Whether we hear the words “race matters” as a declarative statement or the introduction to a list of things that are impacted by race, we can’t deny that all of us have life experiences that have shaped our beliefs and actions about race. When we can recognize our stories and examine our lives, we can learn to embrace opportunities that will help change the narratives that frequently divide even people of faith. We can become bridge-builders.

That was the impetus in forming MLK 50 Bridges, a collaboration between Grace and Race Ministries, Inc., Kingdom Mission Society and Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. With the help of New Baptist Covenant, a nonprofit that seeks to create vibrant, inclusive Baptist communities, these organizations have entered into a covenant of action to help build bridges of racial understanding between people of faith in their community. 

With that intent, Rev. Dr. Maurice Watson, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, recently hosted a dinner and dialogue with the theme “Race Matters.”

There was great intentionality in the outreach for participants in the dialogue, according to Dr. Watson. The group reflected race, gender, intergenerational and religious diversity, and was led by Dr. Sherrill McMillan, a licensed professional counselor and ordained minister. In her discussion titled “Racial Anxiety as A Mental Health Concern,” she defined racial anxiety as the emotional discomfort we feel about the potential outcome of interracial experiences.

“While racial anxiety may not rise to the level of a clinical diagnosis,” she said, “the symptoms of anxiety are the same and may include somatic problems, avoidance behaviors and cognitive distortions resulting in a fight-flight-freeze response ”.

 

Dr. McMillan emphasized the relevance of having a proper diagnosis of a problem in order to develop appropriate treatments. She said that cognitive behavioral techniques (or CBT) have been used effectively in treating anxiety symptoms, and that CBT as a small group ministry has the capacity then to help manage the anxiety caused by everyday racism.

“By teaching us how to identify triggers that show up as biased language and behavior, we can then learn to accept alternative views about each other by challenging faulty belief systems,” she said. 

Dr. Millan went on to share some of her reflections on neuroscience and how our brain has the capacity to rewire itself, adding that scripture can help us answer some of the questions about why this work is important.

Romans 12:1-2  provides a spiritual challenge: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

As participants shared brief personal stories, it became apparent that it is beneficial for us to think back over our lives to identify issues and concerns that may have unconsciously influenced our behavior related to racial matters. It is only when we become aware of our “triggers” that we can take steps to make positive changes in how we respond to people and situations that create racial anxiety on a personal or community level.

Our prayer is that our next steps may lead to other covenants of action and small-group gatherings to combat racial anxiety. MLK 50 Bridges is available to provide assistance to others who desire to become ambassadors for racial understanding.

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