Nearly two weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the Houghton website in response to the tragic death of George Floyd asserting that “words are not enough.” Whatever emotions we felt in the face of that single event have now been intensified exponentially in the intervening days. If words are not enough, readers asked, what are we to do?
I have been polling colleagues from various cultural backgrounds, asking them for advice and counsel as I seek to follow up with a call beyond words to practical action.
Here is what we have come up with.
- There are no easy solutions. Commit yourself for the long term. Changing culture is hard.
- Be open to being uncomfortable. This engagement will be humbling. Be a learner, no matter your age, your position, your ethnicity. . . . Be patient with yourself.
- Make sure you listen more than you talk. Ask questions and give time for responses.
- Do a self-inventory of your own history of experience with ethnic concerns; identify your own attitudes, assumptions and fears that you take into various situations.
- Identify and assess the theological and philosophical framework that undergirds your thinking and shapes your choices.
- Choose to view this as a hopeful and life-giving journey for yourself, your family and your community.
Dare to let others around you know that you care about issues of racial injustice and inequity.
- Suggest one of the books above for your book club.
- Speak up when race is made the subject of humor or stereotyping.
- Be a model in your reading and listening for the young people in your life.
Seek out relationships with colleagues, coworkers and fellow church members of other ethnicities.
- Invite them to your home when health and safety recommendations once again allow for this, or plan a socially distanced outdoor picnic.
- Dare to listen and move toward deep conversations about complex and initially uncomfortable topics. (Seek to have someone in your life with whom you can have honest conversations about your own struggles and concerns — and who can be a mirror for you, helping you to see blind spots.)
- Be concerned if there is no one in your circle of acquaintances of another ethnic group.
Seek out ethnic minority lead organizations making a difference in under-resourced communities.
- Offer your time, talent, prayer and financial resources.
- Work on a project with an ethnic minority group that benefits everyone in your neighborhood or a nearby area.
Use whatever platforms you have to bring greater awareness to issues of racial injustice.
- Invite speakers on this topic to the groups of which you are a part.
- Pay attention to structures or habits that create direct or indirect inequities within your workplace, church or social contexts. (For example, find out about hiring protocols at your organization.)
- Be intentional about inviting your organization to do a self-inventory or assessment that allows questions of race and ethnicity to become more urgent topics of conversation.
I have focused deliberately in this response on what we as individuals can do in this moment to turn our words into actions. Next month, I will be focusing on what Houghton College, as an institution, is committed to doing in this moment to continue becoming a Christian education community that truly reflects the cultural richness and the gracious hospitality of God’s Kingdom and that serves the church and the world of the 21st century.
May God help each of us to see the world through God’s eyes in these days — and to align our imagination and creative energy with God’s purposes in the particular communities in which we find ourselves.
Dr. Shirley A. Mullen, a 1976 graduate of Houghton College, now serves there as president.