Part One of the series People Who Make A Difference: The idea of this series is to find people that choose to make a difference where they are at. At the heart of this series lies the truth that everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, can make a difference. Heroes are not always who we think they are. More often than not, heroes are simply average every day people who just believe the world does not have to be the way it is.
Crystal Alexander is a junior at Old Dominion University who is a part of Old Dominion University (ODU) InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.(A National organization that has interdenominational Christian chapters across many different college campuses.) For many young people of color, it has been frustrating trying to convince others, particularly White individuals, that institutional racism and its' many problems still exist today. Thus, why national movements like Black Lives Matter have gained such a grassroots following that's garnered national attention. Not to mention, that within Christianity itself, the majority of White Christians (around 70 percent) do not see institutional racism or prejudice as a problem according to a wide reaching survey published by Public Religion Institute.
Crystal noticed this and as a young Christian, felt called to be a part of the solution. That is why she decided to start the Black Student Small Group at ODU InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Small Groups are InterVarsity's version of a Bible study but which also seek to form transformational communities that seek God and ask the hard questions. Although most people do not think of Christianity today when they think of the fight against racism, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has been a staunch supporter of what the Black Lives Matter Movement stands for. They even have a whole ministry dedicated to Racial reconciliation called Multiethnic Ministries and also ethnic specific ministries like Black Campus Ministries. (BCM)
I met with Crystal Alexander to ask her some questions about her Black Student Small Group, her thoughts on what is going on nationally, and what differences her small group has made on campus this past year! Here are the questions discussed between us:
1. How did this Small group come about?
"Last Summer when I turned on the news, I heard that a White man named Dylan Roof shot up a historic black church in Charleston South Carolina. Their were many causalities. One of my close friends in InterVarsity called asking if I was okay. I was angry about what happened, but it never occurred to me that I could express my feelings publicly about the disregard for Black Lives in our nation. I realized there was not really a safe place on ODU's campus where one could explore the injustices done to our people and the various identity issues our community experiences in a Christian context. So, I decided to start a Black Student Small Group."
2. Why do we need a black student small group?
"Their needs to be a safe space where questions about race in general can be asked. As well as what it means to be a Black person and a Christian, without the pressure of having to fit into a white Christianity context. So yeah, I just wanted to create a space where you are free to be Black and free to be a Christian. There are no boxes there for you. You're black and you're Christian, we have a common struggle and let's talk about it."
"You're black and you're Christian, we have a common struggle and let's talk about it."
3. How does this all fit in with the Gospel in Christianity?
"God created a perfect world, sin entered the world, that world was broken, God sent his Son to save us, and soon one day it is going to be a perfect world again. Yeah, that fun stuff! So currently we are in a broken world. And in Ephesians chapter two, it talks about Christ being the cornerstone, and how he was sent here to repair the brokenness between the Jewish and Gentile people. Today, it can also apply between Blacks and Whites. Really between any racial group. Their is no way to bring reconciliation without having Christ at the center. Which is why it is important to have things like a small group to talk about these issues. It also needs to be a bigger issue in the church because in heaven every tribe and nation will be worshiping Jesus together. And so, without having racial reconciliation, what are we working towards? Where is the hope? If not addressed, the world will continued to be broken."
4. Do you think your small group has impacted the ODU campus in any way this past year?
"The campus as a whole, no. Individually, yes. Especially in InterVarsity. We started out this past Fall very small. We had two faithful people attending every week. Now, we have grown to five people attending every week! Which is beyond what I wanted. I really only prayed for three to begin to attend every week. And in this, I myself have grown. I have come to see that though Black Americans share the same struggle, our stories are different. We have all grown in our identities as Black Americans, how to deal with feelings of anger and resentment, and also how to have conversations with people of other races. It really just also gives us a space to not feel like we are being a spokesperson for our whole Race when it comes up in conversations. Which means we often take up this stance like we have to say everything right. We all have different ways to deal with the problem, this small group just gives us an area where we do not have to put on that mask. We can just be honest with ourselves as we explore what all of this means. I think that as we continue into the next year and grow into that, it is going to be something very big and very beautiful."
"I have come to see that though Black Americans share the same struggle, our stories are different."
