As with all of us, the last few weeks have brought up many emotions, memories, and realities from our own personal, past, and present experiences. I hate why we are now talking about these things, but I am so grateful that we are talking - at least I am hopeful that we are talking, because I truly believe that conversation is a key to bENCOURAGEd Today - and everyday - especially during this time. Because for me it was a conversation that marked my life helping me become a better person and it all began with a lady named Jaye.
It was the mid-nineteen nineties and I found myself in Monks Corner, SC opening a new restaurant for my company. Growing up in the midwest, this was my first experience in a truly southern rural town. My prior knowledge of this area was limited to history books and documentaries. To make it even more surreal - The Patriot, a historical fiction Revolutionary War movie starring Mel Gibson, was being filmed in the countryside around the town. This produced many actors walking around in period costumes many of whom moonlighted at the restaurant I was opening.
Several days of working long hours our opening team began to rotate our days off and coordinate shared rental cars - I was paired with Jaye, a training colleague I had never met until this trip. When you live out of hotel rooms your days off are best spent away from them - so Jaye and I decided to make the most out of the day and drive into Charleston, SC.
During our hour commute into the city we began a conversation that lasted the whole day. At first we shared about where we grew up. We soon discovered that we both came from very humble beginnings and had overcome poverty. I was a young girl in a trailer park in Texas who moved to a run down Kansas farmhouse and she grew up in the inner city of St. Louis, MO. We also discovered that we had both overcame abuse, sexual assault, and discrimination in the work place for being female. Finding out these areas of commonality forged an understanding that set a foundation for the rest of our day.
As we made our way into the city of Charleston we decided to go straight to the market area to eat at a recommended restaurant. Sitting on the patio we enjoyed a five star meal with great service. Sipping our drinks in the warm southern sun we gazed at the market place filled with basket and vegetable vendors. Our adventure took a new turn when we asked our server a question, “This market is so beautiful, how old is it?”
“Oh, this market area used to be the slave market, it has been here a long time.” he said as he refilled our drinks and nonchalantly walked inside.
And at that point, our commonality, our new friendship, our light-hearted conversation got real. You see Jaye and my skin color did not match. This is when we began to truly talk about our different perspectives, upbringing, and experiences as a black woman and a white freckled faced woman. Jaye and I got up from that patio table and walked through the marketplace. When we came upon historical markers we read them together and when we walked upon iron hooks cemented to the ground we stopped and talked about who was chained to them. We hurt together thinking what it would have been like all those years ago for the two of us to walk down those same streets side by side. Then we started talking about our own experiences - the struggles that we faced and the added struggle that Jaye faced because of her skin color. We laughed about things like what a perm means to a black person versus a white person, at the same time finding it strange that even those types of difference are not talked about in conversations - because of fear of being vulnerable enough to discuss them.
That trip to Charleston and back to the rural countryside of a southern area I had never visited marked me, because it broke a barrier. You see I did not even realize that for my whole life up until that day I was afraid to talk about what makes me different from Jaye. Discussing similarities with other people of a different race was safe, but sharing conversations about our differences required me to admit that they existed. I realized that acknowledging those differences did not make me a part of the problem, but rather a part of the solution. From that point on I stopped being nervous when racial discussions came up between a black person and a white person - I actually began to encourage them.
Let's have a conversation!
Begin or continue to have a conversation - especially an uncomfortable one. Engage a friend or reach out and make a new one - and it can all begin with a conversation.
I would love to hear from you - conversations that you have had in the past, present, or that you are willing to have in the near future. I want to encourage you - that you can do it! I believe in you and the plans that God has for you - which I truly believe includes having a conversation! You got this! I am proud of you for your willingness and your courage to take this step.
Having a conversation can help us all be Inspired, be Productive, be Fulfilled ~ bENCOURAGEd Today!