By Chris Saxman
Updated post from 2016.
Twenty-six and a half years ago, Michele and I placed an ad in our local paper looking for child care for our then newborn who married into the Marine Corps in late December.
The next day a lady named Margaret Johnson called inquiring about the position. Before I could answer, Ms. Johnson said, “There won’t be a color issue.”
“Well, I’m black”
“Ok. I’m not.”
“I know. I just want to get that cleared up. And everyone calls me Granny.”
Granny and her family have been a part of our family ever since. She’s helped us raise our four children and we’ve helped out with her granddaughters.
Whenever racial strife has reared its ugly head in our country (and please do not call Granny African-American. She only acknowledges being American), Granny tells Michele, “Daughter, do not engage in conversations about color. It does not exist in Heaven and it’s a weapon of the adversary.”
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says “the first step to solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.” So, while racial problems do not exist in Heaven, they do exist here.
Since problems do not solve themselves, our nation must recognize that in order to solve our racial problems we have to “recognize that it does exist.”
In fact, it has existed since our very first days.
It is a self-evident truth.
Our family witnessed this truth first hand as we housed, fed, clothed, and loved so many close friends of our children, many of whom are black.
We experienced some hard truths that frankly shocked us.
We could do chapter and verse, but for now, just trust me on this one, the racial divide in this country is massive and growing; however, it can be solved.
My seventh grade P.E. teacher at Shelburne, Hunter Talbot, taught me one exceptionally important lesson, “Can’t is un American.”
America can do this.
The question from here is do we really want to solve this problem? Recent history suggests that many people want to but our leaders seem incapable of addressing it.
That’s not their fault, that’s our fault. Remember, they represent us. If we want them to be better representatives, we have to be better people.
We have to let them know that we are willing to endure dealing with this highly complex issue.
We also have to consciously acknowledge that this is going to take a long time. There are no apps, pills, switches, or websites on dealing with all of this. This is going to take a lot of work. Hard work.
And fun work, we can make it fun. We’re a pretty creative people after all.
There can also be no blame, shame, regret, or fear. We should embrace this is as the American Opportunity of the 21st Century. Imagine this awesome nation finally integrating our pasts to create our future. It might happen in my lifetime, but probably not.
Hopefully, my children’s lifetime. More likely, however, their children’s.
Here are two tangible things we should do to begin this process:
Have an annual national day of prayer and reconciliation on September 22nd. Yes, a holiday.
This was the date in 1862 on which President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect on January 1st of the following year. This date also places the issue right in the middle of the election cycle – where it should be. A day to pray, reflect, and reconcile our incredible history as a people and as a nation. We need a day dedicated to understanding who we are, why we are here, what has impacted our history (shared and individual), how we can learn from that past, and how we choose to leave this nation to our children.
America also needs a National Center of Reconciliation and Freedom. A permanent place so that people, organizations, companies, families, and leaders can gather to openly, rationally discuss how to solve our issues. I suggest Fort Monroe here in Virginia. Not only was it the first site on which enslaved Africans landed in 1619, it was the exact same place 242 years later where enslaved Africans were protected by the Union Army following secession. Same place!
It’s not only historically significant, but it is physically and logistically able to house such a center. The General Assembly recently funded $5.25 million for Fort Monroe’s Visitor Center.
Two real solutions. One annual national day of reconciliation and one place to actively reconcile year round.
If we are to address this opportunity of racial reconciliation, we must do so with intentional focus and love. It will not go away on its own; in fact, it will continue to grow and further divide us.
Overcoming this racial division will be one of our nation’s greatest assets; currently it’s one of our greatest liabilities.
It’s holding too many of us back from realizing true freedom.
Chris Saxman represented the 20th District in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2002-10. A businessman and active member of the community, he is Executive Director of Virginia FREE, a non-partisan, non-profit that informs the business community in order to advance free enterprise and responsible, pro-business government. He and his wife Michele live in Richmond.