On December 10, 2019, I attended another Racial Healing Circle sponsored by ISAAC. The first half of the meeting was similar in content and style to other such meetings I have attended over the past two years. I thought the meeting was going well, as the others had. But then something happened. One of the people of color that I did not know very well said he was tired of hearing most people of color honestly and deeply sharing their stories from their heart and not observing that the same was happening from the white folks who were present. The challenge was presented lovingly, yet forcefully, and sparked several white folks, including me, to attempt to explain the “why” of our hesitation. “My story is nothing compared to yours.” “I’ve had a life of ease or privilege or both, and when looked at beside yours, mine is just bland and uninteresting.” “I don’t think anyone would be interested in hearing about my life of privilege.” “My disappointments in life are not close to what yours have been.” “I’m ashamed to tell you about my life because it has not been nearly as difficult as yours.” But then, with the prompting of POC, we were urged to tell our story, and one by one, several white folks, including me, peeled back at least a part of our masks and revealed things about ourselves we had not hitherto revealed. Emotions were high, but transparency and honestly ruled the moment.
As the meeting wound down, it was apparent that trust had been built. Everyone was made to feel that his or her story was valuable; everyone’s story counted. Comments from diverse people were that the meeting was the “best so far” and “relationships were built because white folks cracked the door open just a bit.”
Even though over 25 people were present, many for the first time, there seemed to be widespread agreement that openness and honesty had enabled us to move forward together in ways we had not been able to move previously. We were confronted and challenged to get over our personal discomfort and realize that tackling anti-racism was going to take courage and was going to be, sometimes at least, uncomfortable. But, a good space became a brave space. Discomfort, yes. But we saw first-hand that not all discomfort is a bad thing; in fact, some discomfort is not only a good thing, but a necessary thing if growth is to occur. A “highlight” confirmation that progress had been made was when many folks openly and freely hugged one another before leaving.
Many thanks to our wonderful facilitators, Rev. Mason, and Adrian for fostering the environment on this night, an environment where the spirit of truth, compassion, and trust was offered and accepted. As Rev. Barber often says, “Forward together, not one step back.”
Respectfully submitted by Coach Dick Shilts [pictured above with Rev. Joslyn Mason]