An invitation to dance: Olivet’s journey of racial reconciliation

Racial reconciliation is being brought to the forefront of a lot of conversations as Olivet starts off a new semester.

But this isn’t just a story about what is happening to another group of people, it is about what is happening to each of us individually. The conversations are bringing about the realization that this conversation is just beginning and as a campus we need to be open to what it might reveal, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

After a very divisive election season, Olivet is responding by offering forth opportunities for coming together from its chapels to new student groups centered around diversity.

“We didn’t sit down and orchestrate all this stuff, but I don’t think it’s an accident,” said Chaplain Mark Holcomb.

“Our ultimate goal is to continue to honor diversity and celebrate unity,” said Dr. Cynthia Taylor, the campus Multicultural Coordinator. “The Black Student Christian Association (BSCA) is a group who will gather to discuss the unique culture, political and economic challenges of the African American Community and in doing so, the group seeks to affirm self-identity and embrace Christian diversity and unity.  This group is open to all students regardless of their ethnicity.”

Senior Charles DeLoach III is an African-American student who wants to help bridge the gap between students from different backgrounds.

“We’re not excluding anybody. Anybody can join; white, black, Hispanic,” DeLoach said. “We basically want people to come see life from my perspective.”

The group will be hosting a worship night on Feb. 21 and a Black  Heritage Celebration Dinner on Feb. 22, with speakers, singing, and lots of food.

These events alongside the chapel speakers are part of an effort to bring the campus together in a time where it would be very easy to pull apart.

“I think right now we’re in a time where unity and love is more needed than any other time,” observed Olivet alumni LaMorris Crawford, who is also on the schedule to preach in chapel this spring.

“For me this idea of ‘dancing with me’ can bring any culture together. What does it look like with me learning to move with you and you learning how to move with me, cause in the end we’re going to be moving together,” Crawford said.

LaMorris’ wife, Megan Crawford, says that their biracial marriage of eight years has shown her a lot of things she would never have known, and continually reminds her that she is still learning.

“One thing that has been burning in my heart right now is relationship, and how do we build that relationship,” she said. “I think that it is the understanding that everyone has value to add to the other person, and what value is that. It’s me allowing someone to speak into my life, and that allows me to have a place in their life too.”

“I think the instinct to make a welcoming place is always right. Every institution has a culture and that is not a bad thing – Every place has things about it that tell you, you are family and other things that make you feel like you’re not,” Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil said after her week of speaking in chapel. “The more ways we can say ‘what can we do to give people a sense of home?’ – it decreases the disconnect between leaving a place you feel at home to a place where you long to feel at home. Where that gap is shortened even if it is not completely taken away it helps students to thrive.”

DeLoach is eager to use his experiences at Olivet to help pave the way for those coming up after him.

“When I was a freshman I came from an all black high school, so there was a culture shock for me. I adapted well and people started to reach out to me even more. I embraced it to be the minority,” DeLoach said. “Maybe not intentionally but I felt excluded from a lot of stuff, and I had no African-American upperclassmen who came to mentor me here. I was almost by myself in that situation.”

McNeil spoke into this same feeling of exclusion; saying that a group like this is what minority students need to help them be successful. “That’s why universities exist, so that all students can come here and get the education that we promised them, and to feel foreign and like you don’t belong hinders the process.”

“I am from the all-white school and the all-white everything, and when I came here I was still very welcome and very much at home, until I met [LaMorris],” Megan Crawford said. “I just started asking questions that were stupid and ignorant, and I knew that they were. I had never had someone to dialogue with before, and to feel safe. The only way to feel safe is in relationship.”

“There were some things that were unsettling me this summer,” Holcomb said in regards to his inspiration for this semester’s chapel theme. “I don’t think it was just the political climate, but I started some relationships with black students where I was specifically asking them about things that were happening in black communities and just listening to them.”

“If you can walk you can dance. When we get up to walk none of us think about walking – but when it comes to dancing you have to be intentional,” LaMorris Crawford said. “When leaving or exiting the Olivet experience you have to be intentional.”

“[BSCA’s] main goal is to not separate us from the school. Just because it says black doesn’t mean it’s only that part of the school,” said DeLoach. “It’s a celebration.”

“Overall, my hope is that as a campus we would be willing to work towards innovative ideas of diversity and unity in Christ.  Unity does not erase the diversity that is found in creation, but it celebrates the diversity,” Taylor said about her vision for this group. “Our goal is to champion continual growth, development, fresh understandings, sincere respect, and realized diversity all to the glory of God.”

— Erica Browning, Features Editor

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