Jason Donati’s story written by Josh Holowell.
Jason is 36 years old.
“What did you just say?”
Anger overtook me as I stood with the young men I was working with by the dirt pile.
It was one of my many opportunities to interact with the youth of our community, educating them on our environment. One of them had just used a nasty racial slur to describe the black students working in another part of the field. I challenged him. He stood firm by his comment and began to explain how he saw the world. How everyone in his neighborhood knew what “black people” were really like.
The others joined in. I let them continue to spit out words of hate, words which fell heavy upon my heart, each like a dagger against my family. And here I had a choice to make. I was brought here to teach about the environment, but today’s lesson was going to be about racism. Who else was going to have this conversation with these kids if not me?
I began to tell the boys about my biracial family. That racial slur was not at some unknown “them,” but against the love of my life and our wonderful children. I told the boys of the pain this causes. I told them that this is not just the way the world is, but that racism is evil. I also told them that this hate aimed at others would eat away at them too, slowly killing their compassion. There was a better way forward. But to do so, they would have to go outside their comfort zone. They would need to put themselves into places that challenged their privilege as white males in America.
As I felt rage against their racism, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life’s journey. I couldn’t help but see that these boys were a product of their neighborhood as much as I was, growing up a privileged white male in Muncie, Indiana. While I was always taught better, I held biases myself and tolerated the blatant racism that surrounded me. I may not have always joined in, but I stood alongside, allowing such hate to infect the ground I walked upon. And just as weeds overtake a beautiful garden that is neglected, the weeds of racism had crept in and overtaken my community and even myself.
This all changed for me when I had the chance to leave Muncie and serve inner city communities throughout the East Coast in AmeriCorps. I lived and worked in some of the roughest communities in our nation . There I saw the brokenness and the beauty of people. There I developed relationships with those who were very different from me.
And there I saw the realities of systemic racism in our nation. Where communities of color were talked about and not talked with. Where decisions were made for these communities and not with them. Where young men had to hustle their way into money because the jobs I could provide for them wouldn’t pay enough. Where I saw young men turn to violence against one another because no one cared enough to care about them.
And where everything I had learned and absorbed was challenged.
It changed me. The people I worked alongside, and for, changed me.
And so, when I returned to Muncie, this time with my biracial family, I was committed to making a difference.
Committed to changing the narrative.
Committed to stepping into uncomfortable spaces and places.
Committed to not allowing the status quo of racism to continue unchallenged.
Committed to helping others abandon their racism and to pursue a better way.
To this way I have given my life. The way of love and reconciliation. To step up in the moment so that the boys spitting hate could learn to speak peace instead. So that this community would not be overtaken by the weeds of racism. That all of us would embrace our role as stewards and gardeners pulling up racism at its roots. It may be painful at first, but it will result in a beautiful garden full of flowers of every color living in harmony and peace together.
Step out of your comfort zone and join me.
This story originally appeared in Facing Racism in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by R.A.C.E. Muncie in Muncie, Indiana.