Be the Bridge founder Latasha Morrison speaking at the Facebook Communities Summit. Contributed
Photo: Contributed
Photo: Contributed

OPINION: Why this ‘ChangeMaker’ believes Arbery killing should lead us beyond racial divide

Even before we had the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting death, Latasha Morrison knew the temptation would be strong for us to point fingers and then retreat into our respective corners.

It’s what we’ve always done when it comes to issues of race. There’s a hashtag, protests, promises, and then, nothing.

Morrison, founder of the faith-based nonprofit Be the Bridge, didn’t want that to happen. In an Instagram post, she urged her followers to be the bridge across the racial divide in this country instead.

“This is where your engagement matters,” she told them.

But she didn’t just leave it there. She showed them the way forward, listing the steps she believes it will take to move beyond this moment to meaningful action.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Ahmaud Arbery death

It’s what I like about Latasha Morrison, why I believe Facebook got it right when it made a $1 million bet she could be the changemaker this country needs when it comes to racial reconciliation.

If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on her, too.

Not because Morrison believes as I do that racial healing won’t come except if the church takes the lead, but because she understands this is less about a blame game and more about each of us accepting our role in bringing about reconciliation.

When Morrison applied for Facebook’s Changemaker grant in 2018, she had quit her job as a church ministry leader and grown an online forum of 69 people concentrated in a few states to more than 29,000 spread across the U.S. and two countries.

The momentum had been building for most of her life.

“I fought for Black History Month in my high school,” Morrison said.

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Even then, she felt like a bridge-builder, but it wasn’t until much later, when she left Atlanta in 2013 to take a job at an all-white church in Austin, Texas, that Morrison’s true calling seemed to bubble up.

It began one night at a church-sponsored basketball game. Morrison was seated beside a white couple who began quizzing her about her political affiliations. What do you think of Clarence Thomas? And what about Herman Cain?

“I sensed they were trying to figure out what kind of black person I was,” Morrison said.

RELATED | The church’s role in perpetuating racism

As she grew more uncomfortable, the husband changed subjects, but his wife kept going, eventually veering into the notion that “people loved their slaves.”

Morrison looked down at her skin and back at the woman.

“Love doesn’t take a person’s choice or free will,” she told her. “That’s not love. That’s a romanticized view of slavery.”

Morrison was so grieved by the exchange it took her three days to process it.

She shared the experience with a white colleague and suggested they start having conversations around movies and current events as a way to dissect issues of race, culture, and the black experience. Soon thereafter she and a group of friends — five women of color, six white women — gathered to discuss the current climate of race relations and their role and responsibilities as citizens.

“The good thing about those ladies that showed up is they came really wanting to learn,” Morrison remembered.

Latasha Morrison is the founder and president of Be the Bridge, which works to promote racial unity in America. Contributed
Photo: Contributed

Three months after they began meeting in 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

“We had to pivot from watching movies and talk about that,” Morrison said.

People started to notice and wanted to become a part of their circle. When one of the discussion group’s original members, Jennie Allen, suggested Morrison facilitate more conversations, she initially blew her off.

On another occasion, Allen asked Morrison to create a guide for others who wanted to have conversations about race. Morrison created the guide. Then she asked Morrison to present at an IF: Gathering women’s conference she was sponsoring for a mostly white audience.

RELATED | ‘Can we allow what has broken the heart of God to break ours?’

Morrison didn’t want to do that either. She wanted to be liked. If she were honest about race, people wouldn’t like her.

Allen, though, was persistent. Tell your story, she told her. Talk about your experiences. Morrison decided she had more to gain than lose.

The event drew some 3,000 people plus thousands more who watched her presentation via simulcast.

That was in February 2015.

An explosion of race-related shootings followed. Walter Scott. Samuel DuBose. Terence Crutcher. And Philando Castile, who was shot five times during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

The number of people joining the Facebook group continued to grow, reaching as many as 29,000 across the country.

Whether she wanted to or not, Morrison had become the bridge that for years had been under construction in her heart. She was no longer afraid to claim her calling.

“I wasn’t choosing it,” she said. “It was choosing me.”

In April that year, the Facebook group officially became Be the Bridge, a faith-based nonprofit empowering people to seek racial equity and reconciliation.

RELATED | Dallas shootings, deadly ambushes: This has to stop

With the Facebook grant, Morrison was able to hire two staff members and expand the ministry to include youths, college students, and education for transracial adoptions.

Latasha Morrison talks with student members of Be the Bridge, the faith-based organization she founded to promote racial unity. Contributed
Photo: Contributed

You might understand now why I believe in Morrison’s work. She doesn’t just want to talk about issues of race, she wants to change the way we respond to them, including the shootings of unarmed black men like Ahmaud Arbery.

While awaiting the outcome of the case, Morrison said we should use this time to continue advocating for a hate crime law and educating ourselves.

Reading Jemar Tisby’s “Color of Compromise” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” are good places to start.

Pray for people of color, she said, and guard against disparaging the victim or family of the victim. It functions to dehumanize and validate brutality and death. It is another form of control and is crushing to the human spirit.

“Avoid common tropes like ‘waiting for all the facts to come in.’ This is commonly heard whenever there’s a racially charged event in the news,” she said. “The problem with ‘waiting and seeing’ is it functions as a means of avoiding conversations that need to be happening right now. The facts aren’t going to come in because they’re already here. Many of us just don’t like what the facts are telling us.”

Finally, Morrison suggests people get engaged in organizations providing education around racial injustice and support them with their presence and money.

In short, be the bridge to racial healing and reconciliation you’d like to walk across someday.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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