“My Black brothers and sisters, the church leaders that I know, they’re kind of going: ‘I’m waiting for the white people to come with the right attitude before I step into the ring,’” said Markus Lloyd, the Black founder of Threaded, which partners with LTR for initial “reorienting” of mostly white groups before holding cross-cultural discussions. “So I always have to tell them I’m preparing white people to meet you so that we can actually do this right this time.”
Participants in the LTR training have told Shelley and David it’s helpful for them to start the process in a predominantly white setting, where they say they can get some questions answered without offending people of color during their foray into greater racial awareness.
“One of the things my dad has said several times is: We’re the ones that created this problem, so we’re going to probably have to be the ones to solve it,” said Shelley, a part-time nonprofit contractor who was mentored by Brenda Salter McNeil, a Black professor who guided her in a 2022-23 group of racial reconciliation emerging leaders.
Some former “Let’s Talk Race” students speak of a transformation that affects how they live, how they raise their children and how they consider their place in the church and the community.
Robyn Morton, a white Dallas financial adviser, said she’s completed the class twice, once as an individual and another time with clients in her practice. She said the “life changing” experience has shifted the ways she is concerned about the next generation and the next crisis.
“Whiteness did not register to me as a culture,” said Morton, a regular churchgoer who learned about white privilege and how white supremacy extends beyond the Ku Klux Klan and skinheads.
“I didn’t have any idea of what white supremacy really was and how prevalent it was in my life, in my thought process, in my approach to life,” she said. “It’s been a huge shift in a lot of ways.”
Since taking the class, she’s observed Black History Month with her family, purchasing books about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges for her children, now 6 and 8 years old.
“Being able to talk to my kids about the reality of the situation really, really matters to me because there are so many things going on in school systems now to try and shift the narrative on what things are talked about and how things are talked about,” she said.
Steve Frissell, a pastor of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas, a predominantly white evangelical Protestant church where the Parks are members, said he learned from LTR classes about parts of the history of the church and the nation he had not heard before.
The extent of police killings of people of color in recent times was jarring to him when his class heard a list of the victims.
“I didn’t even know half of the names,” he said. “I just realized how ignorant I am and how much I don’t know.”
After learning in the class about different people’s experiences with police, he understood better the reaction from a Black visitor at his church who expressed initial surprise that the church with a couple of thousand attendees each weekend had uniformed officers in its worship services.
“If I hadn’t gone through ‘Let’s Talk Race’ and hadn’t been in a journey and learning and growing, I would be confused as to why would he be nervous about police,” said Frissell, who acknowledged that while he had long felt police are equated with safety, “that’s not everybody’s experience.”
Frissell said he also hopes to change the networks through which he hires for his church, which traditionally has had few people of color on its staff.
“I notice how I am a part of systemic racism,” he said. “Even in hiring practices, you often hire within the circles of who you know.”
Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group that works with people and organizations to build “common understanding that leads to common action,” said white-led efforts like “Let’s Talk Race” prompt both her congratulation and some caution.
“It is good that people of European descent have been moved to the point of action,” she said of groups like LTR Ministries. “It needs to happen with humility, deference, accountability and without profit.” She also stressed the need to share power.
White people’s awareness of race and advocacy for the concerns of people of color has existed in various forms over the centuries, from the work of Quakers in the abolitionist movement to “Introduction to Anti-Racism for White People” classes taught in recent years at Washington’s All Souls Church Unitarian to Harper’s “Ally Tour” that engages mostly white women in listening sessions to hear what issues women of color are focused on during an election season.
The Parks do not describe themselves as “white allies,” though others have.
Instead, David said, they prefer to just call themselves “Christians” or “Jeremiah’s mom and dad.”
This story is part of an ongoing podcast and news series “Fighting Racism” produced by Footnotes with Jemar Tisby and Religion News Service.