We Went There

Recently, my husband and I saw the movie "The Butler".

It was a sweeping review of the Civil Rights movement juxtaposed with the life of Eugene Allen (renamed Cecil Gaines in the movie), a White House butler who served through eight presidential administrations. 

The movie was thought provoking, inspiring and impacting.

Last week I had the privilege to participate in an online conversation about "The Butler" led by Deidra Riggs. Deidra is a speaker and author and a woman who is not afraid of going there in the hope of creating greater understanding and racial reconciliation.

Joining Deidra were fellow writers Diana Trautwein, Kendra Tillman, myself, and Dr. Colleen Jones.

(You need to know . . Diana and I have white skin. Deidra, Kendra, and Colleen have varied shades of beautiful brown.)

The story told in "The Butler" is powerful. But a story on a screen or in a book, no matter how impacting, doesn't compare with a story told by the one who lived it. 

And I heard some powerful stories.

Deidra offered her perspective as a woman of color and the daughter and granddaughter of family who had lived through the Civil Rights era. She shared how the movie's depictions of family culture could have come right out of her own childhood living room. "I could have named everyone of them, finished their sentences, and sang their songs."

Diana shared her experiences of her first exposure to blatant racism in the deep south and then in South Africa where she described entire tracts of land marked "White Only."

Kendra spoke of her desire to share the history availed to her as an African American growing up in Louisiana with her own children while simultaneously protecting them from bitterness. 

And Colleen shared her first hand experiences as a child who sat in the back of the bus with her mother and regularly visited the "Colored Only" lunch stand in the basement of a restaurant.

Being able to personally connect with these stories and their tellers facilitated more than an emotional impact. Rather, they have left an imprint on my heart. With the exception of Colleen, I already knew and respected these women and sisters. "Going there" was a little scary. I was nervous and afraid I might say something offensive. Much of my information comes from the media and the most heated issues surrounding racial tensions. There can be a tender place for many people at best and a dangerous place at worst. 

But talking with women I respect and trust created a safe environment to hear stories and perspectives . . to appreciate personal history versus just reading it in a book. I believe this one conversation has potential to challenge and inspire me to keep "going there" in the hope of increasing understanding and unity more than any movie ever could. There's no doubt my understanding was increased at a level deeper than just knowledge. I feel closer not because I discovered "sameness" but because our diversity enlarges our collective human experience. 

So see the movie, but don't stop there! I encourage you to go there with your African American (and other ethnically diverse) friends, co-workers, church members.

Thank you, Deidra. I have seen more of the Creator's colorful heart, and I discovered that there is a place of great hope.

Here's our conversation (spoiler warning):