Sunday, January 3, 2021

Sharing Our Stories: A real-life story about a woman of color's experiences in America


Kristen Rimer Terrette’s interview with Amanda Brooks 
for Sharing Our Stories

Today, Kristen is sharing an interview that she conducted with her friend Amanda Brooks.

Read a bit about Amanda below then enjoy her interview!

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Amanda's Bio:

Amanda Brooks has been married to her college sweetheart for fifteen years. 


They live in the Atlanta area with their two boys and their dog who doesn’t realize lap dogs are not 110 pounds.

Being surrounded by dudes means there’s never a dull moment in her house. She attended church as a child, but her faith journey was solidified her freshman year in college through the campus ministry, Campus Outreach. She’s an Instructional Specialist which means she teaches both students and other teachers. 

Amanda worships and serves at her local church, doing life with lots of different types of people. She believes in the importance of this type of faith community. It is this group who have held her up and pointed her back to the cross during difficult times and celebrated with her during life’s triumphs. 

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The Interview: 

Kristen:
I’m excited to introduce to our readers, my longtime friend, Amanda Brooks. We went to high school together, and, thankfully, through social media, we’ve been able to keep in touch. I’ve followed and loved her faith, intelligence, and reason, all while using her voice and influence with kindness, laced with hope for changed minds and communities.

Tell us about yourself, Amanda!

Amanda: Well, I turned 40 this year, so I think that makes an Xennial, right? I’m the wife to Nick for the last 15 years, and mom to two boys, Preston and Asher. And to Monk the dog who doesn’t realize lap dogs are not 110 pounds. Yes, I’m surrounded by dudes, so there’s never a dull moment in my house, but I’m pretty sure I was meant to be a boy mom. I grew up in the church but didn’t truly come to faith until my freshman year in college through a campus ministry called Campus Outreach. And I, of course, was forever changed. Today, I’m an Instructional Specialist in Atlanta which is a fancy term to mean I teach students in part, and train and support other teachers and staff in part, so let’s just say I’m busy. I worship and serve at East Point Church where I have the honor of doing life with lots of different types of people who have held me up and pointed me back to the cross in my most difficult days and celebrated with me during life’s triumphs.

Kristen: You’re awesome!

Now, being that we went to high school together, even though you were in the super smartie classes, we were taught the same version of historical facts. As an adult, I’ve learned a lot of what’s found in history books is full of half-truths and incomplete or one-sided versions (the White man’s point of view) of events, wars, and time periods. I’m curious, as a child or teen, did you know there was a different narrative of history? Were you taught facts and told of stories by your family members apart from school teachings? Or did you accept as truth the totality of what we were taught?

Amanda: In high school, I had a great history teacher named Mr. Timmons. As a former military man, he was straight forward and didn’t romanticize the uglier side of our nation’s history. Even so, his approach was more like flying in a jet surveying the scene below. Very high level. We learned the information, and he was a great storyteller, but the point was passing our AP exams; to understand causation and overall impact so that we could write about it well. I think this is true for even the better history classes our children learn in today. They are either the half-truths that gloss over actual facts, or they are merely a collection of them from a distance which neglects to discuss what our history means for the everyday lives of people today.

I can’t speak for all people of color, but I think that for many who belong to big close families, there is an inherent need to pass on our oral histories of “how we overcame.” I can’t think of one elder that hasn’t shared what it was like to grow up in America (particularly in the South) and how much harder life had been because of their blackness. And they didn’t share to incite anger, or frustration but rather to inspire the next generation by their fortitude and encourage us to be kids and later adults who could persevere because they knew we’d need to. I was blessed to grow up with older family members who loved to share their life stories and fill in the gaps of what the schools either refused or were unprepared to teach. My greatest observation was that though they had lived full lives of love and family, they all knew that their lives were not valued in society in the same way (if at all) by the country they still loved.

I poignantly remember my grandfather’s stories of his service in the Korean War. He shared that often the “negro” soldiers were placed on the front lines so as to be the first to die and in one instance, he had been part of group that went ahead to detect land mines. He witnessed a comrade being blown up. The fact that experiences such as these had not left him broken and bitter were only a testament to his faith and character.

Kristen:
Amen. Thank you for sharing about your family, their service, and their overcoming mentality. It’s an inspiration.

Now, as a teacher and mother, how has this knowledge shaped the way you educate your kids and students?

