Jane Richards

In the wake of the murders of Ahmed Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others, and despite years of promoting equality and social justice, we have not made significant strides in challenging racism in this country. As First Pres has gotten involved through activism, book studies, prayer and making us aware as individuals and the church, we need to take our place at the table with our Black sisters and brothers and move forward together. This was made clear to me in an incident that happened back in the early summer.

 

It was my first trip out to a store other than the grocery store or the drug store since March 12, 2020, when my sheltering in place began due to the pandemic. I went to a discount department chain store in Exton. I made sure I had a mask with me and it was around my neck ready to use when I got to the store. I got out of my car and a Black gentleman got out of his car and I noticed he had a mask sticking up from the pocket of his golf shirt. We began to talk about the beautiful weather, the pandemic and were musing on life in general when he motioned for me to go ahead of him into the store. I thanked him and said it was nice to talk to him as I entered through the two doors.

 

I passed a person with an employee tag on and said “Hi,” and kept walking. After I had passed her, I heard her say rudely, “You can’t come in here. You don’t have a mask.” I suddenly realized it must be me. I had gotten engrossed in my conversation and had not put my mask up. No, she was speaking to my new friend. As I turned, I heard him politely apologize and put his mask on. I kept walking and so did he, each of us in different directions. As I walked through the store, I thought about what I had witnessed and wondered if I would have thought about it if I had not been involved in the book study of Robin DiAngelo’s book “White Fragility.”  

 

The book was difficult to read but necessary in the first step for me to understand where we were in the fight for equality for all in this country and what my part needed to be to promote racial equality. The book made me realize something that made me uncomfortable. I am part of the problem. I live in a bubble of white privilege and I have been uncomfortable talking about race. 

 

As I reflect on my observing what I perceived as a racist incident, it made me ask myself so many questions. What should I have done? Would I have noticed the implication of the store employee’s actions? Should I have discussed the situation with my new friend, with the employee, with the store manager? Fortunately, I have a new awareness of the issues of racism and how deep they are in our country and now I need to be a part of the solution. I need to speak up, read more books on the subject, continue the hard conversations and engage with others to find answers. 

 

We cannot remain silent. Yes, racism is a hard subject to discuss. We must find ways to be with those who are hurting. We must BE the church. I may never again see the man I met in the parking lot that day but he changed my life and made me realize I want to be part of the solution as we strive to bring justice, peace and love to all. 

 

A few weeks ago there was a quote on the front cover of the church bulletin. It is a quote from Dr. Emile Townes. She says “When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isn’t far behind.”