Loving our neighbor

Living as a minority in an African-American neighborhood opens an intern’s eyes to the reality of white privilege.

By Claire Kermitz

I always knew I was white, but it took packing up my car for a two-month-long mission immersion in Overtown in Miami for me to begin to realize that being white carries privileges beyond my control. I was more aware of my whiteness than ever before.

I was sitting outside my home for the summer when a police officer stopped, rolled down the window and asked, “You know where you are?”

I answered in disbelief: “Yes, I do. I actually live right here.”

“You know that you are on the wrong side of the tracks? Good luck.” He rolled up his window and sped off.

There were other people on the block, walking around and hanging out. This cop singled me out not because I was doing anything wrong, but because as a white girl I shouldn’t be in such a dangerous neighborhood.

I went to Miami to work with a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner nonprofit, Touching Miami with Love, which focuses on sharing the love of Christ with everyone. During my time there I worked with four other female interns as we led the summer camp program.

Every day we would drive the few blocks to camp and build relationships with the children. We played basketball, tag, foursquare and football. We stood on our heads, we sat still and we ran with the children. We taught them Bible stories and life lessons. We rejoiced with them when they passed the state standardized test and mourned with them when they did not.

As summer progressed, we started walking our campers to their homes in the projects. We started to meet family members, and they showed us all the embarrassing baby pictures. We were greeted with hugs and asked how our days had been. Families in the neighborhood started to know our stories and embraced us.

Slowly, I no longer felt that my skin color defined who I am. Every day after camp, the other interns and I would walk a block to the corner store to get a bag of chips and a soda. For a mere $1.25, the barrier of color that I had seen so clearly and profoundly came crashing down.

It came down when we became not “those five little white girls,” but neighbors. We took time to sit down and listen to the stories of our neighbors, and Overtown is now a part of our stories as well.

I still am white, of course, something I cannot hide and do not want to. While the issue of white privilege remains, something holy happened that summer.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors and share the gospel regardless of color, race, ethnicity, gender, and on and on. That summer three years ago brought me to that place.

Without expecting it, I experienced that call. I felt the power of loving someone, regardless of the barriers that society has constructed.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.