Sam Collier didn't have his first white friend until he was 21 years old.
"It wasn't until I had this friend that I realized how different our worlds were. He didn't understand my world, and I didn't really understand his," says Collier.
It might be helpful to know that Sam is one of five children, but when he and his twin sister were born, his dad was not in the picture and his mother gave the twins up for adoption.
Sam grew up surrounded by people who looked just like him in Decatur, Georgia. His dad owned a barbershop, and his mother quit a corporate position at FedEx to focus on raising him and his sister.
Today, Sam is a communicator at Northpoint Ministries as well as the director of city strategy for The reThink Group. He is also a nationally syndicated TV and radio host (A Greater Story podcast reaches 100 million homes weekly), a Top 20 Gospel Billboard producer and the founder of No Losing Inc. In these roles, he has empowered more than 80,000 young people to have a winning mindset in life to achieve their goals by creatively making education relevant to youth.
At this point in his life, Sam has many white and black friends. Sickened and sad over the events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, he believes he is uniquely positioned to help both black and white people come together and learn so we can all do better.
"Black people have been screaming for many years that something isn't right, thinking that white people were hearing them and beginning to understand their plight," Collier says. "In reality, that's probably not the case. In many instances, I think white people don't understand black culture. Truth be told, a lot of us don't really understand white culture. Even though we have been trying to communicate, it's as though we are on different radio frequencies and both white people and black people have missed each other."
Collier believes that relationships are the bedrock of change and are an essential piece of the strategy when it comes to anti-racism. After protesting and marching shook the nation in the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. built a relationship with a white president at the time, and together they worked to fight evil.
"The first step that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught during the civil-rights movement is information gathering," Collier says. "Before you try and solve a problem, you need to get all the information. Seek to see it from every side. We have to get people coming together, listening to each other and coming up with collective solutions for better outcomes for everyone. This is how you shift a nation: enough voices saying the same thing, running after the same problem, fighting for the same solutions, refusing to quit until the battle is won. Relationships lead to conversations, conversations lead to strategy, strategy leads to action and strategic action leads to change. There is power in conversations birthed out of personal relationships. We have probably never been more postured for this to be able to happen."
Additionally, Collier encourages anyone who is a person of influence in any sector in life to talk with those who are being impacted. Lean into the pain of why we are where we are and then seek solutions.
If you are white and don't know anyone in the black community, reach out. If you are black and see an opportunity to influence a white person seeking to learn through friendship, don't be afraid to enter in, if they are genuine. This relationship may also help you understand where black and white communities are missing each other. This is a huge step in the right direction. Put yourself in new circles. Collier believes one of the best ways to gain perspective and learn how to take action is by being brave enough to befriend someone who is different than you. When you get close, you start to debunk a lot of myths you've been taught in the community.
"We also should be looking at policy changes that need to be made," Collier says. "This will take some time and strategic thinking."
Collier believes that there is value in both communities being willing to fight injustice in a Kingian nonviolent way and that the injustice we see in our country will change quicker as we come together. Let's work hard to unify our country so that together we can defeat racism and help America live up to its truest ideals.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at email@example.com.