The end of 2016 was really tough for me. I was reeling from my brother’s untimely death in 2015. My new business was failing and efforts to find employment were fruitless. I even had to sell furniture and rent out my house in order to make our finances work.
Then the election happened.
I sat in a chair under a blanket all day November 9, 2016. Already in a depressed state, the election results left me further devastated. I said so on Facebook, using my own words, the Van Jones’ video, and pretty much anything that affirmed my belief that our country was facing a season of racial unrest.
My posts disturbed some of my Facebook friends and tense conversations ensued. I tried private messages and blog posts to Millennials and Baby Boomers alike. But over time, I realized I needed to refrain from using my personal Facebook page to discuss race the way I wanted to. So I created a private group.
I called the group Hand in Hand toward Racial Healing, mostly because I wanted to use this awesome engagement photo of an interracial couple, my daughter and now son-in-law.
Their love is the highest expression of reconciliation among the races and an example for all of us.
Here’s the description I wrote for the group’s “About” tab:
I started this page to provide a more productive and private space for me to discuss race relations with my friends. Through patient dialogue, I believe we can learn from one another and grow in empathy. We may not impact the whole nation, but we can certainly make our families and communities stronger and more compassionate.
Almost a year later, I am closing the group because it has succeeded in helping me heal and in finding ways to channel my passion for racial reconciliation. I think others in the group would say it has been helpful for them too, because what started as a group of 50 of my friends, is ending as a group of 168 people, many of whom I have never even met.
We posted articles, videos, and opinion pieces.
We challenged each other to look at all sides of issues, to ask questions, and to fact check.
We shared personal stories, historical contexts, and national data to both humanize and verify our positions.
We were raw, yet apologetic when necessary. And we were civil 99% of the time. It just goes to show that under the right set of conditions. Facebook can be a great place to share ideas. A few of us even read a book and gathered to discuss it.
The year offered countless opportunities for lively and painful discussion, for sure:
I could never have anticipated that what worried me last November would play out so tragically in August less than a mile from where I work. But my Facebook group was a huge comfort to me as I wrung my hands in fear for my family; as the city mourned for Heather Hyer, who lost her life on the same street where my daughter serves up pie.
Here’s what I said to the Facebook group on August 15th:
“… this Facebook group came to be when I had absolutely nowhere else to turn to express my concern and fears that the country would be worse off racially under Trump. The conversations we have in this group have helped to build the kind of racial awareness that recognizes bigotry. Never could I have anticipated Charlottesville as central to any controversy. And never did I imagine torch bearing, polo shirt-clad college students openly screaming “blood and soil” or “Jews will not replace us!” I thought it would be more personal and isolated hatred. Anyway, there is no doubt every heart today continues to reel from this awfulness. The president is who he is. Who will WE be now?”
Who will we be now? Have you asked yourself that?
When I asked myself that question, I decided closing the Facebook group would enable me to focus better on issues in Charlottesville rather than moderate online discussion about happenings nationwide. Plus, I will be leading a Bible study next year focused on racial healing, and I just began a stint as a commentator on a nationwide podcast. The paralysis of last November has given way to action.
I hope the same will be true for you as you ask yourself, “Who will I be now?”
If you’re not sure where to start, then start a private Facebook group. It’s a great place to learn how to debate in a civil way. It’s a great place to share and store resources. It’s a place to turn when some crazy news hits the airwaves. Besides all that, haters build coalitions via social media, so those of us who seek peace can certainly do the same.
If Facebook groups aren’t your avenue, then maybe the suggestions below will work for you. Pick one.
You may not impact the whole nation, but you can certainly make your family and community stronger.
1. Host a soup fundraiser at a church or other venue by inviting people to bring a crock of soup, friends, and a donation equal to the amount of money they might spend for a similar meal out with family. A local group of friends in Charlottesville is doing this and raised $17,000 in one evening for a local non-profit. They specifically choose non-profits that are impacting the poor or marginalized.
ESTABLISH A DIALOGUE GROUP
- Host a book or film club covering social justice topics.
- Start a private Facebook group similar to Hand in Hand. Be sure to invite people who may need to learn and grown, not just those who you already consider allies.
- Join, host, or initiate a Bible study on justice issues.
COLLABORATE WITH YOUR NETWORK
- Talk to your pastor about how the church can be involved locally (not just internationally) in justice initiatives and diversity work.
- Find out how your colleagues, business, or workplace can band together around a singular issue in your town. Collaborate with agencies and non-profits toward change by volunteering resources and time.
EDUCATE YOURSELF AND OTHERS
- Purchase and donate to the public or school library, books that depict people of color in fiction, biographies, and illustrations.
- Stock your home library with a collection of history books, flash cards, and films on America’s racial history.
- Join the mailing list of organizations in town that host events and speakers so you can attend. Find out what problems exist in your community and find a way to be helpful.