By Jacqueline J. Holness
As a first grader at Pathway Christian School in East Point, Georgia, I enjoyed school because I enjoyed learning; but I found myself in a quandary that was never far from my mind. I was the only black girl in a classroom of white children, even though I lived in an all-black neighborhood. My dilemma, how-ever, was even more complex than skin color.
My parents are Jamaican and back then, their accents made their voices seem like the loudest in any room. I was an outsider in my class because I was black, and I was an outsider in my neighborhood because of my Jamaican heritage. I wanted to vanish when my father, a minister, would speak at my school’s chapel service. Area ministers were invited to speak at the weekly gathering, and when my dad spoke, I tried my hardest to appear as confident as a 6-year-old could muster, even as I cringed inside.
At home I found myself fighting often with the neighborhood kids— partly because they picked on me and partly because I’ve always had a smart mouth. (That’s Southern for “sassy.”) The fights were pun-ishment enough, but then my father would invite my opponents over to our apartment to discuss living in peace. Talk about standing out!
These experiences forced me to embrace individualism, and I discovered that I could create my own world, a place where I fit in, through books. Even back then I dreamed about becoming a writer.
I didn’t fit in at middle school either, but for different reasons. In place of the white, Christian private school I had attended, I was bused across town, along with other black children in my community, to a more affluent school in a white neighborhood. Moving from a sheltered, Christian private school environment near my neighborhood to a secular, public school environment across town was certainly a culture shock.
My new classmates were disappointed that a young black girl like me couldn’t rap. I was truly a geek back then with my thick glasses and my Judy Blume books in tow. It still makes me laugh to think anyone would have considered me cool enough to rap!
Before entering high school I won a small scholarship to Atlanta Christian College (now Point University) through the national Bible Bowl program. Before graduation my father arranged for me to meet representatives from Milligan College in Tennessee. But by then, I had grown used to being different and making my own decisions. This time, I was old enough to choose my culture, and I chose not to attend a Christian college. I wanted to be a “regular” person and opted to attend the University of Georgia where I majored in magazine journalism.
But like the prophet Jonah, I did not get away from Christ that easily. The summer after my college graduation, I interned with a Christian newspaper (because I couldn’t find another job), covering ministry events at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. I was baptized as a teenager at Central Christian Church in Atlanta, but at one
Olympic event—even as a reporter
—I found myself rededicating my life to Christ. Finally, on my own terms but in God’s timing, I truly accepted Christ into my life and culture.
I’m standing firm in Christ, but I also want to challenge the church to take a fresh look at the ideas, belief systems, and practices of our culture. There is more to this world than black and white. As I write this monthly column, I want to challenge you to think with me beyond our “holy huddles” and encounter our culture as individual followers of Jesus Christ.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, and author of, After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God, scheduled for release February 14. afterthealtarcall.com