Change Font Size:   A A A

Feb 24, 2017 | Denise Treviño

My Peace I Give You

I’m going to tell you a story about loving the stranger among us. I was not prepared for what happened when I attended a conference called “Facing Race.” As I sorted through possible workshop topics, I decided on “Multiracial Movements for Black Lives.” Its purpose was to better understand the roots of the Black Lives Matter movement and to challenge, not only black organizers, but all people to get engaged in the issues surrounding black lives in the United States.

Fifteen minutes into the workshop, a black man standing behind me asked the moderators if the white people could leave the room. There were more than 200 black men, about 30 black women and three white people in the room. Before the moderator could respond, one of the “white” people got up and left. The second “white” person stood to speak.

As I was trying to figure out what all this meant, all I could faintly hear was the man go on about how he paid just as much as anyone to attend the conference and, although that was true, I realized there was a complete disconnect in his ability to listen. While he heard the man’s request, he clearly missed what that person was saying. All eyes turned to me once he stopped speaking. At first I thought they were looking at the person who made the initial request. But they were looking at me, a “white” person in the room. I stood to leave, but I stopped. I explained first and foremost that I would leave graciously and respectfully if that was what the group felt was best. But I asked if I could have one minute to share why I was there. I explained that I chose this particular workshop because I wanted to know more about the black experience. I wanted to go beyond the data and statistics about black lives and hear the stories that people were willing to share. I said it would indeed be easier for me to leave or not to have shown up at all. I said I felt that change had to begin with all of us in that room and, by leaving, it just made it easier on me. I wondered out loud what would ever change if white people always got to walk away.

Most of the room did not agree with the man who wanted the white people to leave and the moderator said the workshop would remain open to everyone. Still, I felt torn—like I was infringing on this man’s holy ground.

After the workshop ended, I stood outside the door, hoping to speak to the man who had wanted white people to leave. When he finally came out, I asked him if I could have five minutes. He didn’t stop walking and I felt like a reporter chasing down something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He asked what I wanted to talk about and I told him I wasn’t actually sure. Reluctantly he agreed. I wasn’t even sure where to begin. Why did I want time with him? What was I chasing? What would I even say? He was a stranger whose name I did not even know. Those first five minutes are a blur as I look back now, but they turned into three hours and a shared meal.

We broke bread together that day with a turkey sandwich in a Dallas hotel lobby. Not in the traditional way we are used to breaking bread with one another but I think God would have been pleased. We spoke of our life experiences and his mistrust of white people. I wanted to know more if he was willing to share. I wanted to know not because I needed him to be my teacher, but I needed to show up and stay in those profoundly difficult and uncomfortable moments. He learned, too, that skin color alone did not define me or tell my story. My skin is fair and that is what he saw, but my story was not what he had expected. I had not been raised in a dominant Anglo culture, but rather in a deeply rooted Hispanic culture. I grew up not knowing many Anglo people. I was a first-generation Mexican-American. Half my family spoke no English, and the other spoke no Spanish.

We discovered that even though we had vastly different life experiences, we shared a deep desire to work toward healing the pain. We discovered that we shared a common humanity. In our own small way, without anyone else present and without any social media to tweet about it, we were working towards becoming agents of reconciliation.

I learned much that day and in the years that have followed about the importance of showing up and not walking away when you feel like running. It was the kind of reconciliation that God calls us to live into everyday when he asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves. How can we talk about racial reconciliation if we don’t first speak of loving the stranger? And how can we speak of loving the stranger if we don’t move out of our comfort zone to find the stranger? My stranger was a man whom I had never seen before, but yours just may be the person sitting a few pews away or the person who bags your groceries. In what ways is your heart stirring that calls for reconciliation and in what ways is your community’s heart stirring?

Treviño is missioner for intercultural development for the Diocese of Texas and can be contacted at