Oatmeal, donuts, and ethnic relations

Deeper than diversity training

Yesterday morning, three dozen people gathered for a breakfast of oatmeal, donuts, fruit, granola bars, and cold cereal. The location was Living Springs Community Church in Glenwood, Illinois. The event was a program called Breakfast Club.

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Breakfast Club is a program sponsored by the Building Bridges ministry of Living Springs, a ministry I co-lead with Jamieson Clay. Our vision statement reads: “Building Bridges helps people on earth prepare for the multi-cultural reality of heaven as described in Reveleation 7:9.” Throughout the years, the Building Bridges team has organized a variety of events that allow people of different ethnic backgrounds to learn about each other and celebrate their differences. Our annual Taste of Reconciliation is a community-wide celebration involving hundreds of people, dozens of different ethnic dishes, and a praise service that includes participants from churches throughout Chicago’s south suburbs.

It is good to have opportunities to rub shoulders with people who don’t look like you, but overcoming racism requires a deeper commitment. So when the Building Bridges ministry learned about the Breakfast Club program, we were eager to try it.

The purpose of Breakfast Club is to create a safe environment where people of different ethnicities can develop a relationship in which they can ask difficult questions and receive grace from each other. The program matches up two people of different cultural backgrounds and equips them to meet monthly for a meal and conversation. Each month, participants receive a handout with five or six questions to discuss. The questions are intended to help people from different backgrounds learn what makes them different and what makes them similar.

Ground rules

At yesterday’s kick-off breakfast, we spent a significant amount of time reviewing the “Ground Rules” for the program:

  1. Commit to keeping the conversation confidential.
  2. Commit to meeting monthly for the whole year.
  3. Commit to being honest, not necessarily polite. (This one drew audible expressions of “Hmmm” from the group.)
  4. Commit to openly listening to your partner.
  5. Commit to praying with and for each other.
  6. Commit to speaking for yourself, not your race. (This one also elicited an audible reaction.)

When an African-American woman confessed she had trouble being completely honest—because she had been raised to be polite and not express herself when something was bothering her—a number of people agreed, and a spirited discussion ensued. In the end, the group agreed that:

  • Being honest and being polite do not have to be mutually exclusive.
  • Complete honesty takes time to develop; as trust within a relationship grows, honesty grows too.
  • Extending grace to each other means (1) not being quick to take offense, and (2) being quick to apologize when you have offended, even if unintentionally.

After about 30 minutes of discussion in the large-group setting, people who were there with their partners were given the opportunity to meet one-on-one and work through the first month’s handout. People whose partners were not at the meeting had the option of gathering with a group of other “un-partnered” people and working through the questions together.

Taking a bite out of racism

It really was a wonderful kick-off for this year’s Breakfast Club. I was impressed with the level of participation, particularly from people who are new to the program—and new to each other! These people showed extraordinary courage in their willingness to be paired with someone they had never met. They showed gracious confidence in expressing themselves publicly on a sensitive topic. And they showed supportive acceptance as a group, with affirmative nods for whoever was speaking at the moment. The spirit of grace was almost tangible.

I’m looking forward to a wonderful year of learning and growth. And I hope to post occasional updates here throughout the year, so you can track our progress in this journey of discovery and healing.

If you have been involved in Breakfast Club or a similar program somewhere, I would love to hear your opinions about the value of such a concept. Can 12 meals and 12 conversations really make a difference? Is this a reasonable way to take a bite out of racism?

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