Monday, August 18, 2014

Racial Healing

Rev. Sylvester "Tee" Turner

Rev. Sylvester “Tee” Turner is director of reconciliation programs for Hope in the Cities. He talks with Rob Corcoran about his approach to racial healing.
Was there a particular moment that was a turning point for you?
My “encounter” with the Confederate monument during Richmond’s first walk through history in 1993. I had seen that monument all my life. But that experience forced me to look at things from a new perspective, one that I did not want to look at.
Confederate Monument. Richmond

What do you mean?
I had to decide whether to tuck and run or come face to face with my own struggle. When you are raised in the South there are many survival mechanisms. To pretend that something doesn’t exist is one of those mechanisms. I had always denied the impact the statue was having on me. Being able to identify with the Confederate sense of pain and betrayal allowed me to see inside myself. Seeing how they were held in bondage by their grief helped me to understand and to deal with the bondage in my own life. The light clicked on. It became a doorway to healing.
You talk a lot about honoring “sacred stories” of each group. How do you do that without moral compromise?
John W. Franklin talks about his father saying that we need to tell the whole story no matter how painful or ugly it is. That has been the approach of Hope in the Cities. To the best of my ability I try to validate the experience of the other group. Not to justify it but to validate the fact that it is their truth. Until a level of respect is created you can’t have dialogue. If we say we are Americans than we have to own all our stories, the good, the bad and the ugly. And as we grow, we can let some stories go. This is the foundation for working towards reconciliation. It’s not about being right but about being healed.
Let’s talk about forgiveness.
Forgiveness frees me not the other person. When I have been victimized, the pain and suffering impacts me. It dictates how I treat other people and what I pass on. When I forgive, I am able to pass wholeness to my children and grandchildren. It has nothing to do with the other person. That person will need to repent in order to be free, but I don’t control that.
What do you want to say to America at this point in history?
We can all win if we work together and we will all lose if we stay divided. Most Americans actually want to work together but we don’t want to deal with the divisions caused by our racial and political history. Without a doubt race is a major component in the political debate. Racism grew out of greed and a class system that pitted poor whites against enslaved, and later freed blacks. We are all imprisoned to some extent by the history of slavery. Some of us are in maximum security prisons and others in minimum security prisons, but we’ve all suffered and we all need to be healed.