As the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Interlochen Center for the Arts, I have the opportunity to teach my Necessary Conversations: A Look at Implicit Bias session every two weeks for our new hires. In each of these sessions we begin with group agreements of how we are going to communicate with each other. These can be used in all conversations but our focus for the session is on race. Within this list I state, “There is no need to question other people’s experience. People are the experts of their own experience.” This is an important step in learning how to understand others and begin to have these necessary conversations.
When I first moved to NYC, as a young twenty year old, I recall sitting on a bus watching a woman yell and hold incredibly tight to her child. At the time I thought I would NEVER be THAT type of mother only to find myself years later completely overwhelmed with fear that my three you old would board the subway train without me, the doors would shut and she would be lost forever. This fear was only compounded by having my second child who is Autistic and an eloper who also loves water. For years I found myself fully dressed, screaming hysterically, running and leaping into large bodies of water. Years later I realized I had become the woman I thought was so ridiculous.
My experience began living in a small suburban town which was predominantly white. My family was one of four or five Black families within the community. My experience with race began there as I struggled to find my own identity. I am a Black woman. In part because I am and in part because society dictates me to be a Black woman. At a young age, through subliminal messages and not so hidden messages I was told how to behave, how to look, who to love. This shaped who I am on many levels but my love for Jesus and my love for humans, as Jesus taught me to be, shaped who I am even more.
The church is an interesting place. I grew up in the church and have never left. I may have left the church who told me I could not marry my husband because of the color of his skin but I have never left the glorious arms of my savior. Jesus has taught us to love our neighbors and has and is living always within the oppressed communities. As a church and as individuals, it is impossible for us to grow truly in the magnificent grace of God’s love without reconciling with our own sin. I think we can agree with that as this is a fundamental tenet of who we are as Christians we must work toward being in likeness of Christ and WITH that work comes discomfort and WITHIN that work comes true Christ like love.
When folks ask about if they should embark on being a DEI consultant, I always ask them what is their why. If their why is because someone hurt them or someone they knew and they want to FIX that, I encourage them to take a step back. Doing this work should and needs to come from a place of love for humans first. As Christians, doing this work is fundamental to our growth within what Jesus has and continues to teach us to be.
I invite you to join us on your own journey of discovery of ways you can find yourself more alive within Christ, more impassioned to gain knowledge and understanding for other folks’ experiences and through that a vibrant truth of who you are as a Christian.