Be the Bridge by Stephanie Cocke

For many of us, meeting together to read from Scripture, talk, listen, laugh, pray, and discuss simple homework assignments is a cherished facet of church life. Imagine if the group was comprised of as many people of color as white people, co-led by a person of color, and meeting to take a deep dive into issues of race. This is what happened when ten church members began meeting, via Zoom because of the pandemic, in a Be the Bridge group.

Latasha Morrison founded the faith-based Be the Bridge in 2016 to encourage racial reconciliation among all ethnicities, to promote racial unity in America, and to equip others to do the same. The 9-session study addresses Awareness, Acknowledgement and Lament, Guilt and Shame, Confession, Forgiveness, Repentance, Reparation, Restoration, and Reproduction.

It was important to us that the material was developed by a Christian for a Christian community. As Pauline Higgins conveyed, “Our understanding the necessity of our need to lament before we get to reconciliation is of paramount importance. Spending time discussing Lamentations is indelibly etched. Our prayer time was special, as was honestly sharing racist experiences and the listening and respect with which we received those sharing moments.”

Pauline guided me to ask her friend Kayla Johnson to be the co-leader. “When I was asked to co-facilitate, I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted such a challenge," Kayla shared.  "Race discussions are difficult on all sides. To co-facilitate in my mind as an African American woman would only complicate that role. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit nudged me and that I yielded. What I learned is that while the topic is difficult, when people respect each other (doesn’t mean you always agree) you open yourselves to understanding someone’s journey. For those weeks of sharing, talking, and sometimes laughing, you come to see people as people. Through listening to everyone, I know I’m a much better person and am grateful. It is my prayer that my sharing helped to educate as well.”

The structure of the course, with its intentional composition of members, yielded powerful benefits. According to Clinton (Chip) Wells, “I thought the time we spent together on this study was the most beneficial time of any small-group experience. It worked because we had participants from different backgrounds and different races. The participants were open, honest, and willing to engage in discussion that was challenging to everyone involved. Absent any one of those elements (race, honesty, discussion) sharing would uninformed and incontrovertible.”

The course drew forth unforgettable personal stories. As Barbara Foxhall stated, “For me, the most powerful part of the course was the stories shared by group members about the discrimination they faced in the past and in the present: in the high-end department store as well as the workplace and especially by the police. When you hear about racial issues on the news, it’s just not the same as when your SJD friends share with you about what actually happened to them and how it made them feel. I realize I have a lot of remorse for ignoring the pain of those treated so unreasonably and unfairly. I have begun to think about my own complicity as a person of privilege. Be the Bridge made me want to further question what we as individuals, a church, a community, and a nation can do to bridge the racial divide. This course led me to join the Becoming Beloved Community book group led by Louise {Samuelson}. For me, it is a way to continue working on what I learned in Be the Bridge.”

My husband, The Rev. Reagan Cocke, shared, “For me, the most important part of Be the Bridge was listening to the stories and experiences of others that differed from mine. It helped me better connect with my small group and opened my eyes to how others experience life. It also made me realize how so many people have little patience in understanding others, and that this lack of desire to understand remains the challenge of our time in our contemporary culture.”

Lily Wells added, “I have found that this small group experience has influenced my life by making me aware of the ingrained thoughts I’ve learned innocuously through the years. An awareness that but for this group, I would have continued to be blind to.”

At the end of the course, we were at last able to meet in person to share a meal and reflect on our months together. Lewis Foxhall summarized, “This has been a real eye-opener and heart opener for me. What a great opportunity to get to know some exceptional people and share life experiences.”

Pictured (l-r) Lewis Foxhall, Kayla Johnson, Adrian Collins, Lena Collins, Reagan Cocke, Pauline Higgins, Chip Wells, Lily Wells, Junior Higgins, Barbara Foxhall. If you are interested in starting or joining a Be the Bridge group, please contact Stephanie Cocke.

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