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Bridging the racial divide

By Andrew Kissell

Bishop Sharma Lewis has asked us to tell our stories about racism. Here’s mine.

–Andrew Kissell, member of Community United Methodist Church, Virginia Beach, and president of the Southeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Men.

For the first 16 years of my life, I was raised in the predominantly white city of Lincoln, Nebraska. Near the end of my sophomore year, our family moved to Virginia where my main focus, as a 6’5” stringbean, was to earn a spot on the basketball team at Maury High in Norfolk. Little did I know that my experiences there would shape my character and my views about race for the rest of my life.

I was one of two white guys that made the basketball team the next year. I knew that athletics was about merit — not skin color or diversity. For the first time and place in my life, I was in the minority. Our coaches, Ted Bacalis and Jack Baker, were fair, but tough. They made sure we functioned as a team. I did not feel any racial bias from my teammates on the squad. As part of a successful team, I learned about earning trust and growing relationships, about team building and teamwork, about commitment and perseverance — all good lessons with a biblical basis put into practice on the basketball court.

This experience continues to shape my faith and actions today.

Things were different, though, in the high school classrooms and clubs. Many of my white classmates were clearly both privileged and racist, occasionally using the “n” word and acting as though they were superior.  Other than sporting events, whites and blacks largely kept to themselves during and after school.  Even though my parents had taught me it was wrong to be prejudiced, it was mainly up to me to choose my friends.  I know you have to be a friend to make a friend and I am not proud admitting I didn’t have any black friends until late in life. 

I recall Coach Baker telling me that if it weren’t for athletics, many blacks would not have the opportunity to go to college.  That message resonates today as we see the disproportionate number of whites attending college and attending sporting events in stadiums and arenas.  How many sports franchises are owned, coached or operated by the minorities in America that make up such a large portion of the players? 

How do we dismantle racism?  Grow our relationship with God through prayer, join a team, work hard, build trust, be a friend, and persevere!, “…because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)