As I drove home from my church in Kettering, Ohio this morning, my husband and I noted together what changes about the scenery as you cross the Miami River and head up the Salem Peace Corridor. Perhaps if you have ever come to visit us, you will have noticed these changes too. The ride becomes bumpy as your car endures pothole after pothole. You will notice all the closed businesses and boarded up and abandoned houses. You will see overgrown landscapes and ivy covering all manner of structures. You will see no grocery stores and a hospital on the horizon that has recently closed its doors.
You will also notice a change of demographics.
This post has been on my heart for the better part of a year now, and it has come to be a point of disobedience not to write it. It is not in my heart to be divisive or controversial. I’m not one to make waves. And half of my people live on the south side of the Miami River. You see the dilemma? Not one word can be misconstrued or out of place or else I hurt somebody I care about.
So Lord, if you call me to this, I trust you will help me do it well.
Writing is how I make sense of my world and process it. In writing about this, I only hope you come to a point of understanding my point of view and perspective. I have been living on the northwest side of Dayton for 8 years now. The move was surprising to most of our family and friends and even admittedly more surprising now to them that they see this is not a phase we will grow out of now that we are older and wiser, and have kids to think about.
But we are not going anywhere.
Why? I love my neighborhood. Deeply. I love the people in my neighborhood. Deeply. And I believe Jesus has used this neighborhood to work on me in ways that I did not know I needed work on. I want my kids to grow up embracing others who are different from them as made also in the image of God. I also love being a bridge for my friends who have lived in the Greater Miami River Region for a long time but have never ventured north past the Dayton Art Institute.
When you come visit me the first time, we may have a conversation that sounds like this: “I had no idea this neighborhood was out here! This is beautiful!” But sometimes, my heart begs more questions of my visitors. Did it surprise you to enter the Dayton View Triangle? Did it jar you, juxtaposed to the blocks surrounding it? Did you know that Dayton was so segregated? Why did you have the perspective that perhaps nothing good is in “that side of Dayton?” Many have admitted being scared upon driving over here, worried they were lost and heading the wrong direction. One admitted to me one time that she was scared was because there were so many “colored people.”
Okay, listen. I get it. Because I would be remiss without telling you about my initial and sometimes still longstanding fears that God has me confront on almost a weekly basis. When you grow up as a part of a majority culture, as I have, there is a great fear of the unknown when you suddenly become the minority. The first year I lived in my neighborhood, shopping at the Siebenthaler Kroger was an exercise in practicing being uncomfortable as a minority, and it was by choice. I have the privilege of being able to drive to any grocery store in Dayton I want to go, but God had me practice being the odd one out. I believe He wanted to give me compassion for what my brothers and sisters of color feel on a daily basis in the nation we live in. It is good for us white people to realize we are white, and usually we don’t notice until we are in a place where our skin contrasts with those around us. We don’t have to notice, and as a consequence, we often don’t understand that we, too, have a culture. And so then we don’t have a responsibility in changing that which we have not taken the time to notice in the first place.
My white culture has many parts of which I am proud, and many of which I am not. And until I understand the past of my culture, I don’t believe I can be a change agent in our white culture moving forward. But our ignorance is not something anyone else can take responsibility for except ourselves.
At the same Kroger, yesterday, a black man approached me, waving me down. My heart started beating fast and I considered walking away, but God. Some of this is just general “stranger danger” that I believe is healthy to have for self-preservation. But some of it, I wonder, is just growing up in a place where I wasn’t often in the presence of big black men. I stopped by God’s grace. You know what he wanted to tell me? He had a 5 dollar off of 50 dollar purchase coupon, and he didn’t need it! One look at my grocery cart told him I did. So he offered it to me, and I’m so grateful that he did! This is something I will likely battle the rest of my life, but I know that proximity to my brothers and sisters of color forces me to be a part of God’s reconciliation plan NOW. Jesus is all about bridging gaps, the biggest one being our own sin. If He can bridge the gap of sin to get to us, I believe he can bridge the gap of the Great Miami River, and the gap of race that exists in Dayton, Ohio.
