Phil Fletcher wants to have the tough conversation. He doesn’t shy away from discussions on radical ideas or changes to the status quo, but you better be prepared to back up your thoughts and start contributing to the movement.
I’ve known Phil for a couple of years now and have been a follower of his on social media for several years before that. His posts are always the ones that make you think, address your biases and reconsider your beliefs.
“I’m a curious person, but I do it because I want people to reflect back and ask why,” he said. “I know whether or not to take you seriously. But, at the same time, to ask the question why, means you need to be willing to hear what people have to say and not dismiss it outright.”
Phil, who runs City of Hope Outreach in Conway, held talks with several groups of local residents as result of the racial tensions and unrest we’ve experienced in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and others.
First, he talked with Black females, Black Males, white females and white males. Then, the conversation included all males and all females. The subject: How can we move forward and impact change in our community?
Here are some of the tips Phil shared:
No. 1: Don’t Come to Us Out of Guilt or Shame
“If you’re a white person, come to me or another Black male or female from the position of you see me as a human being,” Phil said. “First, love me in that way.”
For those who are feeling guilt or shame because of what is happening in society, Phil suggests taking a breath, before you seek out counsel from a member of the Black community.
“That’s using me or others to assuage your own conscience,” he said. “Just pause, don’t say anything, reflect on how I am a full human and, then, come to me and we can do things together.”
No. 2: No Sin in Their Skin Color
“My goal is for them to understand they are image bearers of God,” Phil said. “God made you that skin color for a reason, I leave that wisdom to him.”
Still, it is vital to acknowledge and understand where a Black man or woman may be coming from and to listen and learn from their experiences in this country.
“Everyone’s experience is different, but there are commonalities,” Phil said. “There are things that contribute to the differences. If you’re trying to listen and learn, figure out ways to act.”
The best way to start, Phil said, is by reaching out to Black people you already know, are friends or acquaintances with or have a familiarity with. Don’t reach out to someone you don’t already know.
“Start in your sphere of influence,” he said. “Just pay attention to who is around and how they’re doing and listen to them.”
It sounds simple enough, but Phil realizes this can be difficult to accomplish.
“Part of it is you have to think outside of yourself, and typically, we think about ourselves and those near and dear to us,” he said. “It takes effort to think and consider someone else.”
No. 3: Don’t Judge An Entire Group Based Off One Individual
“We have talked a lot in the group chats about life experiences and our different experiences within a race and within a gender,” Phil said. “We have to be careful not to judge a group based on one experience. That’s racism.”
Doing this fails to recognize and appreciate the diversity of thought, beliefs and opinions among all ethnicities.
“That’s where the generalities and stereotypes come into play,” Phil said.
No. 4: Recognize The Successes and Failings Within Your Race
“I have asked all of them to think about and consider the contributions of their ethnic group to society,” he said. “Then, what are the failings, because we all have them.”
It’s important to recognize both in order to take personal responsibility, but also to recognize the role environment plays, Phil said.
“Let’s own and celebrate our contributions, but also own and realize failures within ourselves and, then, cultivate sympathy between groups,” he said. “The failings will be different, but each of us have them so it should mediate how we approach one another.”
No. 5: We Cannot Do It All Alone
We aren’t meant or designed to do everything, Phil said.
“We have different experiences and occupations, which means there are various things we can do as individuals and groups to affect our communities,” he said. “Multiple people do multiple things to advance reconciliation and justice between people. That can be socially, economically, politically, religiously, all of it.”
No. 6: Change Must Be Sustainable
I first reached out to Phil a few years ago in the aftermath of Charlottesville. He told me then that he’s asked many times for talks like the one I reached out to have when a racial incident or social injustice takes place. But, things always calm down, the outrage fades and nothing seems to change.
I asked him if sometimes it feels like he’s having the same conversations over and over again or if he thinks things are moving forward.
Yes, he responded.
“In some areas, I feel this is moving forward, but other areas, it’s the same thing over and over,” he said. “Five years ago, I did this stuff, but dealt more with the Confederate flag and all that, and what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore. The solution is the same as now.”
So what is it?
“If we want to improve relationships on a societal level, we have to move outside our bubble, and that’s economically, politically, socially and so on,” he said. “Get to know someone who looks, votes, feels and lives differently than you do. Educate yourself and sit down at the table.”
There have been tangible wins along the way, though.
“Some people took part in these talks five years ago and did again this summer and they told me they learned a lot then, and learned more now,” he said. “That makes me happy.”
He’s also learned a lot, personally.
“There are certain things I’ve learned that I wish I knew and believed five years ago,” he said. “But I also learn from them. They share their thoughts, I’ll go back and meditate on it, think about it, read about it and see how it can improve what I’m saying and how I can help.”
Moving beyond this summer and this moment, change has to be sustainable if we’re going to see long-term growth and healing in our society, Phil said.
“If we’re up in arms about this now and two weeks later a shiny object comes and we move on to the next thing to be outraged over, we will be back here, again,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the real issues at the forefront. Let’s sit down and talk about this and not be combative.”