It all started with an email from ABC News: “In the aftermath of the tragic events that have shaken the country over the past two weeks, ABC News would like to invite you to participate in a unique broadcast: a town hall with the President of the United States that will air nationwide on Thursday, July 14, 2016. This historic town hall will bring together Americans from across the country who have been directly impacted by the violence: police officers, activists, moms, community and religious leaders, family members and children who have lost someone they love.”
“Our hope is that each of you will take this opportunity to speak from the heart – not only about your experience, but also about what you think needs to be done to help solve the deep-rooted disparities that exist in our criminal justice system. This is a consequential moment in our nation’s history, and we sincerely hope you can join us for this television event that we believe will continue to have an impact long after the television is turned off.”
After prayer and a few calls to verify details we decided to send three representatives: myself, Amy Dotto our Youth Director and Holly Haus one of our youth leaders. But before leaving, I asked church members and Facebook friends for potential questions. Usually, I receive one or two responses but this time there were nearly one hundred questions, comments and offers of prayer. Here are a few:
• What can be done to help our two political parties collaboratively work together? If our politicians cannot set an example how can they expect our communities to do any better?
• This meeting is a great idea but if nothing follows, not much will change. How will you extend this conversation to local communities? Could you challenge civic organizations and churches?
• How can we balance the individual right to bear arms with the protection of the innocent?
• What can the churches do to help foster and facilitate healing and understanding. Prayer is nice, but practical practice is also necessary.
There were other comments posted that expressed frustration more than asked questions: How do you get past being constantly asked the first days of school, when you are black, if you really belong in an honors class? (Are you in the right class?) – From High School Students.
There were also frustrations of another kind: Why does Obama hate America? This comment was followed by: WHAT????????????? Do you really think this????????? Another: Is he (Obama) looking forward to his retirement as much as we are? This was followed by: How has (Obama) kept his composure in the face of blatant racism and downright contempt by so many Americans?
There were other questions that challenged all of us to become more involved with the issues:
• Why hasn’t the Department of Education offered “race relations – civics – and the history of civil rights” to generate that same discussion today that we had in the sixties?
• How do we navigate people’s real fears to bring them to a place of compassion? A willingness to LISTEN and learn from different perspectives instead of speak?
• What is one thing we can do today (individually or as a community) to begin building a bridge?
Two interesting comments after seeing the many Facebook postings: This Facebook post started with your being invited to discuss violence and race relations. The comments demonstrate just how differently we, your friends, interpret these two issues. It’s enlightening to see that a few of the comments here seem to reflect the very divisions that are to be addressed. My question is: how do we work together to create a country, a world in which we value human life, don’t rush to judgment, and don’t act in anger every chance we get.
What touched my heart were the many comments like this one: Praying for you and for our country. May God give you wisdom. Blessings.
Finally, one friend asked: So, how’d it go?
Next week: The Town Hall Meeting and Lessons Learned