Finding What Matters In The Chaos of Racial Tension and Community Unrest
A few months ago the world shifted in ways we could have never have thought possible on the heels of another seminal chapter (public health crisis, remember that?) in our world.
Once again, race, racism, and community tension were put on the forefront of everyone’s social media feed, along with live coverage of protests, press conferences, riots, and interviews on the topic of race relations, systemic racism, policing, and inequality in society.
Full disclosure – I’m a caucasian male. I’m simply stating a clear contextual value that’s important in understanding anyone’s perspective.
We have our filters, and more often than not, our filters are the way they are because they benefit us and our immediate surroundings.
Truth be told, 3 months ago, my personal filter didn’t make a difference to what happened around me. The incident between George Floyd happened six blocks from where I live in Minneapolis. Like many of my neighbors, the following days of unrest, violence, anger, grieving, curfews, and National Guard patrols were something that no one imagined happening in our community.
I watched on live TV as my post office burned, while the smell of tear gas and smoke came through my window at night. At the same time, I wondered if my daughter was going to wake up in the next room from all the sirens, helicopters, and explosions (amazingly, she didn’t).
I rode my bike through my boarded up community and watched as neighbors picked up brooms and swept the streets the mornings after the rioting. I struggled to explain to my daughter what happened while driving past burned down gas stations. I was able to hold myself together long enough to tell her that no matter what happens in the world, we always have an opportunity to come together.
My experience is still nothing of what marginalized peoples have experienced over generations of inequality, pain, and second class humanity. It isn’t comparable, because my life compared to others’ never accomplishes true repair of relationships, hope, and the pursuit of a deeper life flourishing.
No matter what your context (city, suburb, rural, etc.) as a youth worker, we can all appreciate the gravity of what the last several months s have meant for conversations with our neighbors/youth groups, learning history, and focusing on the reflection-action cycle that can drive us towards hope and wholeness in Jesus.
We are working at Youth Specialties to develop helpful and hopeful content for youth workers and churches. Content that will help us all process and repair our communities and address the racial tension and inequality in our culture.
To drive us towards that, as a community member, youth worker, Christian, and human being, here are four simple, reflective observations seen and experienced first hand from a “hot zone” of racial tension and community unrest.
SYMBOLS AND MEANING ARE EVERYWHERE
Anything you see or experience, means something. If it doesn’t mean something for you, it means something for someone else.
- As a human being, I was angered and distraught by the act of police officers kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight and a half minutes.
- As a community member, I was fearful and shocked by the violence, arson, and chaos that ensued after the initial incident with George Floyd.
- As a Christian, I sought to find some way to process all that was happening so that I could be shaped and transformed by the unfolding story of life and community around me.
But for some of my community members, the perceived chaos was their strategy for finding response to the injustice.
For some, the officer kneeling on George’s neck was a symbol of the oppression they have experienced for generations.
For some, it wasn’t a riot; it was an uprising.
For some, it wasn’t a protest; it was a declaration that life will be different.
For some, these responses were a rally cry for future generations to build a world where everyone gets equal access to hope, resources, and an opportunity to live daily life free from fear.
It all means something to someone.
As youth workers, we can understand how actions of young people mean something. We can bring this same strategy into reflecting on the events of our communities.
What matters is that we don’t stay in the chaos and tension, but we find connection and repair for everyone affected by trauma.
EXPERIENCE, THEN UNDERSTAND
Regardless of your opinion or theological persuasion on things like civil disobedience, collective resistance, or even racial tension, I knew I had to come into every experience and conversation with this posture: Slow, low, and listen. These places of pain and anger have quickly transformed into sacred community spaces. Community leaders have sought to cultivate healing and connection in the trauma, experiencing life alongside people without attached judgment or shame to one’s own experience.
As I walk and rode my bike through the areas affected by violence or even to the memorial area built for George Floyd, I didn’t try to understand everything. I walked, saw, and tried my best to be present in the place where I was, without attaching judgment to actions. Instead, I pursue understanding of what it would mean to live and act in a world that brought hope and wholeness for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or age.
What matters is we pursue understanding that builds hope and wholeness for all people.
COMMUNITIES FEEL, REACT, AND RESPOND TOGETHER
In many ways, I’ve never felt collective feeling and reaction the way that I have in recent days. The collective feeling of grief, anger, rage and sadness was overwhelming.
Some nights I couldn’t turn off the flood of thoughts and sights of watching my neighbors anguish over what happened, or the anxiety of “what will happen next?” constantly checking city news feeds, checking the neighborhood block for suspicious activity, and trying to process with friends about our next steps for protecting our neighborhood and supporting a new way forward. However in all the expressions, it was about doing it together that carries us forward.
What matters is we find a way to come together to repair relationships and community.
GROUND OURSELVES IN BIG TRUTH
I’ve never experienced the sort of community unrest I experienced in Minneapolis towards the end of May 2020. I’m forever changed by the events that happened that week in our city and I know now that it’s a responsibility for that transformation to influence my life, decisions, and connections with people moving forward.
Finding what matters in the midst of chaos and tension is a new learning for me. Encouraging youth workers to find what matters in the midst of these big picture movements is what can carry us forward.
What matters is that we can remember and experience God’s Big Truth that all people deserve hope and wholeness, and the grace of Jesus Christ equalizes all of us to be in need of restoration and resurrection.
I found myself in the last several days reciting the basic line from John Coffey in the movie, The Green Mile:
“I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.”
The Spirit of God can work through the tension and unrest in the lives of communities and individuals to resurrect new life in every way possible. This is certain, the significance and power of the resurrection of Jesus continues to take on new meaning for me.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.