I never had a talk with my children about how to respond to a police officer—“Be sure to answer politely. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Show respect.” But every black family in America has had this conversation. When my kids began to drive, I never once wondered if they would be pulled over without a cause. But black parents do not live with such optimism.
My children are grown now, so I have had far more time to invest in the life of the communities in which I have served. I befriended other pastors, especially African American pastors. I began to listen to their stories. I was shocked to hear how different their worlds were than mine.
While serving in Bedford, Ohio, I became friends with the high school principal. In time, he became like a son to me. In fact, he often called me “Dad.” I asked him once if he had ever been pulled over because he was DWB (driving while black). He rolled his eyes, smiled, and began to tell stories. Too many stories.
Seven years ago, we moved to Lima. I quickly formed friendships with African American pastors. I have spent hours listening to stories my friend Dr. Dennis Ward would tell me about his experience as a black leader. His world has similarities to mine, since we are both pastors, but there are many stark differences. I have concluded that he is a better man than I am. I could not have gone through what he has gone through.
I have been amazed at how Dr. LaMont Monford and his wife have raised their children. His path in life and ministry has been far from easy, but he has raised four amazing children as a testament to his faith and leadership.
I invited my good friend, Pastor Mike Lyons, to talk with my church board. I asked him what we could do to address the subtle racism that is often unseen by white folks. He answered with one word — friendship. He challenged us to develop a friendship with a person of a different ethnicity, but added that doing so will be difficult. He talked of the suspicions that would have to be overcome.
The point Pastor Lyons was making is this: We cannot heal what we do not see. Nor can we make right what we don’t know is wrong.
So I want to offer a challenge to people who really care about what is happening in our country. Join me in crossing the line. Stick out your hand. Invite someone to your home for dinner. Become a friend. Listen to their stories. Really listen.
This isn’t a program. It is a way of life. These relationships will allow us to see the world differently than we do now. Only then can we begin to work on the racism that whites often fail to see but our black friends navigate every day.
Dr. Doug Boquist is the lead pastor at Lima Community Church