5. Have you received or heard of any backlash from people that do not see the need for this small group?
"Not to my face, I think that is because people are intimidated by me in general. I am very quiet until I care about something and then I become passionate and loud! And that feeds into the stereotype of an angry black woman. Like, yeah I am angry but I am not angry at you specifically. I am angry at a situation. That is not something that needs to be intimidating, it needs to be something that is explored. Like I am angry, I am angry for a reason. You can ask me why I am angry and I would be happy to tell you why!
But yeah, no one has ever said anything to my face. When InterVarsity had our Multiethnic series I heard people ask why we were focusing so heavily on this. And it is frankly just because people feel uncomfortable when things are not about them always. And when I say people, I mean White people. Sounds mean, but that is the truth! There is not only backlash from White people though. There are many black people that do not understand the need for a Black Student Small Group. And that is because this whole twisted view of color blindness. We were all born different. We look a certain way and we all act in a certain way. We were all born into our ethnicities and we should be able to celebrate those and not conform. And recently, I have been contemplating the concepts of co-habitation and not assimilation. I should be able to co-habitate with you fully loving my black self. I should not have to assimilate to what it means to be American. America is supposed to be the melting pot, not the bleaching pot! We are not supposed to look the same. We are supposed to be a country where we have the freedom to express who we are. I do not think a lot of people understand that. And that leads to frustration. And it leads to people asking why I am trying to elevate my race above everyone else and it is not about that. It is about me trying to be happy with who I am."
"America is supposed to be the melting pot, not the bleaching pot!"
6. Do you sometimes get discouraged with the current state of Race Relations in America?
"Yeah, so I often discouraged about race relations in America. Just like this past Monday, two people I do not know very well but still know, were racially persecuted. One of them, an InterVarsity BCM (Black Campus Ministries) Director had a gun pulled on her in a predominately White neighborhood by an officer while she was just trying to get in someone's home she was taking care of when they were gone. Then another writer, Christena Cleveland, a Christian author who writes about racial reconciliation and other issues regarding race, received a death threat in the mail that was extremely racially charged.Sandra bland cooperated and she is dead. When I can see a White person do the same thing as a Black person and not be shot for it, that is hopelessness. And there is no way to deal with it because no one wants to acknowledge it is a problem.
Ultimately dealing with it can be really hard. I can't walk into the police department and fight people because I am going to die and also I'm weak! So that is not going to go well. And fighting is not going to solve it. So yeah, in order to cope, I pray a lot and just contemplate on the fact that God is just and I have to pray and wait for his kingdom to come, while also educating others why it is important."
"It is very discouraging to see my brothers and sisters being persecuted because of the color of their skin and then have people deny it is because of the color of their skin."
7. What is your advice to the everyday average person who wants to make a change with all of this stuff happening?
"My advice is to start in a place of humility. You cannot solve anything if you go into a situation thinking you know everything. The only person that knows everything is God and you aren't God. I am sorry if that is news to you, but you are not. Also, listening. Being willing to listen to the other side no matter how stupid you think it is is important because someone actually believes that. Take points from them, evaluate it, and then share what you have to say.
Also, you definitely need to educate yourself. Get woke. You cannot fight if you are ignorant. There is definitely a difference between ignorance and stupidity, and sometimes you just have to realize that someone is stupid. They will see a problem and not want to change it. There comes a point in time where you just have to let the holy spirit do its thing and to consider others before you consider yourself.
Conversations are very important. You need to share with people that think differently than you. Enter into relationships with them. Being uncomfortable is okay. Be the change! I'm always down for the cause - is something I love to say because if anyone wants to have this conversation, I am going to have this conversation. Yeah, because their is no shame in doing the right thing. People get scared because they do not have all the facts but you do not have to be right about everything. Admit you might be wrong at times."
8) What would you say to people that feel really angry about the injustices happening to them and the current state of race relations in America?
For people who are really angry, I understand. I get really angry. Your anger is valid, but even though it is valid it is not going to change much if you just fester in it. Use it to bring about change. Start having conversations. If you are really angry, perhaps do not start with someone that thinks differently than you. But allow your community to bolster you up and help you reach peace. But do not sit in your anger, it is not healthy. Also, you need to see the goodness in all people, which is really hard to do and something I am still struggling with. Being able to see the good aspects of people and not being consumed with just the bad is a must. When you have those conversations, acknowledge the good, but also the bad. Come out of a place of love, but I know it is hard to find that love when you are actively being oppressed. Ultimately kill them with kindness. God is going to take care of it. All you can do is educate people.