Raising her children in a diverse community gave Kimberly lots of examples of racism’s lasting legacy and current prominence. “While my kids attended public school, I became aware of how diverse but segregated the local communities are. Clearly a result of the lasting impact of redlining. I also noticed how African American kids and other children of color were more likely to be sitting outside the principal’s office and thought to be driving down test scores in schools of predominantly white neighborhoods to which they are bussed to. My own son was taunted at school by a classmate who claimed he was dumb because his skin was brown.”
Racism wasn’t just seen in the actions of others though, she saw how it played a role in how she was able to parent her children. “I saw how majority culture parents seemed to have the luxury to raise their kids to be independent while my husband and I, along with many of our African American brothers and sisters, placed an emphasis on rearing obedient kids. I began to discern the racial divide that historically did not afford us, as African Americans, the comfort to parent with such abandon.”
With the true heart of a bridge builder, she began opening her home for dessert nights she called “Shared Sweets” to local couples so they could talk openly about race. After a few months of these gatherings, a friend invited her to begin co-leading a Be the Bridge group, which was her introduction to Be the Bridge. She says of this decision, “I believe God calls us to shine light in dark places and this was an area I wanted to equip myself do HIS work.”
Finding people to join the group proved to not be a problem at all. Personal invites as well as an ask on her Facebook page elicited an overwhelming response. While finding members to join wasn’t a problem, not everything was easy sailing. A few lessons in they realized they needed to back-up and do more pre-work. Some of the White members were so new to the conversation of race and reconciliation, they needed to really deepen their understanding before the group could reconvene. The White members spent time working through Whiteness 101 and the members of color gathered together for what they called “Hope and Healing”. The Hope and Healing group listened to Truth’s Table together as well as reading works by Christina Cleaveland and Joy deGruy. A few months later the group was able to come back together and continue through the curriculum.
Kimberly had some great words of wisdom for people of color wanting to lead groups. “As an African American woman leading a group, I learned it is important to ask God to reveal those areas in which you are struggling with internalized oppression, to lament and begin to heal before you step into this work. Otherwise, pealing back the layers will cut you wide open. And I speak from experience! I also recognized that prospective bridge builders may come to this work with preconceptions about what it entails. It’s important to clarify the mission of discipleship, as Latasha so aptly described. Making it clear that bridge-buidling begins with our own introspection is paramount because I think it’s easier to focus on systemic injustice rather than unconscious bias. I would place a priority on seeking ways to love justly as a group, rather than meeting up strictly for social purposes outside BTB meetings.”
Along with the words of wisdom she also has words of warning. Learning about the bias in people you are living closely with can be painful and triggering. Racial reconciliation work doesn’t come without a cost, “be prepared for the pushback and possibility of falling out of community with those who continue to deny their bias, particularly where there willful ignorance will jeopardize the safety of your children.”
There have been some beautiful, positive outcomes that have come out of their group. “I am seeing members examine their reasons for making life choices that reinforce the racial divide, whether it’s a place of employment or residence. I’ve seen women develop cross-cultural bonds that they might not otherwise have, and recognizing the richness of these friendships that might not have blossomed without Be the Bridge.”
The group plans to continue to meet once they have completed the curriculum to read books together and take social outings. They have already traveled a couple hours together to hear Bryan Stevenson give a lecture. Some of the members will also be breaking off to get a new group with fresh members off the ground. This time they will be sure the members are well versed in the concepts of Whiteness 101!