This post is primarily for all of my activists friends out there who get discouraged. I want to tell you a little story.
I know that most of you already know that if we are really going to dismantle White Supremacy, it will not only take changing law and policy, but also “hearts and minds.”
I tend to think the latter is always more challenging.
As a pastor, I have to believe we can change and “turn in a new way” in our lives. I refuse to believe anyone is ever beyond “redemption.” (Which is the core of my opposition to the death penalty…)
Over the course of my life as a CIS gendered Straight White man, I’ve tried to “turn in a new way” on issues of racism and my own continuing privilege. It’s soul work, and it’s hard work.
And any Activists or preacher you know will tell you: You don’t alway see the fruit of the labor.
Last evening, I had a chance conversation with someone at the march/protest at City Hall. It was the “Faith Community” march. I was standing near the periphery —mostly because of continuing social distancing desire on my part— when a younger person came up to me and asked me what church I was with.
I told them “Kessler Park United Methodist…and how do you connect in?”
“I’m an independent photographer,” they said.
That made me a bit nervous. You never know who you are talking to in these moments.
(I won’t give out any info on where they live, or their gender…so…. “they/them” here…)
“Well, I’m just here to document for my social media.”
Then they paused and said, rather sheepishly, “I actually used to be on the other side of these issues…”
THAT got my attention, and I asked them to tell me more.
They said that several years ago they had come to a large rally/protest here at City Hall, with two other friends. They had *all* come armed…rifles slung over their necks.
Something about that rally, they said, started a change in their life. They heard speaker-after-speaker from different races, genders, politics, and faiths (and no faith) speak of social change.
Turns out, the rally was the “Rally Against White Supremacy” sponsored by “InSolidarity.”
I lept with excitement.
“I was here that day! I was one of the speakers!”
I told them that this event was deeply important to me too. I told them of the 20 or more protests I’ve ever been part of, that night was one of the highlights, for sure.
They told me that something about that day…the 7,000 people who gathered on Dallas City Hall Plaza, together to stand against White Supremacy…In the wake of Charlottesville…had changed their life.
They told me that through the night, they saw agitators trying to goad the crowd into turning violent. And they saw the crowd not “take the bait.”
And, in fact, they saw the crowd push back against those on the right and the left who would have pushed for violence that night.
They said they were really impressed about how “everyone was here together.”
They said they suddenly realized there were a lot more voices to listen to out there besides “Ben Stein.”
That event —along with other personal events going on in their life I won’t share here— started them toward changing their own views and beliefs.
So now, they carry a camera instead of gun.
Now, they and I marched together down the street, last night –as the crowd chanted “Black Lives Matter”– talking about politics and social change.
I peeled off the march-path about a quarter of the way, and we said our goodbyes. And I immediately called an InSolidarity friend to tell them what a difference their march had made in this person’s life.
I tell this story not only because it warms my heart, but also because I think it’s deeply important for all of us who do this work.
It’s not a *big* story. It’s the small story one changed-heart and how one night helped push them to a new path.
I believe hearts CAN change. Frankly, I believe they must.
Legislation needs to change. For sure. And heartwarming stories like this can lull us into “feel good” inaction if we are not careful. And, please hear this: No heartwarming story makes up for the death of George Floyd or the many before him.
But for all my activist friends out there who sometimes get discouraged, I lift up this one person I met yesterday at an apparently “chance” encounter.
But maybe not.
Maybe you —who sometimes get discouraged— are supposed to hear this today.
Maybe you –who feel like curling up into a ball for al that’s happening in our world– need to *remember* this today.
What I am saying to us all is:
It’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to lose hope.
But always knwo that they way you “stand up to your full height,” the way you use your voice, makes a difference.
You may never get to hear the story of the life-changed. But the stories are there.
YOU make a difference every time you stand against the scourge of White Supremacy.