When Miya Bryant joined a Be the Bridge group in Wilmington, NC, she had no idea what to expect. After recently graduating from college and feeling frustrated that no one in her local church seemed to care about racial reconciliation, she wondered if the gap between herself and the predominantly-white church she was a part of was too wide to bridge.
“It breaks my heart to look at the racism and division around the world, especially here in America. It felt like no one was willing to do the hard work that Jesus promises us will make us more like Him. Once I heard about Be the Bridge groups starting in my city, I was excited to gather with people who wanted to explore what racial reconciliation could look like in their church and more importantly in their hearts,” Miya says.
Her group decided to meet once a month for a year. Although excited to see where the new journey would lead, she did assume that she would be doing quite a bit of the heavy lifting as a person of color in a group of White women. While this proved to be true, she also appreciated the intentionality of the White women who had committed to the group. “Knowing that the White women in the group chose to be there, month after month, made me more willing to be vulnerable with my story as well as being open to being a teacher in areas they were not familiar with.”
While many people of color are used to carrying the burden of educating White people about the realities of racism, the frequency with which they are called to do so doesn’t make it any easier. Miya shares, “It was challenging to have to share my perspectives and then also turn around and give background information or explain piece by piece what I thought or was feeling. At times there wasn’t always space for me to just be and learn without contributing. I’m used to being in many public and private spaces with White people, and I do passionately believe that White people need the stories, voices and opinions of people of color in their lives, but it’s hard when you’re the only one, or one of two, in a group.”
Miya’s perspective speaks to the critical importance of being willing to educate yourself around issues of race and racism in America. While building relationships and listening to the lived-experiences of people of color are essential building blocks of bridge work, those part of majority culture should not expect people of color in their group to be the primary way of learning. It is crucial to self-educate through books, documentaries, and other avenues that helps one to see and study the many layers of racial trauma.
“Bridge building is hard work. Racial reconciliation is hard work,” Miya says, “but isn’t everything in life that is worth fighting for? Stepping into a group like this can seem very daunting, especially if you are a person of color and have participated in similar environments before. But the weight of this work is not on the shoulders of people of color, or at least it shouldn’t be.” She continues, “And it isn’t entirely on the shoulders of White people either. This is Jesus’ work. Reconciliation is his hope and his dream for all of us. Although being part of a Bridge group will not always be easy, I believe that a Be the Bridge group is for everyone – to give, to take, to learn, and to be known.”
In the end, Miya is grateful that she participated in a group and says the experience has changed her for the better. “Jesus brought my group together and taught us so much about loving ourselves and other people. It also taught me to trust White people a little more. Although I have many White friends and I am married to a White person, I don’t trust any White person automatically. My entire people group has been hurt and used by White people for centuries. I have also been hurt by White people who were close to me and by complete strangers. My Be the Bridge group helped to soften my heart, heal some of my past hurts, and help me begin to step away from an all-encompassing distrust of White people. Little by little, I am learning to trust again.”
For Miya, it’s simple. “The work is hard, but so rewarding. I can’t imagine my life without my beautiful, diverse community that mirrors God’s image and love to me on a daily basis.”
Gina Fimbel is a writer and mother of five living in Wilmington, NC. She is passionate about educating herself and others on issues of racial justice, the church’s role in racial reconciliation, and open adoption. She has a master’s degree in the field of social work.