Beyond Bridge Building 101

Healing the racial divide requires long-term commitment and investment

3 min read
Brenda Girton

Throughout my life I have felt the sting of racism. I confess that I didn’t always recognize what was happening.

I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain why a teacher would tell me I should not aspire to become a lawyer, because “that’s not what Negroes do.”

I got sick while I was in law school. I managed to drive myself to a nearby hospital. The white female hospital receptionist was dismissive of my pain, saying “you are probably just pregnant like a lot of colored girls.”

I passed out and woke up after receiving surgery for a ruptured appendix. I thank God her implicit bias didn’t cost me my life.

When we hear the word bridge, what most often comes to mind is a structure built over a river or road. In working to overcome racism, the word bridge suggests creating connections between people.

These connections are developed by eliminating barriers that prevent people from reaching one another across our differences. Prejudice and stereotyping are barriers which can result in biased behavior toward or against something or someone.

In 2008 I was led to develop Grace and Race Ministries. Its mission is to provide racial reconciliation ministry, conflict resolution, leadership development and educational opportunities through churches and faith-based and community organizations.

It seemed like an appropriate goal for Christians to work together, to heal the racial divide that was exacerbated in 2009 when then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declared that, despite advances, the U.S. remains “a nation of cowards” on issues involving race.

I believed Grace and Race Ministries could play a leadership role on issues involving race. I believed we could challenge other believers through the clear guidance found in these words:

“So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:26-28)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)

The U.S. continues to experience institutional racism. There is a growing need to help people recognize the source of the issues that divide our nation.

It is not about blaming and shaming. It is about listening, learning, sharing God’s love and leading people into a deeper understanding of the root causes of racism and how to become anti-racist.

What would happen if we would not just talk about coming together, but could envision ourselves as the infrastructure, the roadway, the crossing which provides the support and undergirding needed to help people reach each other in authentic, spirit-led, transformative ways?

By working, connecting and collaborating with others, serving as ambassadors for reconciliation, heeding the call of Christ to love one another, we can become a bridge toward greater racial understanding.

Are we willing to be vulnerable, to lay ourselves on the line, to create a pathway, to be the bridge for others to become aware of their biases, and to offer them inspiration, information and motivation to join in the task of becoming an anti-racist society?

Extending a hand is one thing, but healing the racial divide requires a long-term commitment and investment. It requires giving one’s heart, being willing to share your story, to deepen your commitment to the cause, to demonstrate the love of Christ, remembering his words, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)  

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell is founder and president of Grace and Race Ministries, Inc.,

Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.