By CHANDA ROBY
How I’m learning to cultivate diversity
Working with what you have. It is a simple concept, and one that I am trying to live by daily. I have applied it recently to my life as it relates to relationships with people who are outside of my race. In my mind, I know racial diversity is something we should celebrate together, but in my everyday life, I have found that many times I celebrate it alone and in word only, not with others through deeds.
I worked with a guy who shared that his pastor said churches should look like Walmart. I thought about the people from a variety of races whom I usually see in Walmart — and realized that neither my church nor my personal life looked like that.
Sure, I had people from various races who loved me and whom I loved, whom I talked to (when we saw each other), and even some I believed I could call on for help. However, I could not say I had any close friends who were not black. I was thinking about my friends whom I called or who called me on a weekly basis. People whose houses I went to on a regular basis. People with whom I could talk to and share my secret thoughts, feelings and desires. People with whom I opened up to and moved beyond being “polite,” “kind” or “politically correct,” because they were safe places where I could be vulnerable. I could not say that I had THOSE kinds of relationships with non-blacks.
I saw my lack and began to long for what I was missing. What did it say about me that I did not have those types of relationships with non-blacks? Did I just not know anybody who was not black and truly wanted to be my friend? Or was I simply not in environments where there was an opportunity to develop those types of relationships? Maybe it was not my fault, and I was just a victim of circumstance.
In the midst of my self-examination regarding the lack of diversity in my life, Mission Mississippi President Neddie Winters asked me to help facilitate one session and co-lead another for one of their annual reconciliation events in 2017. After the presentation I co-led, a young white female approached me and said she wanted to have lunch with me, get to know me better. She had been inspired by my presentation regarding the barriers to communication. I was in awe of her because she did everything any expert would say to do to cross barriers. She did it on her own and unsolicited. It seemed so simple — yet I could not remember ever doing it myself.
During our time together, we just concentrated on getting to know each other, developing a friendship, and celebrating our unique differences and our commonalities. We met once, maybe twice in the following several months, and talked on the phone at least once before she moved back to her home state of Tennessee. We have not been in touch since, but writing this article is inspiring me to reach out to her again.
What I have learned from my self-evaluation is that there ARE a few non-black people in my life whom I have relationships with, and I can start by cultivating those relationships. They may not look like I imagined. Maybe the people are older, not necessarily peers. Maybe the people are individuals I do not live near, and only see a few times a month or year. However, just like the young lady who approached me, I have to take the initiative to open myself up to the opportunities around me.
My reality is that God has planted seeds of diversity in my life, and it is up to me to water those seeds. I have to trust God for the increase, but the watering and nurturing is up to me. The increase, when God sees fit to give it, will be something my friends and I can celebrate together. #CelebrateTogether
Chanda Roby, a native Mississippian, is president of Rural Education And Leadership Christian Foundation (REAL). She is active in her church, Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Mendenhall. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.