Sometimes, the toughest circumstances create the softest hearts.
The Trayvon Martin incident, in which a young African-American man was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch member in Florida, has brought to light racial tensions that, sadly, never seem to be far from the surface in our nation.
As a campus, Lipscomb seeks to engage in conversations of significance on many topics, and conversation surrounding racial reconciliation and stereotyping is high on that list. Our student body has one of the highest percentages of minority representation in Tennessee. We believe strongly in creating a student body that reflects global and—we believe—heavenly diversity.
On Monday, April 3, 2012, I witnessed an amazing gathering of students who came together to discuss stereotyping in light of the Trayvon Martin incident. About 50 of our students gathered in Shamblin Theater to discuss our Christian response to stereotyping. It, too, was a diverse meeting with roughly equal numbers of Caucasian students and students of color.
To follow fellow citizens’ leads as we see it in news reports, it could have been a moment of rage, anger, blaming and incendiary language. That’s what many in our country have chosen. But not our students.
At the Shamblin session, students—both black and white—stood up and related their experiences with stereotyping. “Don’t accept someone else’s stereotypes. It can kill, has killed, just like the Iraqi mother of five who was living in this country and was beaten and killed a few weeks ago. Someone had acted on a stereotype.”
Yes, there was frustration in the room. “The law has been passed that says racism isn’t okay, but it’s still there, and we (Christians) can’t be okay with that. How do we move past that when even in our own fellowship there are “black” and “white” churches? We are in a believing community. We proclaim neither male nor female, Jew or Greek, bond or free. That’s what we say we believe.”
I witnessed a beautiful presentation by one of the attendees of a poem called “Someplace Far From Here” that talked about all the negative events happening someplace far from the individual, the point of the poem being that “here” is where we begin.
Students discussed how the death of Trayvon Martin could lead to something positive and to Christians learning how to respond to stereotyping. As one African- American student said, “Maybe this is where God can use Satan to His purpose. God loved us all before we learned to love Him. We’ve got to live that even when it’s hard. The only way we can stop stereotyping is through the Word and encouraging each other every day.”
The spirit of this group was a joy. These young Christians were using their hurt and anger in a way that many very spiritually mature Christians would envy. One young man said “we want to approach this like educated, spiritual people who understand the world is going to be evil, but Christ is right. We need to focus on the momentum this incident has set to bring unity.”
The session lasted about 90 minutes in a room filled with a diversity of people who valued respect and faith over stereotypes and anger.
We can ask no more from faith-filled education.
By Scott McDowell
Vice President Student Life, Lipscomb University