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Commentary: Talk with your neighbors to help heal nation’s racial divide

Celebrating February as Black History Month has come and gone, but what did you learn about your relationship with African Americans in your respective communities?

More importantly, what have you learned and practiced that has enhanced your knowledge base and motivated you to begin healing hearts and minds in our racially divided nation? How often did you reach out or socialize with persons who are different from you? How many times were you receptive to outreach from African Americans? Learning to respect and accept differences of persons is the beginning of establishing positive and healthy relationships and enhance our living in these “united” states.

As former public-school educators born and reared in segregated neighborhoods in Newport News, Virginia, then moving, living and working in states from Virginia to Pennsylvania to New Jersey to North Carolina and now back to Pennsylvania living in Boalsburg, we have forged harmonious relationships with friends across racial lines both north and south of the Mason-Dixie Line and discovered that there are common threads among us.

As stated eloquently by Karl Menninger in “Love Against Hate, “ “The world is made up of people, but the people of the world forget this. It is hard to believe that, like ourselves, other people are born of women, reared by parents, teased by brothers and sisters, consoled by wives … flattered by grandchildren and buried by ministers and priests with the blessing of the church and tears of those left behind.” Actually, it comes down to loving your neighbor as you love yourself as written in the biblical scripture of Matthew 22:39.

It may be hard to embrace that forced black/white relationships in the United States began 400 years ago. According to historical records, 20 Africans came to America as indentured servants, not slaves, in 1619 to an English colony in Jamestown, Virginia, which is about 26 miles from our hometown of Newport News. However, it did not take long for the institution of slavery to permeate America, which began around the mid-1600s for Africans only.

Now, 400 years later in 2019, we are still a deeply racially divided nation, even though it has seen more than 150 years of honorable and noteworthy citizenship by African Americans. Why is race or ethnicity still a significant divide in the U.S.? It seems to us that our country metaphorically is in need of a heart transfusion to purify and release the toxicity of hatred and bigotry.

Reciting distinguished accomplishments of African Americans will not change the hearts and derogatory behaviors of our fellow citizens. More importantly, the realization that we have not accepted and celebrated the human spirit and diversity of all people and the wonderfulness of mankind continues to boggle the mind and burden the heart.

We need a spiritual renewal of our minds and hearts to respect and accept the differences of people who are racially different from you. And so, we encourage you to discuss the issues of race and ethnicity with some of your neighbors, both black and white, without being defensive, but with an open mind and heart.

The healing process may take a lifetime to achieve, but we are reminded that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with one single step. In the words of Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., “Love, truth and courage to do what is right should be our own guidepost on this lifelong journey” for racial unity.

Edgar Farmer is a Penn State professor emeritus. Barbara Farmer retired as an administrator in the State College schools.
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