The past three days have been draining and demanding at times, but yet they have been some of the most enlightening days of my life as well. Last night, Andre Sims and I went to Don & Millie’s to get some dinner, after a long day of work, and just ruminated on the events we’d been a part of recently. We had to stop and take a breath so we could further process all the information.
What am I talking about? Well, as I’ve mentioned before I’m producing a podcast on Omaha’s racial history. The goal of this project is to educate the people of CCC about Omaha’s racial history and to get them more involved. Andre and Tim Perry have been great in volunteering their time to help me in this production. I’ve also been grateful to have Carol Nigrelli’s help. She’s a former reporter and her husband is Craig Nigrelli, a co-anchor for Action 3 News.
I don’t want to spoil the podcast, but here are some reflections on the past few days.
On Monday, Andre drove the four of us around North Omaha and worked his connections so we could get into some places and talk to some people. While the time there was mainly for Carol’s benefit, since she’s been in Omaha less than a year, we all enjoyed our time. Andre was in his element, and I wish people could have seen him. (As many have heard me say, I think he is under-appreciated.) He got us into the Love’s Jazz & Arts Center, even though it is closed on Mondays. He was able to get us to meet some of the great people who currently run The Omaha Star. He shared history on buildings, streets and people that is not known by most (if any) outside North Omaha. Plus, he took us out to lunch at Time Out Foods.
Yesterday morning, Carol and I drove down to Abide Network to interview Ron Dotzler. Now, I’ve known of Ron for awhile. My dad is on the Abide Network Board of Directors and a number of churches in town have partnerships with Abide. Plus, the locals know of his son, Josh Dotzler, who played basketball at Bellevue West and then Creighton. So I knew of Ron and had heard his story, but I didn’t know him. What a privilege it was to get to know him.
Ron preaches what he practices when it comes to the Christian life and race matters. He and his wife Twany live at 33rd and Fowler, near Omaha North High School. Their home doubles as the offices of Abide Network. Ron gave a Carol and I a tour of the facility, providing the backstory on how it came to be. The stories of God’s provision took me back to my missionary days.
He shared about his own life and growth since he’s been doing this particular work for the past twenty years. He shared stories of hope and transformation. He shared stories of struggle and conflict. He shared his thoughts. He shared how whites, blacks and his own family questioned him throughout this. How? He’s been told by people in his neighborhood that whites can’t be Christian. From these people’s vantage point, it’s easy to see how they have come to that conclusion.
One life at a time, one home at a time, one block at a time, Abide Network is transforming North Omaha into what God desires. Not only that, the work Abide is doing is transforming the hearts and minds of people that come to volunteer. As Ron put it, it’s not just about inviting Jesus into your heart, so you can have eternal life, but inviting yourself into the heart of Jesus and having his love for the people.
If Calcutta, India was two blocks away from Christ Community Church would you be helping out? Yes? Then why not North Omaha?
Later in the day, Andre, Tim, Carol and I met with Rev. Dr. Larry Menyweather-Woods. A former professor at UNO in the Black Studies Department, Dr. Woods shared with us his wealth of knowledge. Andre is a former student of his and it was fun to see the two of them interact. Dr. Woods was direct, but fair, in his telling of social injustice throughout history and in Omaha.
He hit on how knowledge is key, that people have to know history if they want to make things better. White people in particular have to know the history, language and culture of black people. Whites can grow up and live their life without ever knowing anything outside their own history and culture. If whites are trying to do a good thing in North Omaha, how can they possibly do it by not knowing the history, language and culture? How can they do it if they don’t partner with the leaders and people of North Omaha? How can they do it if all they truly want is to assuage their guilt and/or get a photo of them in North Omaha that they can show as some trophy to their suburban neighbors?
White pastors were also saying that God was judging America in the aftermath of 9/11. They just didn’t say the phrase “God damn America”, but they were all making the same point.
After our time with Dr. Woods was when Andre and I went to Don & Millie’s. We were processing what we just heard from Dr. Woods, which was a treat because it was a free lecture. Andre and I were sharing where we are at in life, where God is leading us, what we hope to see and do in Omaha. I love Andre and it pains me on numerous levels when some of the people at CCC belittle him. How does this happen? By saying he isn’t a “true black”, that he’s “more white than black” and that he’s our “token minority”. (Yep. Some of us are really progressive at CCC. Because we obviously know black culture out in West Omaha. *sarcasm*) It’s like the people that make these comments want Andre to thug up his image, be the angry black man, thus justifying their ignorant stereotypes of blacks.
Andre has a heart of gold and just keeps loving and serving people. He wants to win the war and is focused on the big picture. He knows these attitudes are there and he’s heard the comments and whispers. He knows he’s judged and viewed differently, than the rest of the staff, by some people. And you know what? He keeps loving Jesus by loving these people. If I was in Andre’s shoes I’d want to punch someone, but what would that gain? I’d win a battle, but lose the war. Andre is a gem. If you don’t know him you need to get to know him. Just go hang out with him for a meal sometime, invite his family over. Dre is cool.
When I finally got home last night I was mentally and emotionally drained. The boys were already in bed, but not quite asleep. Managed to get a few minutes with them. Once they were down I just let down from the day. I tried to decompress by surfing the web, but I couldn’t recall anything I viewed. So I went to bed and slept for nine hours.
Today was another great day. Tim, Carol and I met with Rev. Stan Rone, a pastor in North Omaha who is a military veteran. He also grew up in Montgomery Alabama in the 50’s and 60’s. He witnessed and experienced the grave social injustices of the South that we know too well from old photos and tv footage. Stan shared about his recent experience on the Justice Journey and whethere or not he was still hurting or if he was healed from the experiences of his childhood.
Stan also shared about the importance of education and for suburban people to get out and about in North Omaha. They need to drive the streets of North Omaha, see the buildings, eat in the restaurants, get to know people, hang out with families. He wants people to know there is a vibrant community in North Omaha that cares about its neighborhoods and that people outside the community shouldn’t think the people of North Omaha don’t care about their neighborhoods.
It was interesting to me because one thing Stan mentioned that white people could do was to just have dinner with a black family. Just get to know a black family. Know that there are real people inside the buildings and homes of North Omaha. It was interesting to me because in the documentary A Time For Burning this was what Rev. Bill Youngdahl tried to do at his church, Augustana Lutheran, which was a white church. And, it was this simple course of action he advocated that led to him being forced out as pastor.
We have 60% of African-American children living in poverty in this city, but we got ourselves a new baseball stadium.
And me? Well, so far I have learned a lot. Even that comes of as an understatement. Not only have I learned a tremendous amount since this project started, but I’ve had to confront the realities of my own life. From white privilege to prejudice to institutional racism to Omaha’s geographical segregation. What am I willing to do to see racism end? What is Christ calling me to do out of all this?
I’ve received an education on this project. I grew up in midtown Omaha, went to OPS schools through 9th grade, have had friends of all races throughout my life, had people tell me they couldn’t come to my house because I lived east of 72nd St., dated Indian women, lived and worked overseas in places like Cameroon, Nigeria and China, am a licensed and ordained pastor, worked on social justice, have advocated for equal rights and for people to love their neighbor, and yet since this project has started I have learned a ton about prejudice, racism, Christianity and more. I have received an education. The experience and conversations have been brilliant. (I could post so much more on my own growth during this project.)
This post is only the tip of the iceberg with what is going on with this project. The hard part is going to be condensing the wealth of information we have from these interviews, and our research, for the podcast.
Please be praying for us as we continue to work on this project. Thanks.