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How a Church Small Group Became a Racial Unity Movement in Tuscaloosa

In February of 2021, a couple of friends and I launched a Church of the Highlands small group focusing on racial unity. We used my new book, Don’t Do Anything Stupid: A White Man’s Guide to Racial Harmony, as a resource. The goal of the group was to bring together people of different races as a way to promote racial harmony.

However, the goal seemed far off when the group first started. We only had five old white guys show up to that first meeting. With no minorities in our group, it wasn’t exactly clear how we would work for the cause of racial unity, but we persevered.

In that initial group was the local district attorney, the president of a local community college, and a couple of small business owners. However, it wasn’t long before two black members of Church of the Highlands joined—a middle aged man and a 25-year-old former wide receiver from the University of Alabama named Donnie Lee. Donnie shared that Devonta Smith was his back up at one point, and then with a smile and a laugh, he explained that situation did not last for very long!

People of Different Races Coming Together

It also did not take long for our small group to grow to around 20 men. At that point, we were about 50/50 black and white! One of the newcomers is the head basketball coach for our local community college. He is very active and well connected in the black community. There was also a black barber. Then there was the pastor of a prominent black church here in our town. So our membership was now growing to include members of other churches in town. 

Our group enjoyed weekly meetings where we got to know each other personally and also had lively discussions about topics of race. The group took our first field trip when we participated in the grand opening of a new business started by Donnie Lee. It was on a Sunday afternoon and everyone was present with their families for the event.

Another event was attending an Independence Day celebration at the courthouse steps for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. This was at the request of our district attorney. 

A New Racial Unity Event Is Born

However, the biggest event was an inspiration (a God tap on the shoulder) to one of our members to take what we were doing inside this group and spread it out to the broader community. The idea of a “Community Unity” event was born. The event was planned and led by a white man and a black man from our group who partnered to get involvement from many different sides of the community. There were over 60 vendors present, including law enforcement, several colleges, health services, and local businesses.

The event was covered by local media, as seen here:   

Our next event is scheduled for October 20th and we are planning such events in other impoverished parts of the Tuscaloosa Community. On top of that, a new nonprofit organization is being formed to create more of these events and find other ways to promote racial unity and harmony.

All of these things grew from a little seed. It started when I got a tap on the shoulder from God during my morning devotion. He was giving me the idea to write a book about racial harmony. From there it grew into a small group, and it has now grown to a community movement in the bustling “small town” known as Tuscaloosa.

Continuing to Pursue Racial Unity and Harmony

A few weeks ago, several of our group met with twelve of the most prominent black pastors in West End to get their feedback and thoughts for the next event. Reverend Moore seemed to be the eldest member of the group. He did not have a lot to say until the end. He spoke up to ask me a question, “Let me see if I understand this. What you are saying is that if we focus on Jesus as a group and evangelize that unity will be the outcome. And if we have unity many of the problems we are facing today will be better addressed. Is that what you are saying?” 

“Yes sir. I believe you have nailed it.”

He began to wipe away tears from his eyes and then shared, “I have been wanting to do this for 30 years.”

Donnie Lee coined the phrase early on in our small group that “Relationships Ruin Racism.”

Truer words were never spoken.

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About the Author

John is the founder and CEO of Chesapeake Consulting. He attended the United States Naval Academy and the University of Alabama. He is currently an active member of Church of the Highlands in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he volunteers with prison ministry and prison re-entry efforts.