via: Young Adult Leadership Task Force of the CRC

Listening to Dr. John Perkins speak about how this generation is the first in America to embrace diversity struck a chord with me. Being at the national CCDA conference with four of Tall Turf’s teens, each from a different ethnic background, I felt proud. Proud that we were representative of this diversity that Dr. Perkins spoke of, and proud that our differences were being valued so highly.

On the long drive back to Grand Rapids from New Orleans, one of the topics that came up with our teens was how different it felt being in a place that recognized the value in diversity as opposed to living in a place that so often does not. We talked about how in Grand Rapids, our ethnic backgrounds at times feel more like an inconvenience or something to be glossed over, rather than a gift and as added to potential to who we are.

In the world that we live in, white is often synonymous with power and embedded in power is the ability to impart value. The result of this, albeit a shameful one for people of color, is that we too often search but do not receive validation from white society. For example, a couple of months ago I was at a church event with my wife who is white. She was engaged in a prolonged round of “Dutch bingo” with a fellow Grand Rapidian, until my obvious lack of engagement in the conversation resulted in its topic eventually coming to rest on me.

“Where are you from?” I was asked.

“I’m from Singapore” I responded.

“Oh, wow. But your English is so good!” I was devalued.


Although the above exchange might seem insignificant and isolated to the foreign-born, it is one that shades itself in different hues for many people of color. The questions “where are you from,” “what school did you go to,” “where do you work” or perhaps the most poignant “where do you go to church,” begin to feel like probes that are used to measure value. And when our answers do not match the standard set by those in power, we begin to internalize the fact that we lack value.

I think the implications of this is two-fold. First, to my people of color: I think it is important for young people of color, to find places where we can be affirmed in the value of our diversity. As leaders of color we need to continually affirm each other and remind ourselves that there is value in our diversity and seek to eliminate barriers that hinder our coming together. Second, I think it is important for our white brothers and sisters to recognize that there are power dynamics at play and to be educated on the appropriate (another post to follow on appropriatemess) ways to affirm people who are different.

Lastly, I think it is important to create spaces where people have the luxury of making mistakes. Over here in GR, through C.O.R.R. (congregations organizing around racial reconciliation) we caucus once every other month. Caucusing is the, when it comes to being encouraged and motivated to deal with some of this stuff. If you are interested in getting involved, let me know.