Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hope and the GTRC

In a discussion thread at Allen Johnson's blog, Jerry Bledsoe posed the following question in the context of a multifaceted discussion about segregation and integration:

Last April, Peter Storey spoke at First Baptist Church in a service designed to bring together all faiths, all colors, all cultures. I sat agog on the front row. It was for certain the most unusual service I ever attended at a Baptist Church. Afterward, I went downstairs to the reception, where I exchanged pleasantries with you and others. I couldn't help but notice that a large number of blacks isolated themselves at two big tables. Why this self segregation? Surely, long-standing exclusion and estrangement is at it's roots, but if it couldn't be overcome after a service so powerful as this, in what do you place your hopes?

I found it difficult to respond both concisely and thoughtfully to the question, so I'm afraid I did neither, but here is what I came up with:

I have three thoughts on your very reasonable question of "in what do you place your hopes?" The first two are not my own.

First, I think about something Peter Storey said in that service to which you referred. He talked about a hypothetical situation in which a white farmer and a black farmer met at a crossroads, the white farmer having stolen the black farmer's cow. Standing at the crossroads, the farmers exchanged pleasantries and the white farmer eventually apologized for stealing the cow. The black farmer forgave him and then the white farmer started walking away. The black farmer asked, "What about my cow?" to which the white farmer replied, "Now, we just reconciled. Why do you have to keep bringing up the cow?" As powerful as that service, focused on reconciliation, might have been, I personally think the community still has a lot of truth yet to speak, hear and deal with before we can start getting closer to a society where groups don't

The second thought I have about hope comes from Cornel West, who, in a meeting last summer with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was asked the same question you've asked here. His response was that he couldn't point to a rational reason to have hope that things can get better, but that, without it, we might as well go and spend the rest of our days in a crack house.

My third answer to why I have hope lies in a story we've seen play out with regard to the events of November 3, 1979. Roland Wayne Wood, one of the shooters that day, has recently come forward to apologize for his actions. Other than adding a bit of remorse, his story has changed litte in 26 years, but his apology has really been meaningful to Signe Waller, widow of Jim Waller who was killed that day. Signe has since met with Wood and accepted his apology. There was no rational reason for her to accept his apology or for him to offer it, but it happened. If a Jewish widow can forgive the former Nazi who played a role in killing her husband, then why not have hope that things can get better?

The question is a good one that I return to almost every day, Jerry. Thanks for giving me an opening to share a portion of those thoughts.

Since writing this response this morning, I've come up with many other ways I could have answered this question, but I'm also curious about how other people would answer. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments if you are willing to do so.

posted by Jill Williams, exec. dir.


Blogger Admin said...

My answer isn't nearly as thoughtful or thought-provoking as yours, but it's simple:

My hope lies in the knowledge that situations like Jerry describes CAN be overcome, ARE overcome every day, and COULD have been overcome in that instance, and that each one of us has the power to do it by engaging in the simplest acts of human kindness and love.

Jerry's answer lies in his own question, when he acknowledges that "long-standing exclusion and estrangement is at its roots." The key is that we all want the same thing, and it's not to sit at a table feeling excluded or estranged, but to feel an arm around our shoulder, see an outstretched hand and a genuine smile, and to hear a friendly greeting directed our way when we feel ill at ease or out of place.

It's simplistic to the point of a Hallmark greeting, but that's the beauty and hope in it; all humans are capable of great compassion and great service to each other. Even a young child can sense when someone is hurting, go to them, and put his arms around them to try and make it better.

Sometimes hope requires courage. That's one reason it's so valuable, and never to be taken for granted.

5:12 PM  

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