Written by Kimberly Bolden
I remember 5 years ago, standing in the school yard with another mom I’d recently met, waiting for our kindergarteners to come bounding through the door. She very hesitantly asked if she could share something with me. Nervously prefacing her story with “Please don’t judge me but…” she recounted her son’s recent revelation that my child was brown all over. Confused at first, I quickly surmised my son was her white son’s first African American friend. I found that to be surprising as this was the child of a military officer. I thought, weren’t the services integrated? And what should I not judge? That she hadn’t previously exposed her son to any minorities? I hoped, that in the 21st Century, in what I presumed was a diverse Alexandria, Virginia, this was an anomaly. Much to my dismay, however, I began hearing stories from white parents about racial stereotypes or fears their kids held about blacks and my three began accumulating their own stories about being “othered” or devalued for nothing more than the color of their skin or the kink to their hair.
Why should that matter, you ask? Born and raised in the St. Louis suburbs, my closest friends bore last names like Huntley, Akbarnia, Mahendra, Mitori, Karty, Coburn, Redmore and Ochoa. Their families were of African, Iranian, Japanese, Jewish, Mexican and British descent. That was my normal and what I’d hoped for my kids. If I’m honest, I think the majority of white people I’ve met in this region of Northern Virginia do not have deeper than surface-level relationships with minorities. Sure, good, white Christian folk serve people of color through church ministries and outreach, they may even work side-by-side at the office, volunteer together during Vacation Bible School and root for their kids’ respective sports teams together, but what happens outside of those arenas? I found myself wondering, how are white people so seemingly unfamiliar with people who look like me when I am so accustomed to being in their company? Don’t they have any or more than just token black and brown friends that they are genuinely and regularly in community with? From what I can see, the answer is, for the most part, a resounding no. For argument’s sake though, let’s just say race is not a factor, and that the segregation is based purely on proximity.
Whatever the reason, it’s been our experience, both as a homeschooling and public school family, that this lack of interaction makes fertile ground for bias and stereotypes and outright ignorance to abound. It’s why little white children claim to fear black children, to say brown kids are dumb because of their skin color, to ask relentlessly to touch their kinky-coily hair or refer to kids with dreadlocks as resembling gangsters. It’s why African American children get asked if they’re from Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, as if they are somehow foreign from the start. I began thinking of ways to bridge the divide between black and white, initially for a selfish reason: so, white parents could help their kids to stop perceiving black children as foreign or threatening.
Making A Change
Once we transitioned to homeschooling and joined a small church in our neighborhood, we found more often than not, we were one of a few, if not the only family of color at our homeschool cooperative, at church and at social gatherings. Oftentimes in these predominantly white spaces I and my children occupy, minority interests, concerns and culture are not acknowledged, understood or prioritized. If we are one in the body of Christ, then ought not all our concerns matter? As the racial rhetoric during the presidential campaign increased, I began to feel even less comfortable in my surroundings, particularly without family nearby to lean on. I half-jokingly suggested we move to Canada, to literally flee the racial tension. My teen daughter, in all her prophetic wisdom countered, “But Mama, if all the people like us leave, who will stay to make a change?” Her words, a message from on high, rang so true. It was then, I knew we needed to plant some seeds of change. But how?
I recalled reading an article 2 years ago, about a retired educator named Franklin McCallie. A white man reared in the segregated South, McCallie shed his racist roots, worked tirelessly to improve race relations as a principal and later formed “Chattanooga Connected” to foster discussion and build friendships between blacks and whites over dessert. Intentional conversations over shared sweets seemed like something I could do. Especially because I had grown more comfortable sharing some personal, sometimes painful racial incidents with some white women friends who listened without judgement and demonstrated their caring through prayer and deeds, not just words.
A later introduction to Latasha Morrison’s “Be the Bridge to Racial Unity” FB group, by my courageous friend Kathie Harris, gave me the push I needed to form our own dessert group. Last summer, after receiving an overwhelming response from longtime and new friends to join our discussion, my husband and I launched our group.
Every six weeks or so, we host 12-15 members, a mix of black and white, mostly couples, in our home. We are transparent and vulnerable during guided conversations on race, also laying the foundation for friendship. While our kids are forming their own bonds, we examine how our personal experiences with race have shaped us and our interactions with others. Prayerfully, my husband and I will continue to offer a place where our friends – some new, some old – can come to build bridges, increase cross-cultural awareness and find common ground.
Hello, I’m Kimberly!
Many know me as a loving wife, homeschooling mama, entrepreneur and former intelligence analyst, but first and foremost I am a follower of Christ. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on my educational and career path, I can clearly see how God created a passion in me for fostering cross-cultural awareness at a young age. Having become proficient in Spanish in my youth, I went on to learn Japanese and Korean languages, culminating in a B.A. in East Asian cultures with a minor in business. My honest-to-goodness dream was to one day establish a foundation to educate our youth about the history, traditions, and people of Japan, Korea and China. Little did I know God would use that desire for bridge-building much closer to home. I believe we work towards educating, healing and loving one another, as God intended, by being intentional. My husband and I host monthly, interracial dessert groups with the goal of removing the stigma of discussing race in America, and building relationships, one conversation at a time.