We went to a Community Conversation last night at Uplift High School where the neighborhood of Uptown were invited to attend an area-wide conversation about race and faith. It wasn’t very well attended. But the folks that were there were engaged. The panel consisted of staff from Kuumba Lynx a performance hiphop education group operating within Uplift High School, Dr. David Stovall of University of Illinois/Chicago, Daniel Hill, pastor of New Community Church in Bornzeville, and Tuyvet Ngo of the Illinois Vietnamese Association. They brought their deep background and experience in the community to the table.
As they were talking about crossing cultural boundaries I was reminded of a time many years ago now. I’m sure my daughter won’t mind me telling this story. (Hahaha, she’ll totally mind.) We told her if she met a certain goal for summer reading we’d reward her with a visit to a special restaurant. As one might guess, she totally blew away that goal plus. We took her to Macarthur’s a soul food place on the West Side.
You get the idea. And, oh yeah, mac and cheese.
We drove out there and went in and ordered. I noticed she wasn’t very excited or talking much. Maybe she was overwhelmed by the food. Finally she whispered to me. “We’re the only white people here.”
I looked around. Everyone around us was eating, and was black.
Suddenly I realized that this was much more than a reward for reading, it was a teaching moment. It was an opportunity for her to feel uncomfortable, part of a minority, a bit of an outsider. A lot like how certain populations feel amongst white people—out-numbered.
I couldn’t fix her discomfort. I only knew that this was life and she needed to experience it. What I did do was make sure she tried the peach cobbler and took home some corn muffins for later.
She’s grown up in a diverse neighborhood, within a diverse community, but it was important for her to feel that moment, what it’s like to not be top dog. Since then she has traveled. As a high school graduate she went to southern Italy where she was the only blonde for miles around—and very few people spoke English. She’s had to traverse all kinds of communities and be the outsider. She’s had to make inroads and bridge cultural gaps. Make a way when there seems to be no way and a common language is not possible.
We were lucky with the Community Conversation—most of us were on the same page: Let’s find a way to unite and work on issues.