Sweet Nicholas


This past weekend, I spent time with fifty four other leaders from the Charlotte area in a program called Leadership Charlotte. It was a wonderful weekend filled with risk, adventure, moments of deep conversation, and the gift of fun with new friends. There was a question posed to us during the weekend that I have been sitting with this week. We were asked to share in small groups the story of an unlikely teacher in our lives. It was a struggle for me at first, because I am someone who naturally seeks out mentors. I love to soak up the wisdom of others. I sat for a moment juggling the possibilities, when the answer came clearly into my mind. My unlikely teacher in my life was an unborn baby boy named Nicholas.

Years ago, while a student at Duke, I was given the gift of time in a cross racial group called Ubuntu, which is a term that comes from the Bantu languages in Africa. Desmond Tutu defines Ubuntu as “the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity.” The purpose of our Ubuntu group was to share life together for a year, learn about our biases, prejudices, and the ways in which we might learn to work to break down the racial divides in this world. It was a deeply meaningful time for me. I learned so much.

During that time, one of my friends got pregnant. The day she learned that she was giving birth to a boy, she shared the news with tears streaming down her face. I just could not imagine an expectant mother experiencing anything other than pure joy. Her reaction completely threw me off guard. Through her tears, my friend shared that she did not want to bring her child who would be born a black boy into this world. Her acknowledgement was met with the shake of a head from every other African American in that room. It was as if together they held the key to a secret the rest of us did not know. How could I, a white woman of great priviledge in this world have any idea how truly difficult it is for an unborn boy to grow into a black man in this world.

Through out that year, I would learn so much from people whose experience was very different than mine. My Ubuntu group invested in me, they took risks to share their stories, and they walked with me in a grace that I believe could only come from God. After I graduated from Duke, I went to spend a year in Jackson, Mississippi to reflect specifically on religion and race. It would be another chapter of learning for me. I received so many gifts of story. I was invited to serve as the co-chair on the commission on religion and race for the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and served alongside a Civil Rights veteran. I learned during that time how human we all are—both black, white, and all the races that so often get left out in between.

I spoke to Nicholas’ mom this week. We were sharing frustrations about the shooting of a black man in St. Lois. She hoped to get our Ubuntu group back together to reflect. As we were talking, I told her that I carry the picture of her son in the front of my bible because I made commitment to a little unborn boy one day that I would give my life to making this world a better place for him to live in. I told her that I shared the story of Nicholas with my Leadership Charlotte group naming him as my unlikely teacher. I met Nicholas when he was first born and didn’t see him again for many years. When we reconnected, he ran to me saying, “Auntie Michelle…Auntie Michelle!” The innocence of his voice and the reality of the world he would face brought tears to my eyes. I wept for the understanding of the stories that were shared to me by my friends. I learned from an unborn child what I want the world to be like for him.

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