I GREW UP in rural Mississippi, a black girl who lived “out in the booneys,” fairly isolated from peers outside school. My God-fearing parents brought me up in an African Methodist Episcopal church that stood just beyond the edge of the woods. At the right age, I waded into a muddy watering hole, only recently vacated by the cows who drank there, and got dunked by the preacher and welcomed into the church and the kingdom of God.
That was my baptism, but I wouldn’t call it a conversion experience. I felt very innocent then, and would until I left home for college in Massachusetts. There I got my first taste of diversity. Most of my classmates didn’t believe as I did. Most of my African-American friends felt as if my faith was some kind of relic from our slave heritage, a white-supremacist trick that I had bought into.
Up until then I hadn’t had any inclination to become political, and life hadn’t given me any reason to be angry. I still haven’t learned these traits well, even though it was in the educated Northeast, not the backwoods of Dixie, that I personally experienced the pain of racial hatred, sexism, and religious bigotry for the first time. ... I’m sure my generation will continue to struggle with meaning, identity, and purpose until they come to realize that, from an eternal perspective, the only equal opportunity that matters is our equal access to God’s grace.
Jennifer Parker was an assistant editor with Urban Family magazine when this article appeared.
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