Jason Hollister » 6.17.2020
I was fortunate to grow up in environments where the majority of my peers didn’t look like me or have the same life experiences. From elementary to high school, my circle of friends was diverse and I learned a lot about myself and others. Seeing the world through the eyes of my friends allowed me to gain more perspective on things going on in the world around us. It helped me see things in our city differently. Most importantly, having friends that didn’t look like me gave me the ability to empathize.
However, as the years went on, my circle of friends became more homogenous and I lost touch with many of those childhood friends. As tragedy ripped through communities in our country, I was concerned but unaffected. While my old childhood friends and new neighbors grieved the deaths of so many that looked like them, I remained distant and disengaged from their pain. Until one day, my wife and I became foster parents to a beautiful brown skinned boy. Looking into his beautiful face, I remembered something a friend once told me, that “children of color have to learn different ways of navigating life than white children”. Following the death of Tamir Rice, my friend’s words began to play back in my mind again, and I began to wonder how different his life would be from my own son’s. What things would he have to learn to stay safe that my son wouldn’t have to worry about? How quickly would he be seen as a man to be feared rather than a child still learning his way in this world?
My eyes were quickly opened to how closed off I had become. I started to notice the walls of my own echo chamber. I began to read more books written by black and brown authors in an effort to learn more. My reading led to deeper questions, so I reached out to old friends to renew relationships and seek out new ones. I began to have a lot of hard conversations that pushed me out of my comfort zone and caused me to relearn the way I processed events happening in our nation. I got better at listening! Before long, I began to feel that familiar pain of empathy and started to better understand the strong feelings that my friends were having. One of those conversations happened recently with my friend Talethia Edwards as we took advantage of the Community Conversations program through RedEye Coffee and Verity Health Center. I am grateful for the many friends throughout my life that poured into me and were long-suffering as I asked painful questions and stumbled through how to talk about race and justice. I am grateful to live in a city where local businesses, like RedEye and Verity open their doors and checkbooks to encourage building relationships between people from different backgrounds.
If you find yourself, like I did, investing in relationships with people that only look and think like you and you aren’t sure how to change that or you want to take action to start helping our city move forward together, then I encourage you to find someone different from you, take them to coffee at RedEye, tap into the Community Conversations tab and begin to build a new friendship. Good conversations can change relationships, genuine relationships can change hearts, and changed hearts can change systems.