Tallahassee, FL — As a senior in college eager to graduate in July, this year has already brought so many changes. I’ve been focusing on transitioning to my career full-time and daydreaming about where I see myself living next. But the biggest change I’ve faced this year wasn’t about school or my career.
It was leaving my multicultural church of 13 years.
Before I was a member, I was an earnest elementary and middle school student at their private school. I had no idea that I would call that building a second home for so many years. In 2011, after leaving our previous church of over 20 years, my family embarked on the laborious journey of finding a new church home. What seemed like an easy task with churches on every corner in our small Florida town, was arduous as we struggled to find a place that aligned with our beliefs and had the atmosphere we were seeking.
The church we finally decided on was right under our noses as my sister and I were students at their adjoined school. Coming from a non-denominational Black church, to a multi-ethnic non-denominational church was a huge shift for each of us.
But no sooner than we joined did I fall in love with the freedom, praise and worship brought and the youth ministries that I was a part of. Their mission statement was reiterated often as being multicultural and multiethnic was important to them and they wanted to remind the congregation how our diversity was countercultural to most other churches. The idea that our congregation mirrored what heaven looks like, was good enough for me as a young teenager, now involved in many ministries and bragging about my diverse church wherever I went.
I’ve always been a compassionate and empathetic person who advocated against injustice and discrimination. As I learned about the murder of Trayvon Martin, my heart ached for his loved ones. As a 12-year-old at that time, it was unfathomable that such a grotesque act had been done to a child only a few years older than me. I thought about Martin often and lamented with my Black peers at school. My best friend at the time who was white, posed a question to our class one day as we discussed the case. As she asked the class what race had to do with the killing, I sat and wondered how someone could look at the patterns in our nation and not believe this to be another instance of racial injustice.
But I noticed that conversations about racism at a multicultural, multiethnic school and church simply weren’t discussed. As a young teen, it didn’t phase me as much. But as I got older, more vocal and more passionate about racial injustice, I began to take notice of my church’s habitual silence when instances of police brutality or white supremacy occurred.
I had one-on-one conversations with select members of the church that I could trust about our inclination to pray and speak out against certain things but never did we specifically talk about the stronghold of white supremacy or the threat many people of color were feeling when Trump began his campaign for the presidency. As more racial events appeared in the news, our church focused on not preaching a “social Gospel” which as a result left me feeling as though this was a sophisticated way of saying addressing racism isn’t a big enough concern.
Still, I worked to address racism any chance I got during small groups and prayer meetings. In 2019 I was permitted to lead our youth service and opened the floor for us to transparently discuss how we as Christians ought to be involved in hard-hitting conversations on racism, abortion and the mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community.
But this still wasn’t enough and 2020 was my breaking point.
Following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, I was drained from speaking up and not feeling proper support from my church and leaders.
My sister and I met with our pastors about the incessant need to address racism and left the meeting feeling reassured that leadership was strategizing how to do so. Having conversations, I knew that fundamentally we agreed that racism is wrong, but I didn’t feel that message was being elevated to our multicultural congregation in practical ways.
Years ago I hoped we would address racism and not wait for racial injustice to bottleneck in our nation and back us into a corner until we had no choice but to look at it dead in the face. But my fear became reality as we hadn’t had a message specifically preached on racism until after the protests and killings repeated in 2020.
That still wasn’t enough.
As I used my social media and writing platforms to speak out against racism, I was often met with disapproval from fellow church members and leaders. Many members and leaders tried to dictate how I posted and what I said. Yet I was determined to continue to be obedient to God and speak out about racial injustice the way I had since I was 12. It was offsetting to have people that avoided the conversation altogether try and control how I spoke up.
I met and spoke with many members and leaders of the church in hopes that I could convince them to advocate for Black lives like mine. But by the end of 2020, drained from the racial trauma of feeling like there wasn’t enough solidarity within my multicultural church, God began to deal with me that my time as a member of the church was coming to an end.
In February, I left the church as my family still attended and got plugged in at a church that without a question stands firm against the stronghold that is racism and reassures me that being healed from racial trauma is not only important but necessary as I continue my relationship with God.
While I’ve made great memories and have had fruitful relationships at my former church over the last 13 years, I learned that I don’t have to beg God or anyone else to advocate for Black lives like mine.