…the innocence of a young man who had never been in touch with murderous hatred in the flesh. It was a summer to hitchhike from Greenville, SC, to New Orleans. Long on time and short on cash, I grabbed a backpack and stuck out a thumb, heading southwest to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Along the way, I met some very kind people, until reaching the border of Mississippi. The old man pulled over his pickup truck. He was dressed to fit the scene, with canvas overalls, thinning grey hair and a scruffy beard. After miles of silence, the conversation began and drifted to topics of his choosing. Between tobacco spits, he boasted of his personal involvement in kicking a black man to death, as he lay on the floor. That portion of my trip is unforgettable. I had never been exposed to anything or anyone so cruel or so gleeful about making another human being suffer. Hatred moved from the pages of a dictionary into the stomach wrenching fearful emotion of evil. I have never been able to regard such meanness with detachment since that day.
Fifty six years passed, until nine black believers met for prayers at Emanuel in Charleston, on June 17, 2015. They came for conversation. They had no forewarning they would see the face of God that night. The stranger who entered their room seemed harmless enough, so much so that they welcomed him. Dylan Roof, 21, white supremisist, had come to Emanuel that night, hoping to start a race war.
When news of the racially motivated murders came to me, I was sick at heart. But my pickup truck ride in Mississippi had forced me to recognize that such people could and did exist. I resolved that day to do something, but didn’t know where to start. I prayed, I read, I wondered how people on the other side of the race divide were taking this sad news. I reached for my phone to call someone, anyone, to console them. I had been living in South Caroline since 2006. Nine years, and I had no one on my phone to call to talk about it. I resolved to find someone to talk to. Someone from the black community.
I met a black lawyer at an art gallery, but he wouldn’t return my calls. I left a note on his office door, but he didn’t respond. I tried calling the pastor of a small black church a few blocks from where I had been working. He refused to speak with me on the telephone. Undaunted, I went to his church at the time for the Worship service, hoping to get to meet him in person. He and I shared the whole service. The whole congregation were with his wife on a mission trip, leaving him to keep the doors open in their absence. He gave me the whole service, sermon, hymns, offering, and altar call. Afterwards, he shook my hand and told me he would speak with me, now that he knew me. He even offered to introduce me to some of his fellow pastors, if they were available. A small step of progress.
I solicited names from friends, and gathered a list of half a dozen names. My wife and I spotted a young family with several children eating together in a favorite restaurant. We played forward some birthday money and bought their lunch secretly. The waitress gave us away, and we met him and his family. He is a bi-vocational pastor and was very friendly.
Finally, my list was beginning to take form.
Nine victims in Charleston. So, I determined to find nine people of color who would be willing to take my calls and I would dial each one for one time each month, for nine months. I would not offer them advice. I would put myself in the place of a learner and ask them for their opinion and their point of view. I would open a door and attempt to begin building a bridge toward them.
That was the seed idea for this blog. I would first make and begin using such a list. Then, I would invite others to join me and make lists of their own. Once each month I would open a telephone conference line for conversation with whomever might be willing to talk. I would post to a blog, at least once a week, about the adventure of bridge building.
If the idea went nowhere beyond me, so be it. I would do something, for me, for nine others who might find some encouragement that we were able to talk. And we would pray for one another. That’s it. Simple, short, but not stuck, not despairing.
If you would like to join me, leave your contact information.