As the leaves continue to change color and fall, and the days become shorter and colder, it is the time of year we try to remember all of our many blessings and practice being grateful. It would be easy to list off a bunch of reasons I am thankful for Hope House Detroit – for the many relationships I have with the volunteers, staff, and kids, for all the joy and community I have experienced there, for the opportunity to watch the youth in my neighborhood grow up – but that is not what is on my heart as I write this.
The more I age and mature, the more sensitive I seem to become to the many nuances and tensions that exist in the reality of our lives here on Earth. Thanksgiving is a perfect Holiday example of this. I gather with loved ones to remember my blessings and to share a large meal, in honor of a group of early American settlers and their Native neighbors who likewise shared resources & food with one another. But we all know the history of the relationship between the settlers and the people already here was not typically such a warm, rosy picture; violence, diseases, broken treaties, and stolen land was more often the harsh reality.
The former picture is nicer to remember, but it is not the whole truth. As Americans today, we have to come to grips with the reality that many of our cities are built on land that those who were here before us were forced to leave. That our early economy was only possible by the countless slaves who labored in it.
I think that many born into privilege would rather ignore, forget, or deny these facts. To do so would certainly be more comfortable. But in Luke chapter nine, Jesus said, “’Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” I know in my personal experience with Jesus, my comfort does not seem to be of top concern. In fact, it is often when I am most uncomfortable that I am able to grow the most or make the biggest impact for someone else.
Hope House Detroit exists to love and serve the youth in our neighborhood. And the harsh truth is that many of these young people will face challenges I have never had to face simply because of the color of their skin. But it’s not actually simple, is it? Race in our country – and in our city – is a long, complicated story.
Let us, as disciples of Jesus, be strong enough to learn these difficult histories. Let us be brave enough to speak the truth, even when others would rather not hear it. Let us not continue old wrongs by trying to brush them under the rug or pretend they don’t exist, but let us instead address what we can change for the better in our society. Let us listen to the stories of those who are different from us.
May we, in this season and beyond, be grateful for our many blessings. But may we take it one step further and use those blessings to do God’s work of reconciling people to God, and to reconciling us with one another.
Shalmar Nelson, Hope House Detroit Volunteer