I first heard him speak as a guest lecturer when I was in seminary. I loved his passion, energy, and message so much that I was compelled to run out of the class to catch up with him even before my regular professor was finished teaching.
I ran to introduce myself to The Rev. William Chaney. We chatted, I learned he lived in my same county, and at the end of our short conversation I asked, if it was ok to give him a hug. See, I knew then and there that William and I were soul mates—not the kind of soul mates for marriage, he already had a beautiful, intelligent, wife and they have a lovely daughter, but soul mates in that we both had an inner need to reach people for Jesus. We both have a deep desire to make disciples for Jesus, and we both know that the process requires new ways of thinking. That kind of soul mate—the kind that has a heart for Jesus and the people Jesus wants to reach.
Over the next year William and I became fast friends. We shared time together with our respective families, we encouraged each other with new ideas for ministry, and we listened to each other’s stories. William had always loved the Exponential Conference held in Florida every year, and in the spring of 2010 I decided to accept his invitation to attend. We independently booked flights on the same Southwest flight. We were bound for Florida!
As it happened Ron, my brother-in-law who has since gone onto glory, had just retired and had managed to get a free condo that had three separate bedrooms, with separate bathrooms. Ron wanted to golf, and William and I could each have a separate room. Free is always good. It saved our respective churches some money, so we decided to stay there together. William and I even arrived a half a day early. We had each procured tickets for Disney, and we spent that half day before the conference riding roller coasters.
The conference was good, even if it was oriented to male pastors. (That is a story for another day, I personally know how to filter that prejudice out.) William and I had dinner with several colleagues that we knew who were also attending. We arrived back at the condo late. We each said goodnight and went to our respective rooms, closing our doors behind us.
The next morning I had not yet seen William and we were five minutes away from our appointed time of departure. I banged on his room door and asked if he was ready. He said he needed about ten more minutes.
When William came out of his room I said, “You don’t look good, are you ok?”
William: “I did not get much sleep last night.”
Me: “Why not, are you worried about something?”
William: “No, but I slept in the gym last night, until the security guard got me up, and then I moved to the pool.”
Me (very confused): “What, what happened?”
William: “I went out to take a short walk last night before bed. When I came back the door was locked with the chain, and I could not get back in.”
Me: “Why didn’t you call.”
William: “I did not take my phone, it was just going for a short walk.”
Me: “Why didn’t you knock on the door.”
William: “I did but no one heard me.”
Me: “Why didn’t you bang on the patio door until we heard you?”
William: “A black man banging on a patio door in the middle of the night?”
That is when it struck me full force. My friend William cannot do things that I can do. Some call it white privilege, others call it oppression. Whatever you want to name it, William cannot react in ways that I would react out of fear of being perceived as a threat to others. If he had banged on the door, surely someone would have called the police. So William, who did have his key card, slept in the little workout room on the mat.
Understand, my brother-in-law had retired from the CIA. He had locked the door with the chain assuming everyone was inside behind their closed doors. He ALWAYS locked doors well, and checked them a second time. There was no malice involved, just a series of unfortunate events. The next morning the chain came off when Ron went to get the free paper in front of the condo. With that, William came inside, and since we all had our own rooms, none of us knew William had been missing all night.
William never said a word about the incident again. He handled it all with grace. But the incident has remained with me. As I continue to socialize and work with my African American friends, I realize they have to do things differently than I. They have to think twice about doing things that I would just do. They have to ensure that their actions are not perceived as a threat to others. They have to constantly be thinking, is this going to be taken the wrong way.
William and I are still good friends and communicate regularly. It was about six months ago that his wife became outraged, over another unjust incident. She posted about the event, which William never mentioned. He and an African American District Superintendent had been working late in a church in an unnamed state in the south. On the way home their car was stopped by the police. They had done nothing wrong. Not only did the police check their licenses, but he made them both get out of the car and searched them, for no reason! This is unacceptable behavior, and it has to stop.
We cannot remain silent. We who do not have to suffer this kind of injustice need to speak up. It’s time we who do not have to think about our every action and how it will be perceived in the world need to take a stand for justice. Systemic racism has deep roots in our land. It is time we all repent. It is time to speak up, and it is time to ensure real change will happen.
Each of us can do something. What can you do? Here are some ideas:
- Ask forgiveness for times when you did not notice how you might have contributed to an injustice.
- Ask forgiveness when you did not notice an unjust situation taking place. This is a place where I had to start after William asked me the question, “A black man banging on a door late at night?” That was ten years ago!
- Pay attention to a neighbor who is different than you. Start a relationship with them. Listen to their stories.
- Stand up for justice when you see injustice happening.
- Write a story, like this one.
- Use your vote for change.
- March for in peace for justice.
- Write to your elected officials.
- Write a nice note to someone who is different than you. Ask them how they are doing in these turbulent times.
- Read material that helps you understand the world from a different perspective.
- Watch movies based on real life. “Just Mercy” is a good place to begin.
Each of us can do something. The time is now, choose something today!
(This article was written at my initiative with permission from William Chaney and his wife, Michelle.)