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“We Have To Choose It” – A Q&A With US African American History Course Participant, Megan Perry

The below Q&A is from fellow Justified HIstory Course student, Megan Perry a 4th grade teacher. Her church, Redeemer City Church, is about to move to the southwest side of Madison, in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Many members of the congregation are taking the course in order to be more mindful and kind allies to the community they are moving into.

Tell us about yourself

I grew up in Texas and moved here with my husband in 2015 to attend grad school at UW-Madison. In Texas, we worked in a ministry that consisted of mostly African American children, which is where I first began to understand that I didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, the racial roadblocks that African Americans are up against today. The kids would be terrified whenever they would see patrol cars. Terrified! And I didn’t blame them, but I also didn’t know how to help them feel safe when even the authorities couldn’t be trusted. I started to ask myself, “Why? Why are cops so quick to turn to force with black men and women?” and it donned on me that this whole system, the whole fuel of racism, is fear. Fear is the horrific blood-red splotch that is spoiling our relationships and our country and has stained our history with unjust laws and lies.  

Why did you take the JA history course?

I heard about the course from our church’s pastors, who are both taking the course as well. We, as a congregation, did not want to move into a predominately African American neighborhood arrogantly. Our church consists mostly of young white people and we are painfully aware of the fact that we just don’t understand the history of African Americans in the United States or understand their worldview. I, unfortunately, have slipped into the flawed mindset of “fixing.” A mindset that says, “Oh, I’m here to help. Here’s money, here’s programs, here’s XYZ,” when I haven’t thought or asked how to be a friend and ally to African American peers. I get sick with myself when I catch those superiority thoughts popping up. I want to better understand the history of African Americans so that, by the grace of God, I can humbly approach friendships with them.

What were your thoughts when Professor Christy Clark-Pujara, in week three said: “any history of the United States without slavery is a fairy-tale?”

I know it is delusional to divorce the history of the United States from slavery, and yet the fact that only a small part of my history courses growing up were dedicated to the topic of slavery has created an obstacle in comprehending how influential slavery was in the course of our country. Professor Christy Clark-Pujara really illuminated how many areas and issues slavery touched when our country was being formed. It influenced business in the north and south, it wrote racism into the building blocks of our country’s democracy. That sounds like a paradox! A country of the *white* people, for the *white* people…built and funded by black slaves. It can feel very disgusting to think about, which it should. I was thankful for Professor Clark-Pujara’s hopeful note, though, when she said that the same document, the Constitution, that allowed slavery was what eventually abolished it. There can be change, acknowledgment, restoration. We have to choose it.

Have you been able to take the information you’ve learned and use it outside of Fountain of Life Church?

I’ve been thankful for the timing of the course since I had my students write Black History essays in February. There are two black students in my class and I wanted to be very respectful and thoughtful about addressing the issues in history, and today, that black people have endured, overcome, and still have to face. I take every opportunity to tell them how fear of people different from them only leads to more fear and eventually hatred. They get so mad about slavery and the people who allowed it, which I’m glad of, but I tell them they have to actively guard themselves from giving into fear and racism. I’ve been glad to incorporate what I’ve learned from the course to share with them. I especially loved, after the kids read their essays aloud, telling them about the resilience of black people in America. They praised God and fought for their freedoms. They didn’t give up, and that was incredibly inspiring to them and me.

This article was authored and edited by Mackenzie Krumme with interview participation by Megan Perry.