It was a hot day — so blistering we did something we've only ever done this once: move our Thursday afternoon time under the shaded entrance of CitySquare's building in our hood. Normally, we brave the elements, heat or cold, with our friends who are homeless.
It is not for this reason, however, that I remember this day. It stands out because two African-American men, both homeless, said the exact same thing to me in a short two-hour span. What they said is the sort of thing you know people think but that you never expect to actually hear.
"I can't believe that you — a young, white woman — are actually talking to me and not afraid of me."
I felt like I should find a chair to sit down. Instead, I kept looking at them. I didn't have words to say. I knew exactly what they meant, why they would say something so honest to me.
Young white women don't come much around these parts. My experience growing up on the other side of town was of avoiding this neighborhood.
If I did come, I felt afraid, so I moved as quickly as possible to the other side. I dared not stop to engage. Who knows who hid a gun or would try to take advantage of me?
I am not proud of this, that I judged people based on their neighborhood, their race, and their dress, but it is true. Verbally, I decried racism, and I believed I had no whispers of it in my heart. Yet almost without knowing it, I had spent most of my life safely locked up in my little neighborhood, where people look, talk, and dress the same.
But then, that day, these two men spoke openly, and I for the first time saw what I had not seen, that this crossing to the other side of town wasn't just about socioeconomic status but was also about racial reconciliation. It was about people of different races and cultures seeing each other as people, listening to each other's stories, and finding commonality in our human experience.