Mary Coleman has been a beautiful voice in the lives of women for decades, her daughters being the first recipients of her wisdom. I met Mary seven years ago when she led a Bible study on foundations of faith. I learned so much that summer that I kept coming back for more—studies on self-care and motherhood, guilt and perfectionism. She has become a mentor over the years, a true Titus 2 woman teaching the younger generations what is good. Mary has encouraged me and believed in me, wrestled alongside me and challenged me. Over time, she has spoken some truths to me on race and my own biases. Words I was not willing to hear in the moment, but have since become so grateful for her candor. Mary is the Director of Development at City of Promise, a non-profit organization dedicated to building a cradle-to-college-and-career pathway for children of underserved neighborhoods in Charlottesville. I hope you’ll hear a bit of Mary’s heart through her words today, and ponder the areas in which you can refine and grow. Welcome, Mary!
by Mary Coleman
This summer I watched joyfully as two of my children pledged their lives and love in marriage here in Virginia. Michael married Hannah in June under sunny skies and a Blue Ridge Mountain backdrop. Six weeks later, Sara married Ryan inside her university chapel where evening light streamed through stained glass windows.
Each ceremony was unique, a reflection of each couples’ style and partnership. Hannah and Michael enjoy hiking together, so their engagement photos were taken atop a mountain peak. The outdoor nuptials and reception fit them well and they were graced with a blazing sunset.
Sara and Ryan met in Richmond where Ryan proposed in a park downtown. The traditional setting for their ceremony, combined with a warehouse art gallery reception, was a fantastic mix of classic style and urban chic.
Each reception included standard traditions like the first dance, cake cutting, and a music-filled reception. Yet these weddings were also exceptional for the summer of 2017 when hate found its voice in Virginia.
My black children chose white spouses. Their white lovers chose black spouses.
Take that, hate.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, parents at every stage of raising kids want to know how they can ensure their children won’t ever be among torch-bearing haters who march the grounds of a college campus. No one wants their child’s photo going viral because she was screaming anti-Semitic slurs, or because he threw urine into a crowd, or because they murdered and maimed in the name of superiority over others.
Yet we should also want more for our children than just the avoidance of hate. Yes, more.
We should want our children to marry a black, or a white, an immigrant, or a Jew. We should want our children to fall in love freely without regard to race or color. And that begins with us.
Few of us will impact the nation, but we can certainly impact our neighborhoods by introducing our family to civic engagement. Since August 12th, many parents in Charlottesville have attended unity events with their children and discussed long-standing racial disparities in the city.
Every parent can ensure their child’s school library is stocked with diverse reading material and can check the history syllabus for balance in how America’s past is taught.
Every family can adopt a local cause and spend a year volunteering.
The non-profit I work for serves a predominantly African American neighborhood, and we’ve received an incredible infusion of funds since August 12th, thanks to citizens who realize that it takes a village to cure social ills.
Our children need to live outside themselves to realize this truth.
Aside from these practical ways to teach our children how to love, there are very personal ones tied to the company we keep. Our social media photos say a lot about whether our family friendships are truly diverse or whether we live homogeneous lives. Where we live and where we worship; the schools our children attend, and the bonds they are forming there; who joins us on vacation, who attends sleepovers, and who’s invited to Thanksgiving dinner all make the strongest possible statements to our children about the nature of love.
It’s vibrant, deep relationships with people who are different—not mere acquaintances—that keep biases from taking root.
We owe it to our children to broaden our inner circles and theirs.
Quite simply, our children will learn to love their neighbors by watching how we love ours.
And if we do it right, those neighbors might just become family one summer and the voice of hate will be silenced by the voice of love.