Two Families at One Virtual Table
It was the end of a scorching-hot North Texas summer Saturday, and two families were sitting down to a little bit of heaven on a plate: Chick-fil-A in one house and a sausage, spinach and tomato pizza in the other. The Fishers and Huckabys had hoped to be sharing one dinner table, but COVID made sure the gathering stayed miles apart. Prompted by the moms, they were joining a Unity Table—a multi-church effort to bring together “people who don’t look like you”—to plant seeds of understanding during a time of racial turmoil.
You know, open up to strangers and dive into discussions about racism, prejudice, and how to be a force of positive change on this planet. How’s that for light dinner conversation?
Both families jumped into the experience, wanting to listen, learn, and teach as well. The Fisher family of four are mom Karen, a nurse case manager; dad Tal, a desktop support specialist; and their sons 21-year-old Kedrian and 14-year-old Jayden. They were joined by the Huckaby family, who are mom Christie, Chase Oaks First Impressions Director; dad Robbie, a police detective; and their kids 17-year-old Tristan and 13-year-old Trinity.
The Fishers felt a bit of anxiety. “It’s kind of awkward, how far will this conversation go, what direction will it go? There was a little fear involved,” Karen said. Her family wanted to convey the struggles of being African American. At the same time, they wanted to choose their words with care, in order to find a balance between illuminating issues and not giving offense. Karen compared it to walking a tight rope.
At the same time, a city away, the Huckaby’s were having their chicken with a side order of apprehension. “We wanted to speak with a family who may not know a white police officer,” Christie said. “We wanted them to know it’s a lonely, isolating place to be, feeling that your family is hated for what your husband does.”
Creating a Connection
When the Zoom dinner started, the families played ice-breaking games with lighter questions: Dog person or cat person? Cardio or weights? Netflix or YouTube? Once a connection was created, it didn’t take long to get into uncomfortable topics.
Robbie was eager for the Fishers to ask questions about what he does, and to be open and honest in his responses. Those questions would make it to the table, but first the Fisher family patriarch explained how he was taught to interact with police. “As a young African American we had to be ultra-respectful to police officers,” he said. “Have your hands on the steering wheel, insurance and license ready. Don’t have it under the seat or in the glove compartment, that could alarm the police officers,” he said.
The Huckabys absorbed what they heard. “Listening to their experiences was good,” Robbie said. “It showed a vulnerability, to be open and talk about their experiences of racism where they grew up.”
When Kedrian and Jayden wanted specifics on how to handle themselves in interactions with law enforcement, Robbie’s advice was straightforward. He encouraged them to be very polite, respond with respect, and follow directions the first time. He also asked the family to take into account that many police officers are under a tremendous amount of stress, and their reactions could depend on the day they're having.
That’s the message Christie hoped would get across. She wants everyone to see that Robbie is a normal human being who is also made in God's image. "He has kids, he has a wife. We’re normal, just like you,” she said.
Though “just like you” may not have been the way these families felt before the distanced dinner gathering, as topics dove-tailed from cultural norms to how the kids were doing in English class, they began to see each other as Christian families striving to do their best.
“I saw another version of us in the Zoom meeting,” Tal said. “Robbie was more like me, he handles digital crime, he’s in front of the computers, I’m on computers as well. We’re both Cowboy fans, we bleed the same. We’re always celebrating our children as they have success in school; there are a lot of similarities.”
But the true success of this gathering could be measured in their kids’ responses. Tristan acknowledged that he needed to hear the Fishers' point of view, as he didn’t have access to it before. He sees how listening to one another definitely aided in cultivating empathy and understanding. Trinity agrees with her brother. She feels that her understanding of people, and specific situations they have faced, has grown greater as a result.
As for the Fisher boys? “They told me ‘Hey, this was okay! I would do it again, see how others live…’” Karen said. “They weren’t weirded out by it.” And as any parent knows, coming from a kid, that’s a 5-star rating.
Making New Friends
Both families say once COVID distancing is a memory, they want to have that chicken and pizza dinner under the same roof. This is not a one-shot deal for them, and they believe other folks should do it as well. Robbie's advice is to just jump in with honesty and vulnerability.
“Be courageous, don’t be afraid,” Karen said. “It’s an opportunity for you to examine yourself, to be able to have a mature conversation, to be able to express yourself, build bridges, and make new friends.”
Interested in joining a Unity Table? Click here to register today for the upcoming Thanksgiving Virtual Unity Table.