I grew up in a suburban community in Kansas and could count the number of friends I had from other races on one hand. It wasn’t exactly a diverse place to live, nor did I seek it out. There were only two or three black kids in my entire graduating class in high school; the most diversity we experienced was hosting a small group of international students each semester. To my embarrassment, I rarely engaged with them and was completely unaware of the unconscious biases growing larger and larger in the back of my mind, like a cancerous disease lying undetected and dormant.
It wasn’t until college that I truly experienced diversity. And it wasn’t until I was randomly placed at Kids Across America, a Christian sports camp for urban teens, that I came face to face with people that were different than me. I remember receiving my acceptance letter through Kanakuk Kamps and wondering why I was placed at this camp, bewildered and confused. Did they make a mistake? Or confuse me with someone else?
That summer of 2012, I walked into camp as one of a handful of white people and quickly became acutely aware that my skin color looked different than almost everybody else. It was incredibly uncomfortable, yet I was determined to overcome my awkward insecurity to engage with the group of teens in my cabin. Looking back, it was one of the best experiences I had in college. It forced me to get outside myself, step into a minority member’s shoes for a summer, and really see people.
A couple years after I graduated college I started looking for ways to get involved in my local church. A good friend of mine suggested leading a small group for international students and on a whim, I said yes. I did, after all, love going overseas to travel and for missions. But it was different than a short term mission trip - it was real life.
My heart broke listening to stories and reading articles about international students who had never been invited into an American home. It was as if they were unseen, nonexistent. Conviction fell on me like a ton of bricks as I realized I was one of those people who didn’t see. I walked past so many international students while I was in college without even batting an eye. I simply didn’t notice.
When conviction comes, we have two choices - to ignore or to respond. My hope with my new Build Bridges Not Walls series is to encourage you to choose the latter. I’m working on a e-guide to help you uncover hidden biases and prompt you to engage, instead of ignore, the people around you. Stay tuned for more excerpts, updates, and a free download or two!