I grew up in the victory of the Civil Rights Movement. But I also grew up with my great grandmother and my grandmother’s fear of “the white man." I grew up knowing Klan rallies still existed and the Klansmen were the bank presidents, grocers, and businessmen of our small town. I grew up to be respectful and to show deference to “the white man." I was trained how to act, how to speak and how to carry myself in the presence of “the white man." I was skilled from a young child in behavior modification.
As I grew, I experienced my own set of racial injustices. There were certain dance studios we couldn’t take classes at because they were still white only. No, there were no longer any signs to indicate that, but everyone knew that’s just how it was. When I asked my Caucasian friends about attending, nervous looks were shared and the subject changed. Finally, after my asking numerous times, one bold friend declared, “Look, that’s just how it is okay? It’s nothing against you. Mrs. ____ (I won’t dime her out.) doesn’t want any black people dancing in her studio. So she won’t let you in.” Then of course, there were the teachers, three in particular, who would say to the black kids in their classroom, “Well, you’re black. We don’t expect you to get this. I don’t expect you to know this."
Or my worst experience that still has some residual effects to this day, the dentist who proclaimed to my six-year-old self that “all colored people have cavities cause they don’t know how to properly take care of their teeth.” Thank you, Dr. Vandemeer, I still have all 32 pearly whites in my effort to prove that at least one “colored” person does indeed know how to take care of her teeth.
That’s just a small myopic snapshot of things I experienced as a young black girl in the south growing up. Now take those experiences and couple them with the fears and experiences of parents and grandparents who lived through more overt periods of racial tension and demonstrations of injustice, then send me to a school like Vanderbilt University, where African-American students protested and demanded the removal of Board of Trust Member, Hall Thompson because of his role at an Alabama country club that still did not admit blacks in 1990. Can you imagine the level of disdain in my heart for people outside my race?
My heart was black with hatred, suspicion, mistrust and disgust. Remember, I knew behavior modification well. I could give you whatever you needed for us to function. I could smile. I could cooperate. I could work with others, but on the inside I was the little kid. You know the one? The one whose mom says sit down and the kid obeys because they have to. But on the inside, they are standing up. Yep, that was me.
And then in 1993, God began to work on my heart. In prayer one day, He told me that He had called Doug and I to the ministry of reconciliation and that we were not to count the trespasses of others against them. Shortly after that word was impressed upon my heart, we started listening to the radio broadcasts of a Caucasian preacher in our area. Doug and I decided to go check out his church, which was REALLY out of our comfort zone. Neither of us had EVER been in a church with white people before.
To this day, I can remember every vivid detail of our first visit to Bethel World Outreach Center in Brentwood, TN. But what struck me most was our initial conversation with Pastor Ray McCollom. After church, the pastor made his way over to us. He greeted us warmly, shook our hands and then said with great sincerity, “Thank you so much for coming today. It is my desire to see this church filled with people of all races, but it’s going to take people like you. Pioneers who are willing to be some of the first so that when others of your race walk through the door, they feel at home.”
I was dumbstruck by his authenticity. I didn’t feel used. I didn’t feel like a token. I felt like there was a part I could play in the beautiful mission of reconciliation. Pastor Ray’s words were the confirmation to what God had spoken in my prayer time and became the catalyst that led Doug and I on a journey of intentionality in multiethnic worship and friendships. It only grew and strengthened as I handed Jesus my mistrust and disdain for other races and opened my heart to know them as individual people and not a collective group that I had assumed was out to get me.
Now here I sit, feeling the agony of events over the past few years. The violence, the police brutality, the inequality and injustices on display in the judicial system, the tendency of the media to pimp both sides to the point of rage and play it up for hype and ratings. I’m crying out to God for wisdom and insight and what does He do? He brings a movie to the big screen called, Selma, to show me first hand the root issue of today’s problem.
It is in the heart that all wars are won. And this issue, the issue of racial injustice that led to the Civil Rights Movement has been one of behavior modification and not heart change and this is why we are where we are today.
