet, our choice not to act or do something to address our societal blindness to the ‘youth disconnect’ is criminal! Someone who has been raised around violence and hate too often sees no other form of expression but to respond with disrespect and violence or as in my neighborhood revenge becomes the ultimate expression of winning.

The cry of a stepfather this last week pushed a frenzied mob to start fires and destroy police vehicles. The anger and rage of the step-dad was understandable but his choice to express himself in this fashion didn’t honor the memory of his stepson or help with the racial turmoil in his city. It’s time for adults to act like adults and show common sense, moral integrity and compassion in tough situations. It’s too easy to allow emotions and a mob mentality to rule our actions, which ultimately do more harm and damage then the incident that has pushed us over the edge.

I work with at risk youth and often struggle with the quickness of too many teens to disrespect authority, parents and elders because there is this misunderstanding gap that supposedly exists. I too was a rebellious teen in the 60’s and can remember truly believing that I couldn’t trust anyone over 20 and that all authority figures were clueless and inheritably evil. Now that I’m old I can honestly look back and admit that I should have listened to my parents and older friends more. I was fortunate to have a scout leader that pushed me to excel and stay on the right path.

The opportunity before us is to step back and instead of automatically judging all youth as being delinquents and evil remember your story and what it took for your life to be turned in the right direction. What was it that inspired you to follow through with your life journey and not quit or use your emotions to purposely hurt someone else? I honestly believe if the Michael Browns of this world had mentors, big brothers or a tio that invested in him we would see less of the youth disconnect and more of a movement to pay it forward instead of assuming that the world owes me everything.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What defines you - race, religion or your character?

I want to thank the many who have responded to my post and that have pushed me to truly consider the heart of the matter.  Is this all about race, religion, education, social status, culture or content of a person’s character? My parents were both born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. I have never lived in the city but as a kid visited every year for at least a couple of weeks. As an adult I have visited with a very different intent from seeing relatives but more so to understand racism first hand by connecting with multi-racial churches and community development non-profits who have a passion to bring racial reconciliation to the forefront.

The collateral damage from this incident in August is overwhelming! I can’t fathom what has to go into a person’s brain to think that it’s ok to destroy small businesses in this already torn community. I don’t understand how the police and National Guard can watch a mob torch a building or turn over a police car before blowing it up! I totally respect those who are out voicing their rights to express their views, in a non-violent fashion, about what took place with the grand jury and the unfortunate death of a teen.

Yet, the real question I believe that has to be addressed is what caused this incident to happen that day in August? Did this totally boil down to a race issue between a ‘Black Teen’ and a ‘White Police Officer’? I’m drawn back to a quote that one of the responders to my post mentioned about judging a person not by the color of their skin, religion or education but by the content of their character. (Thanks Martin Luther King for this amazing statement!) I agree with another response to my post that choosing to take a deep breath and step back might have stopped this whole incident from occurring. So instead of a dead teen, a ruined city and a police officer in fear of his life there might have been a display of racial reconciliation pursued.

As a kid growing up with parents that could have been racist and biased I was taught to respect others regardless of their background, race, education or personal choices. This was very different from my other relatives who expressed real prejudice, which always pushed my dad’s button. The obvious question has to be raised for this teen and police officer involved in this tragedy. What type of person that has real character that would reflect what was preached about on Sunday in church or spoken about as a family would attack a police officer regardless of his or her skin color? Is it ever lawful for a police officer to protect him or herself in a situation where their life is in real danger? Clearly these questions are not easily answered.

It is very difficult to understand another person’s life circumstances without listening, observing and interacting. That day in August didn’t provide any opportunity for a police officer to see into the head and heart of a teen that seemed to be struggling with making good life choices. A person’s actions don’t always reveal their heart but clearly when someone threatens another person’s life you are left with few choices, protect yourself, flee or get help. The what if game, as I mentioned in my last post, doesn’t necessarily bring a teen back from the grave or put back together a city that has been ravaged by violence. Maybe it can help stop future incidents like this from happening as we consider how our action or inaction might determine the future of another human being or a small town.

Hopefully the need for ongoing dialogue about racial reconciliation will continue and that we will be honest enough to express our fears and concerns but still pursue a path that will bring peace and healing for all parties involved.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

After Ferguson is Racial Reconciliation Possible?

As a kid growing up I was taught not to ever play the ‘what if game’. So this morning after waiting to hear the verdict last night that the world was impatiently seeking, I want to think for a few moments about the ‘what if’s’ of that day in August. I have lived most of my life around people with color and have chosen over the last decade to work in a neighborhood where I’m the minority. So my reactions to many friends who have already posted and talked about injustice I hope will listen first before shutting down to a plea for seeking the truth and not assuming that racism is always at the bottom of everything.

