The events of the last month were atrocious. The goings on of Charlottesville have brought about an influx of discussion about race relations. This specific post is not about my thoughts about race because I am hopeful that my feelings of individuals of different ethnicies and racism is very clear.
The following is about is how my perspective on individuals that don’t necessarily have the same skin color or background as me has been shaped over time.
Without a doubt, my worldview within the scope of Christianity is the driving force behind my stance on race. The human person is important. No matter what their skin color is, each and every human life is absolutely valuable. My faith has been most formative in this matter.
However, another contributing factor with my personal view on race that I would love to break down is the high school that I attended. From 2005 until I graduated high school in May of 2010, I was able to attend Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School (MLK for short). If you are any more than just basically familiar with MLK, you know that this public high school is known throughout the state for a high standard in academics. You also will know that there is unique aspect about that place. Now, I certainly fully understand that the administration has had its own set of flaws over the years but that isn’t what I intend to discuss. Rather, I want to discuss two reasons why that place was vital to the man that I am today.
The first reason, which is not my focus for the entirety of this piece, is just how prepared I felt when I arrived to college. MLK, by design, has a way of stretching students and has always employed teachers who push students towards excellence, both in the class room as well as outside. One quick example I’ll never forget took place on the bus ride to a track practice. One teacher who took time out of his afternoons to drive a bus to our off campus practices saw me make a gesture at a car that I really ought not have made (remember I was still in early high school at this time). This teacher pulled me aside, looked me in the eye, and simply said, “Matt, I know what you stand for and we both know that’s something you shouldn’t have done.” This man didn’t have to point out to me what exactly it was that I had done or why I shouldn’t have done it. While he certainly could have turned a blind eye, he simply noted to me that I shouldn’t have done it and we both moved on. But he did this because he cared.
These sort of interactions took place quite often and I will always be thankful for that sort of guidance. Yet, I would like to write more regarding the students that I was privileged to attend high school with.
You see, one of the characteristics that sets MLK apart is the ethnic diversity that exists among the student body. While I was probably aware of this during my six years there, I have become overwhelmingly more grateful for it now. At MLK, a middle class white guy is not in the overwhelming majority. I was surrounded in the classroom setting by students who looked very different than I did and came from a different belief and socioeconomic systems.
Just during my years there, I was blessed to be around many different types of people and I honestly believe that this has greatly shaped my view on racial equality. It was during those years walking from one class to the next when the issues of racial injustice and the tension that exists first became so apparent. Within a school of students from many different backgrounds, there were certainly times of difficulty because we came from different places.
One of the specific times when I began to understand just how difficult it can be for those who are not always the ethnic majority came during an English and World History class that was co-taught by Ms. York and Ms. Broyles. These two ladies guided the 40+ students in one class through literature from a historical standpoint and directed beneficial discussions among high school sophomores. It was during this class where the freedom to speak on how an individual felt about specific issues was first highlighted and encouraged.
But the classroom setting was not the only opportunity we were given to learn about different cultures. Culture day took place during some years where students were encouraged to dress in a way that those from their ethnicity typically do. (I do wish I had taken this day a little more seriously rather than dressing with other white guys in overalls…). Assemblies took place to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Chinese heritage, and discuss why the freedoms our founding fathers had in mind are so important.
These days and assemblies that were designated for a cultural purpose were definitely helpful but it was the people that brought the ideas into reality. Some of my best friends in high school, being of different skin colors, allowed me a brief glimpse into the mind of an Indian female or a black male. One of my closest friends through most of high school was black. I went for a college visit to Liberty University and when I told him it was located in Lynchburg, Virginia he was baffled. “Man, the town is called LYNCHburg?! That’s pretty messed up.” The origin of the name of this city had never occurred to me but it opened my eyes to what he noticed when approached with certain ideas or places.
This environment, while not my biggest influencer, had significant impact on my views of race and ultimately how there is still a great deal of healing that still needs to take place. I’m indebted to my time at MLK because of the way it shaped my view on race. The unique perspective that took place during six years on 17th Avenue South will continue to guide how I value a diverse situation and the importance of surrounding yourself with others who don’t always look, think, or live like you. But I am so much better off because of.
While those around me were not explicitly Christian, and even at times many were quite the opposite, this idea of racial equality is certainly a gospel issue. In growing up, I was told from the Word that all humans were created in the Image of God but I was also shown that from those around me who didn’t even believe the Bible is legitimate. That, for me, was God continuing to prove the truth found in His word!
I write all of this not to boast in how my own perspective is better than those who were not raised in such a culture. Rather, my aim is just to project my appreciation for such a wonderful place. It has prepared me for ministry and is simple proof of how God works the things out that are found in His Word in reality.
A late thank you to all of my peers from MLK. You cannot begin to know how much you mean to me!