Amanda: In undergrad, I majored in secondary education for social sciences and minored in African American studies. So as a high school social teacher, I pride myself in providing my students with a complete picture of the world they live in without bias. I ask my students to come to conclusions based on complete facts and solid reasoning. I try to be as neutral as possible because I think history, culture and other world studies speak for themselves when given proper context. So, when we discuss hard topics like slavery in America, or the Holocaust, or any other instance of human suffering, I don’t shy away from delivering the full complete picture, but it’s important they put all this in proper perspective and investigate the “whys and how’s.” Like, why it was possible for slavery to exist in the country so long? What could be the potential impact of these things? What does this mean for you? Where is your place in this narrative or how does this impact how we live today? I guess I don’t ever want my students to simply parrot me, but to instead, walk away from our brief time together better understanding the world so they can be better citizens in it.

As a parent, my approach is far less academic, LOL… I have had to be very REAL with my children, more so than I ever imagined, especially so young. Raising children is hard, but raising black boys today is especially so. Much like my students, I also wish to teach my children HOW to think, not WHAT to think. But in an effort to try and keep them safe and heighten their awareness of the world they live in, I don’t have the luxury of just letting them explore to just figure it out. In so many life lessons, we’ve had to throw out the debate about what’s “fair” or “just” when it comes to what they can or can’t do, because at the end of the day, we are teaching them not just how to thrive, but basic survival skills. Our conversations are laced with lots of “though it’s not fair…this is why you must do things this way or not do things that way.” They understand that until the world is different (which may only be a hope of Heaven) they must engage in it differently than their peers.

Kristen:
Your thoughtful answer about your students proves what I already knew—you’re an awesome teacher, and I applaud how you’re championing them to take hold of their future.

And as a mom, your words brought me tears. As a white woman, please accept my apology. I am sorry for the way the world is, and we on the Sharing Our Stories blog series hope the words we put out to the world plant seeds and change hearts and minds.

Now, Amanda, you were our senior class president, a top dog, a stellar student, and super popular—in a predominantly white high school. Our class wasn’t very diverse statistically speaking, and though our area of town gets more diverse each year, it’s still a predominantly white school. Did being a person of color in leadership amongst a lot of white peers affect you in any way, good or bad?

Amanda:
One of my most vivid memories was of running for class office in middle school. I had shared with what was known at the time as my gifted teacher, my intention to run for student government president. He told me, “Amanda, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t want your feelings to get hurt if you don’t win. Though you are well-liked, it’s not likely they will vote for a black person.” Of course, I went home devastated and shared what was said with my mother. She was furious and marched into school the next day, demanded a meeting, and explained that under no circumstances should he ever attempt to tell her daughter what she could or couldn't do on the basis of her skin color. She went on to help me decorate a GAZILLION posters and craft my election speech. Now I don’t know if it was the bombardment of posters, the carefully prepared speech, or that it was 8th grade, and I had a lot of friends, but I won!

Nevertheless, his words still scarred me. They made me believe that even those teachers I thought cared for me and knew me, saw me first as black. I think much of my desire to lead was to prove my worth, and it’s something I had to unlearn as an adult and am still “unlearning.” I have had to recalibrate my own understanding of what gives a person value and dignity. And interestingly enough, it has nothing to do with leadership ability or accomplishments.

Kristen: Thank you for sharing that story. I never knew this, but I’m so glad you didn’t let his hurtful words define you or stop you from leading us! I’m wondering, did you feel you had the same opportunities as your fellow white peers in school? Have you felt that way as an adult?

Amanda: This is a tough one. There’s been a lot of conversation around the word “privilege” in recent years. And though I don’t disagree with the tenant that in America, whiteness affords a certain privilege over peoples of color, I also can’t say that it’s a one dimensional conversation. I too grew up with a certain amount of privilege, but mine were attached to socioeconomics. We weren’t rich by any stretch, but I came from a household with two working parents (four really because I have step-parents whom I adore), lived in a middle-class neighborhood where we were THE ONLY Black family for 15+ years, and I was involved in “all the things.”

I was an athlete, a decent scholar, attended church regularly, and had a loving stable family. I am also a black woman and, statistically, tend to fare better than my brothers of color. So, on its face, yes, I seemed to have similar opportunities as my peers for a myriad of reasons.

