do you know what you're getting yourself into?

Sankofa = “looking backward to move forward” – also known as an intentional, cross-racial prayer journey seeking to assist disciples of Christ on their move toward a righteous response to the ills related to racism. I embarked on the Sankofa Journey last weekend and I will be recounting some of it as well as some of what I learned on the trip. We promise confidentiality to the rest of our group which is why I will not be using names in these posts. Although the people I went with are not a mystery, only their part in my story. Most of my reflections are my story anyway, so you’ll be fine not knowing their names okay? Okay.

On Thursday March 4th at 3:45 p.m. I found myself in the lounge of North Park Theological seminary. I stood in a room full of strangers and more kept coming in. I know 3 of the 12 or so people in the room. The introvert inside of me screamed at me to leave, to run, to pull out my phone and pretend to be busy or something ridiculous like that. But the sensible side of me (or more the presence of the Holy Spirit in me) made me smile and begin to jump into the small talk that filled the room.

“Hi, my name’s ______, what’s yours?” I looked into the face of a woman my mom’s age.
“Alicia. Nice to meet you.” I shook her hand reluctantly, eyes darting all around. She probably thought me rude but I was just nervous. The introductions continued until our fearless leaders called us together. We met our partners (that’s where the cross-racial part comes in), had dinner and began our journey with introductions to the group – Name, where are you from and interesting fact. Then we were supposed to go around the circle again and this time the question was: How would you prefer to be identified?

At first we all thought that meant like, what nickname do you like. Wrong. The question was referring to our ethnicities. With as many options out there, the question was, how do we prefer to be identified? The first few people hemmed and hawed their way through it. Then words started coming together and there sure were a lot… white, black, African American, Caucasian, European American, Anglo, Japanese, Mexican American. There were many. When it came to my turn I struggled.

I’m half Mexican and half “white.” Although I’ve learned that I hate that word – white. But more on that to come. The first half (ish) of my life I lived in a place where being Mexican was not a good thing. So I played up my “white side.” Then I lived in CO and became nothing short of proud to be half Mexican. But I always struggled with calling myself Mexican American because I’m only half. So I start to call myself Hispanic or Latina. Other times I just point out that I’m half Mexican. But in filling out those forms I guess I should check Hispanic and Caucasian. So I ended on Hispanic/Caucasian. Still seemed like a cop out but I’ll take it.

By 8:00 p.m. we were loading onto the bus and I was feeling completely overwhelmed. We had already had some pretty intense conversation on the difference between being African American and being of lighter skin. I had always struggled on which words to use, knowing the obvious ones I shouldn’t use but struggling between “black” and “African American” but I never knew that it was really a preference that each person has on their own. It’s not a simple yes or no question.

So there I was, loading onto the bus already feeling intimidated by the journey. Already knowing that there was so much I didn’t know. So much I’d never experienced. The entire Civil Rights Movement – as currently documented – happened 17 years before I was born. In my naïve mind, I was virtually unaffected by these events. They happened long before I was around, we have arrived to a peaceful place. But as I was about to learn, I could not be further from the truth.

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