After 8 years, I haven’t seen much movement across the river. I think this was purposeful on God’s part so that Tim and I were forced to get to know and love our neighbors in Northwest Dayton. And my desire now is not that Northwest Dayton look like the suburbs we grew up in, even though I really do miss them! I desire for God to make this side of Dayton a redeemed version of itself. I love the culture here, and if more of my culture moved here, perhaps they would come to love it too and not be so fearful of what they do not know. And perhaps the problems of this side of the city would become their problem too, and they would speak up for those who do not have the privileges we take for granted on a daily basis. Maybe their voice would be louder than mine has been, and more eloquent, and people of influence would listen and help.
We’ve seen a slow trickle of brothers and sisters that HAVE taken the leap, and I believe have been embraced by this community as we have been, and have embraced it back. This gives me a lot of hope. Because I don’t believe there should be such divides when it comes to the Kingdom of God. The divides make me long for heaven, but these moves make me rejoice that we can taste it NOW. This also means more friends will come to know the real West Dayton. Reader, my hope is that when you visit us, you would not only notice the change of scenery, but a part of the city that is beautiful in its own right. I hope you will see its resilience, determination, and community, but perhaps you will have to get to know us a bit beyond the surface level to recognize that. And that means more than one trip north from the river.
I don’t believe moving here, or to any other poor or diverse community is necessarily the answer, but I do believe you must put yourselves in situations where you HAVE to care. Some of those reading this, cannot, in fact, move to a more diverse part of town because there is no more diverse parts of town! You don’t even have the option. I guess in that case I would just begin to explore with those in your current community why that is. What is the history behind that? And how can you be a part of the legacy that changes that?
I believe racial reconciliation, or even understanding between socioeconomic classes, or any different demographic than what you are a part of, does not happen by accident. You have to be intentional. We’ve gone through seasons of conviction because even though we were living in this neighborhood, our whole lives were lived outside of it. And believe me, pride and segregationist attitudes exist in West Dayton as well. I believe Jesus is the greatest example of moving TOWARDS people who were marginalized, when many would rather move away, or keep lines drawn to block out others. My question to you is not “Where do you live?” but “How are you intentionally moving towards those who Jesus would move towards?” and “How are you tearing down those lines that have been drawn, even if you were not the ones who drew them?”
In my role with Dayton Women in the Word, I have been given the privilege of inviting guests on our podcast. The Lord showed me through this that I know very few sisters of color in this city, even after all this time. Now I’m ever on the hunt for new sisters in Christ that do not look like me, that I can give the microphone to. And those God has brought me to have blessed me and our ministry immensely. God has not allowed me to get complacent in this task of reconciliation. And I want to encourage you, that you have a mic in many ways that you can be sharing with people whose voice is not always readily heard. You have influence, and you must be intentional with that influence.
To those Christians who already live in the city, do not put your suburb people in a box. Jesus needs people in the suburbs, and perhaps this is the harder ministry when people in their own privilege don’t see their need of Him at all. Let’s encourage our brothers and sisters to be intentional where God has planted them.
Suburb people, I love ya. Come over. I need you to help me, and encourage me to keep being a bridge builder. I need you to speak about what you see when you come to my house to the people who live by yours. I need you to help me give voice to those who have not been given the opportunity to use theirs.
A long-time desire I’ve had is not just to live with those who are different than me, but to worship with them as well. Jesus is the great reconciler, and I am praying He would do this work in our churches, and out of our churches He would do this in the world.
So I will leave you with my hope in Jesus as our reconciler. That He has come to reconcile ALL things to himself. Nothing is beyond his reconciliation, not even the segregated city of Dayton. Speaking of Jesus, Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-23 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross. And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Now, like Paul, we can become ministers of this same reconciliation, right here, right now. I can't wait, Lord.