When John Theis saw the offensive racial slur spray painted on a greenbelt trail in Kingwood, he knew he had to do something.
“This is just unacceptable in 2021,” he thought, “that anyone thinks it is OK to spray paint that word, or any offensive racial slur, on the trails means that we must make a more deliberate and concerted effort to build awareness of the Black experience in America.”
Theis, professor of political science at Lone Star College Kingwood and director of Lone Star’s Center for Engagement, turned to his pastor, Chad Mattingly, who was familiar with “Be a Bridge,” a national nonprofit organization founded by Latasha Morrison to promote racial unity in America.
“The program we developed is based on Latasha Morrison’s book, “Be the Bridge — Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation,” said Mattingly. “There is a program and a set of resources around which we are building our project.”
Theis and Mattingly have developed their own program hosted in the Fellowship Hall at Mattingly’s church, Kingwood Christian Church, at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month. There is no cost to attend.
“Not many of us understand how unequal our society is,” said Theis. “While there has been progress, there is so much to be done to achieve equal opportunity for everyone in America.”
A typical white family in America owns about $184,000 in family wealth while a typical black family owns $23,000, and a typical Hispanic family owns $38,000, Theis pointed out. In 2004, just under half of Black Americans owned homes while more than three-fourths of white Americans owned their own homes.
“We need to learn about these problems of race in America by learning how to build a bridge of understanding between ourselves and others we may not understand,” Theis said.
What exactly does “be a bridge” mean?
“Be a bridge simply means courageously confronting the beliefs, ideologies and structures that sew division,” said Mattingly. “Being a bridge challenges the idea that we are independent and autonomous. Rather, we are all interdependent and connected. It is the realization that the suffering of even a few is the suffering of all of us.”
The Be the Bridge project is inspired by a controversial claim.
“We believe that Jesus cares about racism and calls his followers to be activists for reconciliation,” said Theis. “We believe that loving and valuing all people was central to the life and work of Jesus. As a result, we follow him when we continue this important work, for there is much work to be done.”
“Most of us genuinely want to understand how the history of racism and discrimination has caused deep wounds to people of color,” said Theis. “We are still dealing with it and, if we don’t confront, acknowledge and overcome it, it will continue to plague our communities.”
Theis and Mattingly would like their “Be the Bridge Project” to inspire others in Lake Houston regardless of faith or political affiliation.
“Everyone is welcome to this project,” said Mattingly. “As our welcome statement states, ‘No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, no matter your age, color of your skin, your marital status, sexual orientation, abilities or special needs, gender identity, citizenship or immigration status, emotional state, ZIP code, level of education, affluence or power, if you believe some of the time, none of the time, or all of the time, you are welcome here.”
“It is with that spirit that we are undertaking this project,” said Theis.
“We want to be a bridge from division and fragmentation to unity and wholeness,” said Mattingly. “Bridging this divide starts with gathering courageous and compassionate people willing to listen and learn from history and from the experiences of people of color in our community.”
The first few meetings will focus on building an awareness of racism and discrimination throughout American history including the removal of Native Americans from their land, three hundred years of slavery, and one hundred years of Jim Crow and Chinese exclusion laws, according to Theis and Mattingly.
“The church in America bears some responsibility for racial division, too,” Mattingly said. “History confirms that many Christian churches supported and defended laws that upheld racial discrimination practices and the segregation of people of color. In many parts of the country, Sunday mornings remain one of the most racially divided hours of the week.”
“The offensive word I saw spray painted on the greenbelt shows that racism and racial inequality are a problem even in our own community,” said Theis. “We must confront it and a first step is Be the Bridge Project.”
“We invite anyone who wants to be a part of bridge building to join this important conversation,” said Mattingly. “We begin with a light dinner, then move into our presentation and dialogue.”
To take part, meet at the Fellowship Hall of Kingwood Christian Church, 281-360-7910, every second Thursday at 6:30 p.m. There is no cost.