GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — A group of men in Greensboro saw a problem.
“Over the years, we’ve had a number of conversations, some friends and I had, about there’s a divide in our community,” Britt Lassiter said. “There’s a divide in the church. What can we do to bridge that divide?”
They started a faith-based organization called Mission Greensboro. Lassiter and William Thompson have been there from the beginning.
“So often in many communities, Blacks live on one side, whites another,” Thompson said. “So we never really get to know one another.”
“I think the biggest thing for me has been that there are differences,” Lassiter said. “But our differences are not so great that they can’t be bridged.”
The guys believe the key to race relations is relationships. They’ve spent the last year going deeper. Like the time Thompson had to explain something his white brothers never thought about.
“Getting on an elevator with a white female, I’d never do that because I know automatically she’s a little tense. And to show him the different scenarios of my Black consciousness. Even wearing a hood out walking our jogging, I don’t do that,” he said.
There have been plenty of uncomfortable moments. But from those comes progress.
“We’ve taken the time to understand one another,” Thompson said. “We’ve taken the time to build relationships and we’ve been bold and caring enough to ask the tough questions and wait for an honest answer. And if we feel like we’re not getting an honest answer we say ‘hey man, that doesn’t sound like how you really feel.'”
Then there are the conversations with their children.
“We’ve talked about it on a peripheral level,” Lassiter said.
His two children are grown.
“I think my children being in their early 30s and that entire age cohort is honestly … the clock is running out for my generation to make things right,” he said.
Thompson’s daughter is 19.
“She predominantly has been around whites all her life because of the schools she attended. Therefore she’s comfortable in the relationships. And I had to really explain to her why daddy was not that comfortable, why this was a big deal to daddy and his generation and she began to say ‘dad take it easy.'”
He says it’s different for fathers with Black sons.
“You tell your kids one thing. We tell our guys you see a police it’s ‘yes sir, no sir,’ hands out the window, don’t reach in your pocket. And they’re like ‘what?'”
“I lead an organization called Peak Adventures,” Lassiter said. “So we serve students out of some of the poorest most violence-prone neighborhoods in the city. So on a professional standpoint, I was aware and had been made aware a number of years ago of how it is truly an entirely different conversation that a father has with his Black son versus the conversation I had with my son. Actually, we didn’t have to have that conversation.”
This year Mission Greensboro launched 21 in 21. Their goal is to pair 21 Black men with 21 white men who meet once a month to build a friendship. They’ve exceeded that goal.
“We’re all committed to reconciliation,” Lassiter said. “But we all don’t move at the same pace. There are different people, and different perspectives, and different backgrounds. And we found out that we couldn’t force this. And we couldn’t force everybody to be on the same page at the same place, same paragraph, same time. But we could create a space where, OK, if you’re here and I’m there, at least we can both be here together.
“We have to have those hard conversations to avoid those hard situations. And until we do that, it’s going to always be like we’re trying but we never arrive,” Thompson said.
If you’d like to find out more about Mission Greensboro, you can check out their website.