Who I am and how my life has been shaped, because of my cultural upbringing, has always been a challenge and opportunity. I was born and reared in a small community in rural North Carolina. I am an American Indian, from the Lumbee tribe, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, with approximately 65,000 members. We are clannish people, who very seldom venture far from surrounding family and who have a strong community value system.
My formative years were spent encapsulated within the Indian community. Everyone that I knew looked and acted like me. My culture and life’s values had been engrained in me by my parents. Then, my family built our new home and we moved into a multicultural community. I had probably seen blacks on television, but had never really encountered or interacted with them. It was strange at first, but we were children and quickly became friends, and our homes became places where we played together and intertwined in life.
My first encounter with racism happened when I was around ten years old and playing summer league baseball. Several of my friends and I went into a small town department store to purchase a pair of socks. When we entered the store, we were followed throughout the store by one of the white employees. After we paid for the socks and were in the process of leaving the store, we were told that “our kind” was not welcome and not to ever come back into their store. As a ten-year-old child, I was upset, hurt, and humiliated, not understanding what I had done wrong.
I came home that evening and cried while sharing what had happened with my grandfather. He sat me down and shared with me stories in his life, of the pains he and those before me had endured. As he shared stories of the brutality and the atrocities inflicted upon his family in the past generations, I could see the pain in his eyes. He then shared with me that there were three things he wanted me to remember and dedicate my life to fulfilling. First, love the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart, and your neighbors, never letting anything get in the way of that. Second, love your family and be the best provider for them and the future generations that you possibly can. Third, love and pray for persons like that lady in the department store, because they can only see the outer person and make judgments based upon the observation of skin color and ethnicity.
He challenged me to look beyond the outer person and see the uniqueness of their souls. There you will find the inner beauty, because we were created in the likeness and image of God. In that moment, I understood the impact of racism and the detrimental effects it has on society. My grandfather had faced many great obstacles and overcame them through his strong faith in Christ. From that moment on, I was determined to be a person who would dedicate my life to eradicating such actions among people.