Written by Maria Koppelberger. Media by Kelsey Neier.
I met Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove over pre-Chapel breakfast with my fellow students. It was a rare occasion for us students to be up so early, let alone cooking a real breakfast of waffles, bacon, and eggs. Hartgrove appeared to be a kind, gentle, and personable man, and my suspicions were promptly confirmed. He is a bit imposing at first, only because he is so tall, but his friendly mannerisms and Southern drawl put us all at ease. He told us stories about folk schools in the heart of the Appalachians, and the problem with hipsters in the inner city. This man knew what he was talking about, knew the history and its effect on today, and how it’s so possible to hurt others without meaning to. His passion showed itself from the start.
My COR401 group invited Hartgrove to visit GC. We are intent on learning about and acting on Christian values of reconciliation, and he is much farther along on the journey than we are. My COR group sees that Greenville College campus is full of division. This division is unhealthy and undermines the integrity of the institution. (Don’t confuse division with diversity; diversity is awesome, division is not.) As Christians, we should work to resolve this division. Snyder and Scandrett, authors of the COR textbook Salvation Means Creation Healed, tell us sin causes division between people. Salvation is brought about by reconciling these divisions. So, as we work with God toward salvation, we must work at healing these divisions. If we don’t, as a college community that claims to be Christ-centered, we’re acting hypocritically and sinfully. For our COR project, we’re focusing specifically on racial division (versus other types of interpersonal division), and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an expert in this field.
Hartgrove gave an inspiring chapel lecture, urging us to recognize racial division and to participate in reconciliation. He primarily focused on historical division between black and white people in the United States. Once slavery was gone, segregation became a way of life. Racism wasn’t, and isn’t, just in laws, but in us. He tells us that when we look in the mirror, racism affects what we see. In addressing issues of racism, we must understand the depths of racism. There is a tendency in our world today to attempt “color blindness” as a way of combating the issue, however this does not get at the heart of racism and root it out. Color blindness, pretending race does not exist, only makes us blind to the injustices perpetuated in our society. As Christians, we must see this injustice and fight against. He says that those who worked in the civil rights movement held fast to the idea of Beloved Community and their text was Jesus’ life and work. So it should be with us today. Many Americans think they aren’t responsible for what they didn’t start. True, we did not start racism, but we have a hand in it and we are responsible for the task of reconciling relationships, just as Jesus reconciled relationships.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s lecture was a wonderful ending to a week of racial seminars hosted by my COR group and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. However, I sincerely hope that this is not the end of Greenville’s engagement with issues of racial reconciliation. If you’d like to learn more about Hartgrove’s ideas, check out one of his many books. Or, listen to his full lecture on Greenville’s page at iTunes U. And, if you’re interested in racial reconciliation specifically at GC, make sure to attend COR group 6’s CDL presentation, or get in touch with Pedro Valentin, Dean of Multicultural Affairs.