However, as an adult, I’ve come to realize that so much of opportunity is about exposure. Though I had things, there was a lot about the world that I didn’t know, because it had not been a part of my parents or their parents (and so on) experience. And this lack of knowledge affects so many of the decisions that are made. For example, how does one choose a college to attend (my grandparents went to the ones that accepted blacks and my parents went to the ones they could afford coming from poverty). So, for my family, going to college and finishing was the ultimate goal, so just pick one!

Now don’t misunderstand me, I do not regret my choice in school. It was some of the best years of my life. It’s where I became a Christian, where I met my husband and now father of my children and where I made lifelong friendships. But no one who understood how the system worked (counselors, teachers etc.) shared with me that given my grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, I had options. No one encouraged me to dream big like they did for so many of my friends. And I can’t account for why not. This is only one example, but I saw this in so many other areas of life.

Kristen:
I’m frustrated for you, but so appreciate your willingness to share and the amount of grace you demonstrate in doing so, which brings me to my last question.

As a brother and sister in Christ, I want to be a good listener and be a part of changing our culture’s misgivings, especially when it comes to racial unity. I believe you feel the same way. What’s something you want someone like me to know? To do? That you feel could help us meet this goal. Maybe something you never been able to say out loud? I’m listening! And so are our readers.

Amanda: You know, I have often said that I don’t expect much from “the world.” When people outside of the body of Christ act without love, refuse to listen and affirm, and perpetuate the systems that seek to uphold the status quo, it may sting, but I recognize that I can have no expectation of these things where Jesus does not reside. But...when my family in faith refuses to acknowledge these truths, it’s especially painful. How can one who says they value life from the womb to the tomb as it were, disregard the cries of an entire people group when they say they’re hurting? Systematic racism exists. I think when some white people hear this, they think a finger is being pointed AT them personally. And they say, “I didn’t do anything. I’m kind to my neighbor. So, this argument is flawed, because I am proof things have changed.”

What’s interesting about this stance is that as believers we understand that through Adam’s original sin, and not necessarily through any action of our own at birth, we are born into sin. We have inherited a “system” because of the actions and fallenness of our ancestors. And we don’t take offense when people call us sinners. We rightfully shout, Hallelujah, thank God for a Savior. But when asked to acknowledge that the sins of forefathers have established systems that are present today which directly benefit white people and harm people of color, there is shirking away.

So, it makes me question, is it the sin you don’t want to acknowledge or the benefit you don’t want to lose? I love being an American, even with all its challenges. However, I think our national identity of being individualistic has eroded a central mission of the church. We’ve forgotten what it really means to live in community and to provide for the “least of these.” We’ve allowed ourselves to believe that if we’ve contributed to the can drive, coat closet, mission fund, we’ve done our part. Loving our neighbor means being willing to sacrifice some of our own comfort, so that “the least of these” can also live with dignity and without fear.

So, I would challenge us all to think about how we are really living out the Gospel mission.

I would also challenge believers to diversify their circles. @ohhappydani on Instagram sums the importance of “taking inventory of your inclusivity” nicely. She challenges us to take stock of whether we have diversity in the following areas: our inner circle of friends, the leaders we learn from, our place of worship, our beauty standards, the toys we buy our kids, and the businesses we patronize. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great start. If you look at this list and realize the people in your areas all look the same, that should call for pause and reevaluation.

Kristen:
Amen! I was literally clapping and nodding the first time I read your response. Readers, go back and reread those words again!

Amanda, you are a voice to be heard! Keep speaking! I’m hearing you and honored to know you. May God bless you and your family greatly for your courage and grace. Thank you for taking the time to share with us.

Readers, you can connect with Amanda on Instagram at @ladybrooks625.

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Author Bio:

Kristen's passionate about storytelling and helping people take their next steps in their relationship with Jesus. 

She lives forty-five minutes outside of Atlanta, GA. where she served as a Children's Ministry Director for many years. With the support of her husband and two children, she now stays home writing fiction and non-fiction.

She also serves on the women’s leadership team at her local church and writes for Crosswalk and Wholly Loved Ministries. You can check out her articles and novels at www.kristenterrette.com.

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Connect with Kristen:

Website - www.kristenterrette.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/authorkristenterrette/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/KTerrette
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/kterrette/
Goodreads - https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16252020.Kristen_Terrette
Bookbub - https://www.bookbub.com/profile/kristen-terrette
Pinterest - https://www.pinterest.com/kterrette2/

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