Millennials Will Lead Us If We Let Them – A Conversation About Race

C.J. Stewart

It is my intention to be a catalyst for change and to work with people of all races, genders and economic backgrounds to move conversations about race from trite to solution.

As a man of deep faith, I have committed all glory to God. To that end, one of my goals over the next five years is to grow deeper in my faith. In addition, I want to gain the knowledge and experience necessary, so that I may be recognized as consequential leader with respect to racial issues, and, by doing so, make my intention a reality.

I found myself in a situation recently that proved to me that I was on the right track -a confirmation from God that He is using me to do something amazing. A young man named Chris, who I had coached some time ago, came to me for advice about how to address comments he was hearing from black friends and coworkers that were making him feel uneasy. We talked. At the end of our conversation I asked him to write down what he took away from our discussion.

I couldn’t be more proud of Chris. Here is what he wrote:

Recently within the United States, racial and social tensions have been growing. As a 29 year old white male, I was uncomfortable entering into these discussions. I feared good intentions would come off as racist, or certain phrases would be misconstrued.

I recently spoke with C.J. Stewart, my first batting instructor and former baseball coach for help. Statements I sometimes hear from black friends and co-workers range from “all white cops should die” to “I will disregard the Constitution until it has a black signature”. I felt there was no good way to address these statements without being viewed as racist, so I remained silent.

After C.J. and I spoke, I realized there are good ways to address such comments. I understand that the statements that were being made can be viewed as simplistic. By simplistic, I mean very surface level and not much context. If I address the statement straight on as simplistic, then we get nowhere. I need to get to the root of the problem to move the conversation forward, and to do that I need to ask questions.

By, asking questions such as “can you share some of your experiences [on] why you feel this way?” I acknowledge that there’s more to the statement, and that the conversation is complex. Complex is not a bad thing. It simply means that the statement is composed of many interconnected parts, and the initial conversation should be based on that complexity.

Once we break down the statement by having the complex conversation, and I truly understand the root problem, the conversation becomes simple. It becomes simple because I know where the other person is coming from. We have now created a non-hostile atmosphere between us because the other person can see that I have an understanding of his or her point of view.

I can use the A.C.T.S. Method between the simplistic and complex stages and help ensure that the other person knows where I am coming from and I am not here to judge, but to understand their perspective.

  • Acknowledgement – “I see you’re hurting; this must really hit home for you.” 
  • Confession – “I understand we come from different upbringings and have different experiences.”
  • Thanksgiving – “Thank you for bringing this up.”
  • Supplication (asking for something) – “Do you mind if I ask a few questions so I understand your experience?”

From this point, you are setup to have an honest conversation. The goal of this conversation is not to solve a problem or fix something, but simply to learn from each other. I do not believe I will ever understand everything that is involved [with] growing up black. Neither do I believe that the other person will understand some of the things I encounter being white. What I do believe is that the more I understand about the experiences he or she has gone through, the closer we stand a chance to be united. We have a long road in front of us. It starts with all parties involved being open-minded enough to understanding each other’s perspectives and experiences to begin to progress. When we can get to that point; we can begin moving in the right direction.

As Chris’ advisor, I knew I didn’t have to have the right answers. I simply had to give him a framework that would allow him to be comfortable with having the challenging conversations about race. I think after having read Chris’ thoughts you will agree with me that he understood our conversation, and all of us will be blessed by his efforts.

Chris Johnson