Bridging the Divide

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It’s both a month for love and a month for celebrating  the African American experience. February is loaded. It boasts  two major cultural events: Valentine’s Day, the day for love, and Black History Month, a time to assess and appreciate Black heritage.  It’s ironic  that the  the  love month  is paired with the experience of Black Americans, a seeming incongruity in light of the  prevailing racial attitudes in our nation. Yet, the two are not mutually exclusive; however, having them both occupying the same space  points up  the reality that being the recipients of genuine expressions of love hasn’t been  a  part  of  the Black  experience—here in the U.S.— or anywhere else, for that matter.

Some readers of my latest book Island Hearts, have expressed their enjoyment of  the  romance in the book. That’s good,  but the story also addresses deep-seated prejudice and rejection based on  skin color. When racial bias shows up  alongside emerging love,  as it does in the book,  bias, inherently toxic as it is,  thwarts love. Since much of the action in  Island Hearts  takes place in the island of Jamaica, readers  may be forgiven if they expect to find happy, carefree  people dancing  in the streets,  giddily bouncing to the  “One Love,” that reggae icon Bob Marley proclaimed. And although  the words  of the island-nation’s motto, “Out of Many One,”  may portray a facade of  love and acceptance for all,  strong racial biases exist  there.  Much of this negative behavior goes back to the colonial days  when  the British ruling class in the island despised the underclass because of their perceived inferiority based on their color. Ironically, over time, the mentality  that promoted outright prejudice and  rejection based on color was adopted by the native-born islanders themselves and remains even to this day,  though one wouldn’t find any of this mentioned in the tourist brochures.  Island Hearts exposes this existing  lack of love, lack of heart, toward those who seem different because of their color.

A  couple weeks ago, a copy of my University of Maryland alumni newsletter  that came in the mail  featured an article   about an African American woman, Elaine Johnson Coates, who enrolled as a student in the university  at a time when hate, not love, was extended to anyone of color who tried to enter the institution.  For Elaine Johnson, the path she trod was stony indeed. She suffered mentally and emotionally, mainly in the dorm where she experienced isolation, verbal attacks, and racial slurs. She recalls that a professor  graded  her papers more harshly than those of  her white classmates  so that the same answers received an  A for them but a C for her.  Elaine Johnson stuck it out for 4 years, pursued her studies in business education, and became “the university’s first  black female  to earn an undergraduate degree.”

In September 2022, Elaine Johnson Coates returned to the university to be honored at the official opening of a residence hall named in her honor.  How fitting,  since most of the grief she endured on the campus took place in the dormitory. Such an ending to her story shows that love can triumph over the hate that has accompanied the black experience  over the  years.

The love month prompts  us to do the right thing, to treat  all people as equals without consideration of  color or ethnicity. All are children of God made in His image. In this regard, the words of St. Francis of Asisi are instructive: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love/where there is injury, pardon.”  With love and forgiveness we can bridge the divide,  loving as Jesus does, without barriers, without discrimination. Our Lord’s words point the way: “By this shall all men know that  you are my disciples if you have love one to another” (John 13:35). Color and race don’t enter into the mix when we love as He loves.




Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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  • Fartema M Fagin

    This blog message, ‘Bridging the Divide’, comes at a critical time of ‘bridge building’ we must ALL do in the name of Love.
    Love and forgiveness are both spiritually, powerful ‘tools’ for survival as we navigate this global changing ‘climate’ of media rhetoric regarding biases we are subjected to on a daily basis. Lyrics from a gospel song, ‘I’m going to lay down my burdens’ comes to my mind. When? Where?
    Thanks for sharing the story of Elaine Johnson Coates. Also, thanks for the ‘nuggets’ from your book, ‘Island Hearts’.
    ‘Redeemed, Redeemed’, is another song that I hear ‘ringing’ in my ears. Redemption is much needed. This blog is definitely an ‘eye opener’. Keep teaching us!

    • Judith Nembhard

      Hi Fartema, I can feel your heart in your comment. We have to lay bare the truth so that we can see life as it is.
      We can’t be afraid, but we must also be positive in the process, as I try to do. I’m so glad we’re willing to try love.
      Thanks for a very good comment. JN

  • Barrington N Wright

    Thanks for sharing this Valentine message with your readers. Thanks also for reminding your readers that loving ourselves as Black people is not idolatry.

    • Judith Nembhard

      Hi Barrington,
      Yes, nowadays we have many idols, but as you noted, loving ourselves in the right way is not idolatry. Loving ourselves
      helps us to love others also. It’s quite clear that those who hurt others because of who they are or what they
      look like really don’t love themselves either. They simply project the ugliness within onto others. Good to hear from you. JN

  • Nanette Schell

    Dear Judith,
    You have such a way with words I never tire of reading your books and messages.
    There is no color between us as we have been dear friends for more than fifty three years,
    sharing in family meals, stories about Jamaica and raising our children to love one another.
    My family and I have the deepest respect for you and we cherish those long years of friendship.
    Yes, I did take note in your book about the prejudice, and know of the pain it has caused not only
    the black people, but those of us who have the priviledge of knowing black people and their loving families.
    I cannot speak for those who carry it on today I can continue to love each person whatever their
    ethnicity., and respect them for who they are.
    With love,

    • Judith Nembhard

      Hello Nan,
      What a generous comment! You have written from your heart. I know you, and can say that you’re genuine.
      I hope everyone will read your comment. It says so much that is valuable for these days.
      Thank you for your good words I’m always glad to hear from you. JN

  • R. Mark Ottley MD

    Thank you Sr Nembhard for such a pleasant read.
    And lets remember, God says in His Word, you can’t love Him and at the same time hate/show pedjudice toward somebody else. That goes for everyone!.

    Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

    • Judith Nembhard

      Dr. Mark, it’s good to hear from you As you’ve said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness.” How very true! “I am the light of the world,” our Lord said. When He shines His light in the hearts of us humans, things change. Let’s make His light shine through us to help bring about the needed change. Thanks for your good comment. JN