The heart path

July 13th, 2016

“Their skin may be different from yours …But inside, their hearts are just like yours…” — from Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on an all white street. In the summer, my friends and I had the run of the neighborhood from sun up to sun down. We were safe. Just one street over was the black street, Anthon Drive. There was a path through the woods that connected these two different worlds. In our young minds, that path led the way to a life unknown, full of danger. 

My family attended a multicultural church. Looking back, I realize how unusual that was for the time.  King had been killed in 1968; we were worshiping, sharing meals, doing life together in 1976. Both black and white pastors led our young congregation where interracial couples were welcome. That was my childhood normal.

But for some reason, when a young white twentysomething family from our church moved to Anthon Drive into a tenement house in order to save money so the husband could go to law school, I was shocked, appalled. How could they live on that street? How could my mother walk from our house through the woods to their house?

When I was a teenager, our church purchased a building in a primarily black area of town. People came from all over the city to worship the Lord and learn the Word. We were a beautiful mix of ages, races and economics. My parents fostered a four-year old black girl whose parents attended the prayer meeting at our home but had found themselves in need of extra support. I fell in love with this little one who followed me around the house, mimicking my every move. 

Fast forward to 2016 … I’m the mother of three bi-racial kids living in a black community in Nashville. I regularly take walks around my neighborhood, which is surrounded by hbcu’s (historically black college and university) — Fisk University, Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College. It has taken over a year, but my elderly neighbor reached out and touched my arm in a friendly gesture last week when we talked. Through our almost daily front porch conversations, we have established some degree of trust. 

When I moved into the neighborhood, I realized that my job was to build relationships with my neighbors. Even though my kids tease me, I greet everyone I see.

“Mama, you don’t know them,” they say in disbelief. 

“But I want to know them, and I want them to know me, “ I reply.

I made a deliberate choice to move here because I wanted my children to experience some of what I experienced as a child: the beauty of diversity. It has not been easy; being the minority is uncomfortable. I have had to choose to be kind even when I know people are looking at me like I’m crazy. (Believe me, this tall redhead stands out!) To some my white skin represents the seemingly inevitable gentrification of the neighborhood, although I am working for integration. 

What I have learned this past year is that the simple ministry of presence — my neighbors and I sharing the same street — brings transformation to my heart, to my neighbors’ hearts, and to our community. We smile … wave … speak. We ask for help and offer help when needed. We are sharing life together a little more each day. 

I have walked through that path in the woods and found my way home.


If you’re looking to expand your relationships,

  • Intentionally surround yourself with people who are different from you by going to a church or event that celebrates diversity. 
  • Extend your hand. Be the first one to reach out and start a conversation. 
  • Be yourself, the real you. People are attracted to genuineness.
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