“What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” -Genesis 4:10
I am saddened and grieved by the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case. However, this incident and failure of our community, our laws and systems, have echoed in in me long before today. We continue to cry out “post-racial,” “diversity,” and “reconciliation,” but fail to live into a larger narrative that calls us to put to death our very safe ways of being in the world.
These feelings have resonated in me since the first time I was called a “nigger” in 1st grade in the progressive Northern Virginia… Since I was told that I would never amount to anything in my life because of the mere fact that I am black…. Since the first time that I was pulled over for no reason other than “DWB- Driving While Black.”… And since a [white] college professor asked me if I cheated on all my papers because “Charlene, black people can’t write like this?”
I serve as a campus minister at one of most prestigious universities in our country, and I work primarily with black students.
People continue to ask me, “why do you work with black students?” Or I get the snarky comment that typically implies, “aren’t you being a racist for helping to segregate students on campus?”
It is this question I love, hate, and wrestle with every single time.
I’ve thought a lot about the work I do this summer.
Tonight, I am reminded why I do this work… why the Lord has graciously called me to be with and for black students at UVA. I am not a racist, in fact I believe the Lord has something very particular to communicate to the students I work with.
My students need to see that the Lord has called them to this place, the University of Virginia. This place holds such a profound and deep history of slavery and racism. The skeletons of our history are so deep, that we have quite literally just built buildings on the gravesites of the slaves that built our University—ignoring that we have anything to do with that history… because look, isn’t that dorm pretty, and wow, the toilets flush themselves.
My students need to know that they have been placed here, for such a time as this, and that their lives have God-given value and worth that cannot be taken away from them. Even when people around them, the laws, the community, systems, and… wait a minute, the church, refuse to tell them of that God-given value.
My students need to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that their ethnic identity is a blessing from God… not a curse. Contrary to what the media, faculty, and other students want to tell them, they are created in the Imago Dei- the image of God.
My students and the greater African-American community are constantly being reminded that the opportunities, the rights, the chances, the financial aid, the classes, the [insert thing here] afforded to our white peers are not always afforded to us in the same measure because we are people of color.
My students hear these messages every single day. My hope is that in the discipleship and sharing life and story together, that there is an hour or two in their week of countering the loud message of this world… so that they can hear from The Lord—”God loves me deeply.”
The stories of this world have a deep way of trying to shape us, trying to convince us that we are nothing.You don’t have to dig deep to see or hear these stories, they are there– open your eyes. I outright refuse to let that narrative shape this community and the students I have been called to serve at UVA. The Lord is calling them to more…
I am so grateful to be doing this work of telling a larger, bigger, more powerful story—and inviting others into that story where God takes a risk with our raggedy selves and says, “you are mine.” Thanks be to God!
So while I will continue to grieve the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case, I hope this pulls back the blinders from many of our eyes. We lament this tragedy, the death of yet another one of God’s children killed, and we offer this to the Lord.
We will not let this narrative leave us helpless and hopeless, for we might not always be convinced of it by the media or our world, but we too are image bearers of God and co-heirs with Christ.
I hope you don’t shake it off as an isolated incidence.
I hope you press into the difficult and painful history of our nation.
And I hope you will be one who will not let the bones of racism continue to haunt us.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us.