African-American student Shadoria Anderson could have lashed out in retribution when members of the Ku Klux Klan visited the campus she attended bearing signs that read, “Black lives don’t matter.”
The white supremacy group protested at the University of Mississippi because of the school’s decision to remove a flag symbolizing the Confederacy. Anderson also witnessed other students making remarks on social media about lynching black protesters and their allies.
But rather than responding with revenge, Anderson reacted to acts of racial injustice on campus with efforts to fight even harder with love to win souls for Christ.
Anderson is not fighting alone. She has the backing of others in the Chi Alpha group at the University of Mississippi. Although the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions ministry group is only three years old, students already have been able to change prejudicial attitudes on the campus in Oxford.
“Racial reconciliation at Ole Miss through Chi Alpha starts with reconciling students to Christ and ends with reconciling them to each other,” says Mack Clements, director of the ministry at the school.
Last fall, members of XA — one of the most diverse groups on campus — erected a wooden wall as part of the Chi Alpha Diversity Project. They painted “How can you address racism?” across the paneling in big black letters. Students, including Anderson, stood armed with markers and listening ears for those wanting to write or talk.
By the end of two days, students had plastered the wall with comments filled with all kinds of emotions. Some denied that racism exists. Others expressed anger. A few admitted feeling confused. But students also shared hope and a desire to right the wrongs, Anderson says.
The project received positive feedback from administration, professors, and students, despite the fact that it took two months to receive permission to erect the wall, according to Clements.
“The students loved having a safe place to express themselves,” he says. “The faculty and administration want us to do more, and they want to partner with us to do other events.”
“Different faculty members came up and just affirmed us and encouraged us,” adds Caleb Castillo, a student leader.
After some students finished sharing their thoughts and opinions, they wanted to learn more about the idea behind the wall project. This opened up opportunities for students to talk about the gospel. XA members also told visitors about a sermon series Clements would preach about racial reconciliation during an upcoming midweek service.
The service drew a crowd that included fraternity members, Castillo says. During the service, members of Chi Alpha prayed about biased attitudes on campus. As Anderson and some of her friends looked at the wall and the many hurts, they began to cry.
“We felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders,” she says. “We wondered, How are we going to break the bonds of this?”
But as the service ended, several students thanked representatives of the XA group for raising awareness, she says.
“Having people come up and say, ‘I had no idea. I want to help. I want to be an ally,’ that was the best moment for me,” Anderson says.
Forty more students, including some not part of Chi Alpha, signed up during the gathering to help with the XA Diversity Project and efforts to bring about racial reconciliation.
Although Anderson is graduating this month, she will return to the University of Mississippi as a U.S. Missions missionary associate because she feels led to continue sharing the love of Christ with those hurting on campus.
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