That Word “Diversity”: Red and Yellow, Black and White…Pt.1

Diversity’s Symphony from Emanate Media, Samson Varughese on Vimeo. from @ScottWilliams

It has been an interesting two months for me. I started the year very confused about my direction, but willing to move forward in faith. A few months’ later, life has been illuminated. Lately I seem to be finding myself in what I call, “Brave Conversations,” discussing topics like race, diversity, human-trafficking, and women in ministry. I may be a little crazy, but I love these often taboo topics. I feel when you can wrestle through these topics with others you share some common ground which can lead to greater authenticity.

My conversations about diversity started here in Austin after attending a conference called “If:Gathering”.

Actually, it started in high school several years ago. Some peers and I were in our Honors Leadership Class disagreeing on how we should label Black History Month. I have never forgotten that conversation nor the comments made by so many who were my friends. I wanted to celebrate “Black History Month”. I wanted to lead the charge in my school that was 9% black in a little town called Hope Mills, NC. My theme was “It’s Time to Make a Change” (Yes, I played the old song by the Winans). My friends wanted to be more inclusive and call it “Brotherhood Month” and celebrate all people. I still remember every comment. I remember my anger as I tried to remain calm, not wanting anyone to see my disappointment. One guy said, “I’m Italian. Are we going to celebrate Italian History month”? If only I knew then, what I know now. I was alone in the class. I can’t remember if anyone else supported the idea. I do know I went home and cried. I wasn’t crying because of Black History month. I was crying because I felt rejected by my peers. I felt they didn’t understand that the world revolved around their heritage and there was no need for a special month. That’s when I realized from their perspective they didn’t see. There was no empathy because they didn’t know to have any. They were not aware of their own privilege. For most, their generational past was not a mystery. They had no idea what it felt like to be a minority, and I did. We were different, and that day I was introduced to the dividing line of race.

That year we had a “Brotherhood Month”. I didn’t lose. I wasn’t willing to fight.

“Brotherhood Month” was better than nothing. I was in charge the two weeks we would celebrate Black history. In hindsight, there was no fight it was a matter of understanding. It’s amazing how I remember that incident. Many of them probably have no recollection. That month we organized speakers, put together a choir and found support from a few teachers. I remember trying to learn the “National Negro Anthem”; I know the song today because of that month. My childhood friend, Nancia, led the choir as the director. We belted that song out at the top of our lungs. We celebrated our heritage in a way we were never allowed before. Students felt empowered and proud. Everyone enjoyed the month and it was seen as a success. I even enjoyed the Native American presentation. I believe they deserved their own month too.

As I reflect back at the patterns of my life, it seems these conversations seem to find me. And what began in high school became a burden on my heart to engage in the topic of racial diversity. In college I remember separating myself with my race. East Carolina University had so few blacks we all flocked together. I was on the leadership team of an organization called “Allied Blacks for Leadership and Equality (ABLE), whose purpose was to recruit more black leaders to our university and engage current black students in campus life. As our campus was only 10% black at the time, it was quite the challenge. College was also the place where I became a Christian.

Sadly, that seemed to only increase the racial gap I had continued to feel. Even the campus ministries were racially divided on campus. It wasn’t something we strived to do intentionally; we just didn’t strive to unite. What a powerful picture of beauty and unity and could have displayed to the campus.

Fast forward to 2014. After living in Austin for about a year and a half, I became discouraged by the division and the lack of racial diversity and representation of blacks in the city. I live in South Austin. I could go a full week and not see another black person in my neighborhood. This is not normal for me. I’m used to being one of a few, but this was different. And this time, I wasn’t surrounded by my close friends, family and all that was familiar. I loved all my new friends, don’t get me wrong. But there is nothing as uncomfortable as referring to a song or movie and no one has a point of reference. I remember cracking a joke about “The Color Purple” and no one could relate. I stood there thinking to myself, “how come I’ve seen most of your movies?” I can carry on a good conversation about a few country artists. I have even attended two hoe downs. TWO! Have you ever seen a black person at a hoe down?! The only words to describe it are “fish out of water.” But I enjoy trying new things, even if it’s uncomfortable, so I went to two and coined it “I’m in Oz”. To be honest, the whole time I was plotting my escape, but at least I was there. Which is why in Austin I found myself wondering how God could bring me to a place where my chances of getting married seemed drastically decreased? How could he bring to a place where I felt so lonely? And I wasn’t alone in this thinking. Single black females I met everywhere were plotting their escape.

Austin had become our awkward hoe down.

And this was my mindset entering the IF:Gathering. The day before the conference, I remember having a real conversation with the Lord. I cried out, “Why Lord? I need to know why? What are you doing? I’m making the best of this place but it’s so different. It’s too Southern. I can’t even connect with the women at my church, most of who are stay-at-home moms.” I was battling with the Lord. I’m no quitter, but this felt like too much.

I was convinced that remaining in Austin equaled the absence of my self-esteem.

Have you ever been in that uncomfortable or difficult place, where you want to run instead of fight? I didn’t have a sense of purpose. I felt like my  purpose was being fabricated. There had to be more. I’m a visionary. I live on purpose, Jeremiah 29:11 and Proverbs 3:5-6 are two of my  “Life Scriptures”. Austin felt off track, but in a weird way on track…