The 2016 Facebook ad asked: Are you a white person who wants to lean in and learn more about Black history for a New Day?
I signed up immediately.
I had lived in Madison for 22 years when I read the ad. Madison became my home when I moved here for graduate school and soon after started a family– but I had grown up in the Washington, DC area (Chevy Chase, MD to be exact – and no, it’s not named after the actor). I had been acutely aware of how segregated my daily life was from Madison’s Black residents – but I had allowed myself to become accustomed to it. The invitation spoke to a hole I felt from the lack of diversity in my life – one that I had become admittedly complacent about.
That class – two hours a night for nine Monday evenings – spent in the Fountain of Life church quite literally changed the trajectory of my life.
What I learned in the Justified Anger – History for a New Daycourse shook me to my core.
Why hadn’t I learned these things in school?
Why didn’t I know that our country’s economic system was literally built around the institution of slavery?
Why didn’t I know about the brave and brilliant African American individuals who had fought these institutions and systems every step of the way? Through defiance, through cunning, through music, through love?
And … why had I been OK with not seeking this information out sooner?
I didn’t want the class to end. I didn’t want the learning to end. Over the next several years I found a myriad of ways to stay engaged. I volunteered to lead the classes’ discussion cohorts. With other volunteers similarly drawn to Nehemiah, we came up with ideas for how to dig deeper and how to respond to current injustices occurring in Madison and on campus. Some of these ideas took root, others did not (in retrospect I bristle at some of the ideas I thought would be “helpful” – thankfully, the Nehemiah staff were always gentle in their feedback and explanations for why these ideas would cause more harm than good). And I learned about my own complicity in maintaining racism and racist structures. I learned from the Nehemiah staff that when I said or did something hurtful, my responsibility was to listen, apologize, and move on with a greater sense of awareness and understanding. And to always stay engaged despite my own discomfort.
Six years after responding to that Facebook ad, I am on staff as the Director of Donor Engagement. Seeing this organization from the inside has exponentially expanded my belief in its capacity to impact lives through Black leadership development, community education and the affirmation of human dignity.