What if that morning a teen and a friend had decided to go to church that day and be mentored by a neighborhood leader instead of just chilling and hanging? What if these teens had been a different color or in lived in a different neighborhood? What if they had chosen to actually purchase those little cigars instead of ripping them off? What if they had chosen to walk on the sidewalk and not challenge a policeman? What if they had decided to respect authority and just walk away from a policeman regardless of how they perceived him? What if this teen had been a midget instead of what would seem like a giant to most?

I know that the reality is that there is a family and community that will mourn the tragic death of a teen who was bound for college. I know that we live in a society where racism continues to dominate the media, our churches and the small businesses that are attempting to survive in Ferguson. I also am ashamed of the fact that many regardless of color or religious background had already decided the fate of the Officer in question before hearing the real evidence in the case.

What if a policeman had chosen not to respond to a reported shoplifting incident after aiding a mom with a baby in distress that day? What if this officer in question had allowed the teen that appeared to be bigger than life and aggressive to actually take his weapon without a struggle? If this had been an officer killed on duty story would it be any better or different?

There are many victims from this unfortunate tragedy in August. The villains are those who have chosen to lute, steal, destroy and fabricate stories that are far from the truth. I don’t understand what it would be like to lose a son or have a brother who is now unable to find a job and lives in total fear. I would hope that it would be possible to dialogue about what really happened that day in August, yet the many different sides to this incident seem unable to make concessions and see there is more to this than meets the eye.

Yes, the ‘what if game’ doesn’t bring back a son or restore someone’s career!  My hope is that all of us can be quicker to see our part in causing incidents like this because of our own biases and prejudices that impact the world around us. I don’t believe anyone can walk away from this tragedy with impunity as one person expressed themselves. This only reflects on how desperate our society is in need of addressing racial and spiritual reconciliation for there to be the potential of redemption on the part of all racial groups.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hurry Up and Slow Down!

I personally fight the myth that being busy is the key to a successful life. I have grown up around a culture that clearly states that only those that are driven, that know how to plan, execute and make it happen will survive in today’s world. Yet, as I get older and am around more seniors and kids I realize that this is one of the biggest lies in life. Yes, I can brag about multi-tasking, yet what suffers from this are my relationships with those that matter the most in my life, my family and close friends.

There are no short cuts to forming quality relationships! It takes time no matter how you slice or dice it. I can’t become a good friend with someone until I have invested real time, not texting, nor Facebook or even LinkedIn. So this last week I had fun picking up all of the painting supplies from the various grandma and grandpa’s homes that we had painted a week ago. What struck me shouldn’t be a surprise, is that everyone obviously was thrilled to have a face lift on their house but what mattered the most was the 30 people who had painted their houses had taken the time to come and make a difference. I was blessed and reminded that I have to slow down and actually listen to gain a person’s trust and confidence.

This last week I was invited to a small graduation ceremony that again reminded me of the importance over time of being a real friend to those that God has placed on my path. The fruit of these types of relationships is that you end up being invited to family dinners or special occasions that few others can attend. We walked away from a special dinner for this older teen’s graduation party that made us feel rather special and appreciated. Yet, this wouldn’t have happened if I had chosen to rush around over the years and not gotten to know this teen’s mom and dad.

We walk our dogs pretty much every day both in the early morning and later in the evening after our day is done. My wife is a stickler for always looking up and seeing the incredible sunrise, sunset, moon or stars while we are walking with our herd of dogs. It is so easy to miss out even when something is literally in front of your face. I love the sense of togetherness and family that come out of routines like this. It would be so easy to allow the commotion of the day to rob us of these special quiet times.

I confess that I do prefer getting my work done in an organized fashion that doesn’t waste time. It’s so true that as my mom would remind me that anything worth doing is worth doing well! Her point would be that rushing to finish anything ultimately means that you won’t do your best. My Anne can be so crazy at times. This last week it was obvious that one of our large carpets that is in our family room area reeked of doggy mess. She’s so good about going the extra mile to make things right. After shampooing it multiple times she came to the conclusion that it needed to be hauled outside and literally sprayed off with the hose after being saturated with special pet product.

The byproduct of her choice not to rush and say something is good when it’s not is that the obvious odor, not perfume, is gone! The choice we all have to make everyday is whether we are going to rush off from that potential friendship or take an extra few minutes to listen and not talk? The real tension is whether I’m willing to invest the time to see that I do my best all of the time and not just enough to check this task off my list?

I so much applaud C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, for his willingness to be honest about his own life in saying, “I don’t believe that good work is ever done in a hurry.”