A Conversation Starter

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 11:49 am

I remember the day a few months ago when I ran across an advertisement for t-shirts a woman was having made that were simple; black in color with the words #blacklivesmatter on them. 

My involvement in the anti-police brutality movement has been a winding road.  It began when I played basketball as a young man, and made many African-American friends.  I remember we would always get much more 'attention' (clerks would follow us around) when we went to the mall together than if I went with just my older brother.  Through the years, I've become more interested in the Civil Rights movement in that culminated in the 1950's and 60's.  Leading youth on a Civil Rights Bus Tour has helped expand my knowledge on specific events and details that mainstream history often forgets. 

So it was with this backdrop and experience that I stayed glued to my TV night after night as protesters met violent and escalating police in Ferguson.  Soon I took to the streets in Dallas in solidarity with local and national groups to let Ferguson and the world know we cared.  I had to order a t-shirt.         

One of the first places I wore the t-shirt was at church.  I felt if I couldn't wear it at church, as a youth minister, then I really couldn't wear it anywhere.  I got plenty of looks, but the most memorable moment was a gentle encounter I had with a mom of one of the youth.  She came to me and said, "Thanks for wearing that, it means a lot to me."  You see, the church member was white, but both of her children are bi-racial.  Since this time, we have had many conversations about race and what it looks and feels like for her and her family. 

Fast forward a couple months, to a recent visit to Washington DC.  Like always, the Metro was full of folks coming and going.  One African-American gentleman, probably near 40 years old, checked my shirt out and said powerfully "Thanks."  I was touched by this.  As I stood to leave, the man reached his hand out and said "It's just so refreshing to know and see that someone actually gives a shit."  We shared a handshake, and his words and emotion have stayed with me.

Just this week, I ate at a restaurant for lunch and one of the workers (young and African American) inquired where I got the shirt. After talking about the recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and even here in the Dallas area, I sat down to eat. I looked for him as I left but couldn't find him. He raced outside after I left, asking if I'd take a picture with him. Of course, I obliged. As I drove away, I was so moved and even perplexed. What an indictment on our society and culture (and the Church!) that someone simply wearing a t-shirt is so compelling!!

What's funny is I often tell folks I get more 'looks' than comments when I wear this shirt. And let me be clear, there is a definite difference in how individuals of different races respond to this shirt. But for me, the comments give me LIFE and affirm my desire to unashamedly pronounce that #blacklivesmatter.  

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Jason Redick hails from Lewisville, Texas. He is the youth minister at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Carrollton, Texas and sits on the board of directors for the Center for Theological Activism. 

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