Mississippi was not a state I had ever envisioned moving to. Growing up in San Diego and attending college in Los Angeles, the deep south was both foreign in concept and periphery in mindset. However, two years ago in March of my senior year, I received a phone call.
Instead of continuing onto graduate school, I had, through much prayer and consideration, opted to commit to a two-year internship program with a college ministry. Knowing full well I could be placed anywhere in the country, the phone call still came as a surprise. I had been selected to serve at the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss as it’s more commonly known; a school and a region I knew very little about, but through the Lord’s design, was going to learn.
Reflecting now, as my internship comes to a close, it’s quite difficult to adequately express all of what has been pressed upon my heart through my time in Oxford. However, I can easily point to the most impactful.
What started as a single bible study guide, has now led to a growing national community and movement. Be the Bridge created by Latasha Morrison, was designed to help foster dialogue and equip believers to engage in conversations about race, truth and justice. It seeks to restore the witness of the church, to inspire transformative responses to injustice, and to educate the body on the deep need and the intentionality required for racial reconciliation and authentic unity.
It was through two women (LaTanya Dixon and Lanie Anderson) that I learned of and became a part of Be the Bridge. About seven weeks long, each week is a different theme; a different piece crucial to understanding corporate and personal repentance, healing, and redemptive change.
Rooted in scripture and soaked in grace, our discussions became what I looked forward to most each week. They were difficult, some weeks more than others, however they were also life giving. When asked about her experience, Meliah (a junior here at the university) expounded on her increased confidence and boldness. After being a part of our initial group, and now a coleader of her own, she writes, “I was so passive and didn’t like conflict, but then I found myself welcoming these conversations and loving the people around me more.” She also reflects on coming to see, what so many professing Christians still do not: “racial unity is not just a social issue, but a gospel one.”
Getting to learn and walk beside my students, as we intentionally zeroed in on the false and harmful narratives our country and collective church body continue to display, was and has been one of my greatest honors. Being of the ethnic majority and a beneficiary of generational and systemic privilege, I had to confront myself-my past and present blindness-and the ways in which I contribute to the layers of oppression and erasure that seek to marginalize and dehumanize my minority brothers and sisters.
Jenna, a senior from Meridian, recounts her newfound understanding. For this experience, she says, “has given me the opportunity to hear other stories and realize the gaps in my own landscape. To see the narrowness of my worldview and to have the willingness to admit that I was wrong.”
Our initial bible study included only women, but through the course of the year, more groups have formed and our Be the Bridge community has grown to include male students, as well as local church members and some families. By design and through the benefit of being on a college campus, our groups are intentionally ethnically and denominationally diverse. It even brings students from different hometowns, states and even countries together.
As Terrance, a coleader of the coed group he and his wife Ashley lead, emphasizes, “communication in a safe space can break down walls of hostility and open the door for compassion.” These groups provide room for stereotypes and presumptions to be dismantled. “Genuine and authentic empathy goes a long way.”
All of us, either those participating in a group for the first time or those now leading their own, can speak in length about the formative experience BTB was and continues to be. For some, it has allowed for exposure and insight, others an awareness to concepts or experiences never before considered. For Bernard, it was an informative and valuable time of self-reflection, weary at first with respect to what he felt he could or couldn’t offer, the discussion each week allowed him to see his story, his identity in a new way.
In a time such as this, more communities like Be the Bridge are necessary. As a church witness and as a family, especially white Christians like myself, need to be more cognizant and in continual repentance of our internalized fears, prejudices, and cultural preferences. We need to center and continue to center our black and brown brothers’ and sisters’ voices and experiences. We need to submit to, long for, and invest in minority leadership. And as the words in Isaiah 1 lay so plainly, we need to…learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.