Photo by Millicent Smith.
I recently returned from a 2-week trip to Italy with 37 other people from the United States. I went with a group of college students along with several of their professors, one of whom is my friend. Before I met the group I was pretty sure I was going to be the only African American on the tour and asked God to help me show the others who I am. I also asked God to help me make this a positive experience for the students since I had visited Rome several years ago on my own. I only knew 2 people from this entire group, my friend and his wife, and I was about to share a room with a woman from a different race for 2 weeks and be with 34 other strangers. I had never been away from home this long, but when the Holy Spirit says go, you go.
Our tour group ate breakfast and dinner together each day so we were able to gather in different groups depending on table size and who came in the door first. Some days I would sit at an empty table and see who would sit next to me. Other days, if there was just one seat available at a table, I would ask the group if I could join them. I was pleasantly surprised one evening when one of the young male students sat next to me and asked my opinion of his purchase of a necklace for his girlfriend. I immediately went into “wise woman” mode and told him the purchase was beautiful. I engaged in conversation with the students because I was aware that this might be the only time they would have with someone from another race in a more intimate environment. I asked the students about their studies, where they lived, and what they liked about each city we visited. One young lady seemed to be uncomfortable around me but I kept asking about things she cooked, what she was studying, etc., whatever came up during the conversation. Several days later, she was more relaxed around me and we engaged in conversation daily. But the surprising rejection of me was not from any of the students, who all were very respectful, but from one of the adults. This woman would not even look my way the entire time at dinner, a table for 6 which included two students sitting with us. I could tell she didn’t want to sit at the same table with me that night, but her husband had already chosen the seats. I had the choice of trying to win her over but decided it wasn’t worth trying to prove to her that I am a charming person, I really am, so I ended up shutting down and being very quiet at the table that night.
One of the stops on our tour was the town of Assisi, where the body of St. Francis is buried in the Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is attributed for saying: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” In the Bible we learn the golden rule: “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 means to me; if you want others to respect you, you have to respect others. What are we teaching young students, the next generation, if we don’t show respect to one another? There is a generation of young people who are watching the adults on how they treat one another. What are we showing our young people?
I’m a teacher and I believe it is important for me to show the next generation how to respect one another regardless of age or race. I was touched when one young lady told me that she was going to miss me when the tour was over.
Every time I leave my house and am seen by another, I’m communicating something. When you see me, I hope you see the love of Jesus in my life.
- Millicent Smith