In the movie, MLK approaches President Johnson with grave concern. Read their dialogue:
Martin Luther King Jr.: We need your involvement here, Mr. President. We deserve your help as citizens of this country. Citizens under attack.
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Now, you listen to me. You listen to me. You're an activist. I'm a politician. You got one big issue. I got a hundred and one.
Essentially, President Johnson says to MLK, I can’t help you. I won’t help you. Wait until the next legislative session. And Martin goes back to his people and he says, ”WE MUST MARCH. WE MUST STAND UP. WE DISTURB THE PEACE. WE MUST MAKE A MASSIVE DEMONSTRATION. We negotiate. We demonstrate. We resist.”
In other words, this is how we behave.
And those of us who’ve seen the movie, we know how that goes down. It goes south in Selma. Wallace gave the sheriff permission to unleash the hounds. And now, Lyndon B. Johnson is forced to act. Can you see what’s at play here? More behavior modification. Listen to the dialogue as he espouses his opinion:
President Lyndon B. Johnson: But when you have people coming inside the White House, inside the White House, on a tour, they just sat down, Martin, sat down in the main corridor and started singing and shouting, well, I won't have it!
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Either King stops or Wallace stops or I'll stop them both!
Fear breeds control.
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Are you trying to s**t me, George Wallace? Are you trying to f*** over your president? I'll be damned to let history put me in the same place as the likes of you.
And since what people think about me is more important than what I actually believe in my heart, I’m going to modify my behavior to give the people what they are asking for. Fear of man is when the appearance of something is more important than the something.
Now watch the spin:
President Lyndon B. Johnson: There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. We shouldn't even be thinking about 1965, we should be thinking about 1985.
And the world applauds because that sounds so right. Only, behavior modification has a time limit. We can only act outside of our heart for so long before our true feelings and beliefs start to surface.
So for 20 years or so, we’ve basked in the glory of the victory of the Civil Rights Movement. But the truth is, this battle was never effectively won in the hearts of the race of men (at least not some of them) and so here we are, 50 years later seeing the truth of men’s hearts on display.
Inconsistencies happen when the way of our being (the way we behave) is not in alignment with the truth of our being (what we believe in our heart). We can only “just accept certain things” for so long before that tension of discord rises to the surface.
We are living in the tension of discord from the Civil Rights Era. So many people went along with things because the times were changing and they had to. It wasn’t that they agreed with the change or believed in it; it was demanded of them and so they modified their behavior to go with the flow. Many of the inequalities in today’s judicial system are a direct response to this.
Dialogue without heart change is pointless. There is no effective solution outside of a transformed heart. We want to make a big splash, change the world and yet the fear, mistrust, suspicion, disdain, disgust that resides like tar on the surface of our hearts will always seep through the crevice of our beliefs into our actions.
Yet, I firmly believe there were those that did fully believe in equality for all people. There were those who had won this war in their heart and passed on the value of humanity to their offspring.
Love is more powerful than the forces of evil. Love changes the blackness of our heart and allows healing to begin. Love lays aside suspicion and believes the best about people.
Love has been on display in the last 50 years.
People are living love out loud everyday. Like our brothers and sisters in Charleston! Their love has been on display like a beacon of hope. And now it’s our time to join them. We can do this. Resist the temptation to insist on more behavior modification without real heart change. Let’s bring our transformed hearts to the table. Better yet, let’s live from our transformed hearts and be the change we want to see in the world.
Share Your Thoughts. Do you have any stories of how changing your heart before your behavior really made an impact? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Together with her husband, Doug, Felicia has served in church leadership and ministerial roles for almost 20 years. Presently, they oversee Wise Counsel Ministries bringing transformation to both people and organizations and serve as elders on the board for The River Fellowship. Felicia’s greatest joy is loving people. With a heart to equip and empower others, her heart is to take people’s hand, place it in Father’s hand and leave it there. Felicia’s passion is to move people beyond random encounters with God as Father into sonship where they learn to walk as Jesus walked through the experience of Father loving them. Wife to one, Mom to four, Editor, Speaker, Life Coach, Felicia considers herself a jack of many trades, master of friend.