The idea for “Going There” came about as a result of the 31 Days In My Brown Skin series I wrote in October, 2012. (You can read those posts here.) The series generated a lot of valuable dialogue, and when the thirty-one days were over, it felt as if the conversation wasn’t done. So, I invite you to share your story as it relates to issues of race, ethnicity, and culture in your every day life.
The goal of “Going There” is to encourage ongoing dialogue about topics of race, ethnicity, and culture in a way that is thoughtful and that shows respect, with the goal of advancing our understanding of the beautiful diversity in the humanity that surrounds us. Interested in sharing your story? Start here. Today’s post is written by Brandee Shafer.
When I was eleven, my family moved from Greencastle, Pennsylvania to Scott County, Tennessee, where I don’t recall ever seeing a black person, except maybe one adopted or foreign-exchange kid. I heard tell of some black man trying to run a ferris wheel, one time, and getting shot at. Heard the shooter missed, but all I can say for sure is–by the time I got to the fair–some haggard-looking, white dude was running the wheel.
Fast forward a few years, and I had to select a January-Term class at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. I decided to study black gospel music. Larry Ervin taught the class. I don’t know that I have words to write him for you, but I’ll start here: just to think about him (and he’s still alive and well) makes my eyes well up with tears. I love him like that.
Larry–and we all called him Larry–has big energy, big presence, big patience. He has a big laugh, and he has this way of looking, from day one, at a person and making him or her feel loved to the toes. I can’t think someone could know Larry and not be ready to just lie down and die for him, and it’s a thing that sticks like lamb stew to the bones; I haven’t seen Larry for seventeen years, and I’d get hit by a train for him, yet.
So a requirement of this class, on top of getting some book smarts, was to perform in a concert with the black gospel choir. I’d thought going into J-Term that the singing would be a one-shot deal, but turns out I loved the music and Larry even more, so I joined for real and good: sang with Voices of Praise in many different churches and several different states.
I wasn’t the only white person in the choir, but I was one of very few, and sometimes the only white people in the churches were the ones who stepped off our bus. I felt white, always, in those places, but I also felt loved.
I used to wonder if it were just Larry: if he cast enough light to dispel shadows in those churches. But many years later, I was driving into Goochland, Virginia and bawling my eyes out when I passed a little, white church on my right. So much light shone out its windows, and I didn’t know anything about the place but wanted nothing more than to be where that light was. I turned around as soon as possible and went inside, slid into the back pew.
Fifteen or so black people were finishing up a study on James Chapters 3 and 4. They didn’t seem at all surprised to see me, even with my teary face and yoga pants. The minister looked up and said, “Welcome.” I listened to the rest of the study and stood to pray with the congregation. When it was over, and before I could get out the door, a woman hugged me and said she was glad I’d come.
I have sadder stories to tell about race as pertaining to my every-day life, but I want it on record: if I need a church, and there’s a light shining from within one, I won’t wonder or worry about the color of its people. Because–in my experience, with or without Larry Ervin–it doesn’t much matter with Jesus up inside.
Brandee Shafer is an English instructor turned SAHM to the 4 children for whom she records her life and thoughts, through blogging. She, her husband Jim, and their children live in a log cabin on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, where she writes, teaches “homeschool preschool,” and tries, daily, to diminish toppling piles of dishes and laundry.