What to do with BLM?
What is your response to Black Lives Matter? Many people have different feelings, opinions, and responses. Do you totally reject it because you see the BLM organization as an anti-American organization that does not support traditional family or American values? Do you ignore the organization and but believe in the concept that black people have more of a struggle and believe that there is systemic racism or challenges greater than whites? Do you argue that you are not racist? Do you believe the real issue is poverty not racism? Do you believe that the government has done more than enough?
Well, whatever your opinion of the BLM movement, I ask one question. What have you specifically done to get to know someone of a different race or culture? (This could be an African-American, Latino, foreign student from India, China, Kenya, or new immigrant in the community, etc.) Have you ever had a meal with them? Have you ever done recreational activity with someone “different” than you? Have you ever just listened to their perspective without giving your own? Have you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation where you were the minority and you just observed, listened, or participated as directed? Have you ever had someone “different” in your home?
Protecting Your Comfort?
If not, I tend to think (possibly wrong assumption) that you could be living in your comfort zone and really don’t want to make the effort to see our society improve – people living well together, less violence, less crime and overall better understanding of each other. Could you be one who observes from afar, while giving your opinion without any real effort to see positive, long lasting change?
It is easy to stereotype a person or situation. One doesn’t ever have to dig in to find out what is going on or what the root cause is. I have worked with inner-city students for the past 20+ years. I knew many of the problems facing kids in the inner-city: poverty, no dads, poor education, etc. BUT, I had to ask a lot of questions and be willing to listen to those in these difficult situations before I could really understand what was going on. It is easy from the outside to pass judgement on someone or situation, especially when you are not involved. But, if I really wanted to see positive change, I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore. I must get involved and I did. Are you willing to get involved? You may ask, “How should I get involved?”
Being a Difference Maker
There are multiple ways to get involved from giving money, praying for others, volunteering, and working politically to change the system. In my opinion, the greatest impact you can have, for yourself and for others, is to get involved by building relationships, getting to know someone that is “different”. I have done this several times in my life and it has changed me. The platform from which you do that may vary from volunteering at a shelter, working with a school, working with international students, church or a community center, etc.
I worked with an inner-city Hispanic neighborhood project where we built a playground and worked with the local youth. I have worked and am working with private schools that are really the only hope for a decent education in particular areas of Birmingham. My family participated for 8 years in an international friendship partner program adopting an international student for their 4 years of school. (This included having them in our home, holidays and even taking them on vacation with us.)
Building relationships can overcome any stereotype. Too many of us are more comfortable believing the stereotype versus actually getting involved. It is easier to criticize from the chair than get your hands dirty, build relationships, and step out of your comfort zone. The truth is that both sides (the “different” person and you) may be uncomfortable and have to step out of comfort zones to engage. With the Hispanic neighborhood, we, the gringos, had to go into an area that had gangs and spoke another language. The Hispanics had to come out and engage us. We built a playground and built relationships with parents and kids. (Fortunately, those kids were bored and starving for attention. We all had LOTS of fun and were hit by quite a few water balloons too.)
With the schools, I started volunteering working with 8th grade students to teach moral character and life skills. Now, I am working with Banks Academy (high school) to help prepare kids for a better life. The biggest blessing for me is getting to know one of the African-American male teachers. Our backgrounds are from totally different ends of the spectrum. But we are enjoying each other’s company, recreating together, and learning to listen to the other’s perspective versus arguing which side is more “right”. True relationship is starting to be built.
What Now To Do?
Ok, now you may ask yourself “Where do I go from here?” If you do nothing after reading this article, I encourage to ask yourself “Am I too self-focused? Am I just scared to get out of my comfort zone? Should I be contributing financially to a worthwhile cause? Do I need to get involved politically” (If politically, focus on local issues where you will have greater and more immediate impact.)
There are plenty of organization: churches, non-profits, schools, food banks or just locals who can help direct you where to begin. Our church is working to build relationships with two African-American churches. Is your church doing anything? Banks Academy is working to develop students in mind, body, and spirit. Salvation Army is working with those coming from prison, those needing work and life skills. Big Brother and Big Sister is working to give positive adult role models. One possible solution is to go volunteer your time helping those “different” than you. Or you may focus on getting to know someone that is different. This person maybe at work, a neighbor from a different culture, or a child who needs a positive influence in their life.
Whatever your belief about the BLM movement, what I see positive is that it has opened up a lot of discussion. My hope is that the discussion is respectful, leads to building relationship, and brings about a positive change in me, you, and others we engage with. Let’s be a community together, not divided!