Barbershop Conversations

posted on September 16

Words from Angela Pleasants:

I gathered in the small barbershop surrounded by people I have never met until today. I shared a bench with a young lady and her partner. Across from us was another bench occupied by a young black woman and beside her was a middle-aged white male. Against the wall was a fifteen-year-old white female with her mother. Across the room was a 70ish white couple. To my right was a young black hip hop man with long dreadlocks and beside him was his daughter. Scattered throughout the area were law enforcement officers. And, so it goes around the room. We were a motley crew of sorts.

The place was Headliners Barbershop in Cary, North Carolina. I sat not knowing a face or name, yet I felt the most comfortable and peaceful. A feeling I haven’t experienced in a while, and I felt it among strangers.
So, what compelled me to drive 2 ½ hours to Cary, North Carolina, to attend a Rap Session with people I have never met?
Earlier this year, I attended a seminar through Duke Endowment. Two of the speakers were Chief Godwin, Cary Police Department, and Tru Pettigrew, coach and motivational speaker. They shared a story of the barbershop community bridge-building between law enforcement and the minority community. It grew out of a place of distrust and anxiety to now a trusting and transformational relationship.
What I experienced in Headliners should be replicated throughout our country. We were from different places in life. We were theologically, racially, religiously, and economically diverse. And we had the best time together. We laughed at ourselves, we shared moments of understanding, and we disagreed at times. Amid all our diversity, we remained united. We called ourselves the board room of America working for the Re-United States.
What was it that united this diverse group of people? It was our seeking to understand each other and respect the other with no judgments. We were open, candid, engaging. We allowed space for our conversations to be transformational.
It was an open and safe space, and we were willing to sit in that space with a heart that was engaged. When I shared my background and ideology, I was embraced and affirmed. Likewise, I embraced and affirmed others. That is the gift of reciprocity.  We were not present to change the other person's belief. We were seeking a way to live together, amid our diversity, in a way that builds relationships.
Fear leads to distrust and causes relationships to deteriorate. Fear can distort how we see reality. When our reality is distorted, we move into behaviors to protect and deflect. When we feel threatened, we are prone to fight or flight. The first step is to recognize when fear is rising. Acknowledge the fear for what it is – it is uncertainty and the unknown.
I entered the space being honest and open. I came with the intent of building relationships. I wanted to listen and share in the experience. I was seeking community, and I found it in Headliners. They allowed me to be my authentic self. Likewise, I received them in their authenticity.
Can we replicate that same space in our Western North Carolina Conference? Only you can search your heart to determine if you are ready. It will begin by acknowledging our fear, setting aside our preconceived notions of others and learning to be comfortable in our uncomfortableness.


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