At 59, Cheryle Moses has spent much of her life in search of answers to some of life’s hard questions about race in America and, when possible, formulating solutions.
And so it was back in November when the Atlanta native was preparing to create an email invitation for the upcoming anniversary of Urban Mediamakers, a non-profit organization for filmmakers and content creators she founded 16 years ago.
Just as she opened her email, her eyes fell on a study that had been in her inbox for three years. It said 75 percent of whites, according to data from the Public Religion Research Institute, have “entirely white social networks without any minority presence.”
An acute observer of the world around her, Moses knew that to be true, but seeing the numbers this time, she was moved to act. “Come meet a black person,” she added to the invitation.
“It was totally organic,” she said. “I didn’t put much thought into it. If there were white folks who didn’t have non-white friends, I wanted them to come meet a black person.”
It was late evening, so Moses hit the send button and headed to bed.
By now all of America knows what happened next. The “Come Meet a Black Person” event went viral. It was reported by the Washington Post, on CNN and other media outlets.
In less than 24 hours, Moses’s phone was ringing with calls and text messages.
“People from all over the world were calling me about my event,” she said in a recently. “It was insane. I could not have paid anyone for that kind of response.”
But all these weeks later, memory of the negative comments she received still make her cry, particularly those from other blacks.
“What in (my) words was so offensive?” she asked.
The response shows how deeply wounded we are as a people, she said, answering her own question. “The word ‘black’ has such negativity associated with it that it was immediately perceived as something bad. That in itself is a result of racism. The pain of racism is real and it affects everything we do,” she said. “Dealing with racism daily is just a part of being black in America.”
Given our collective struggle with race, Moses figured much could be gained if she could bring a group together to get to know each other over bowls of chili and pieces of hot cornbread.
“Racism is an illness that has to be dealt with one-on-one. It can’t be legislated away,” Moses said. “I feel that if I’m your friend and you love me, you’re going to want the best for me. If you don’t have anyone in your network that looks like me, I’m not going to be in your thought processes. But if we’re able to forge a relationship, that’s going to change everything.”
Whether we realize it or not, we talk about race and racism all the time. It comes up in discussions about education, the criminal justice system, the football field and, more recently, the Atlanta mayor’s race.
Our views on those issues, whether we realize it or not, are influenced by our social circles.
And not just by how many whites have black friends but how many blacks have white friends.
To be fair, the numbers suggest there is plenty of racial self-selection in black Americans’ friend networks, too. But focusing solely on black-white relations, there’s a pretty big difference between having only one member of a given race in your friend circle and having eight of them.
Despite the negative reaction to Moses’ invitation, the first gathering went off without a hitch. Then all hell broke loose.
A virus attacked her computer, wiping out years of work. In December, Cornerstone at NovoLogic, the venue where Moses held meetings, terminated her membership and cancelled future events because, accor ding to an email it sent her, it had “received complaints that went against their code of conduct.”
“We all know what that termination was all about,” Moses said.
In the words of one of the white attendees: “They got spooked.”
JoAnn Holmes, attorney for Cornerstone Coworking, said multiple complaints were lodged against Moses but would not specify the nature of the complaints. She said attempts to schedule a meeting in a timely manner with Moses to discuss the issues were unsuccessful, so Cornerstone terminated her membership.
Moses has filed a lawsuit, alleging breach of contract.
She has since hosted a second meeting and is planning a third one Jan. 18 in Duluth.
“Cornerstone at NovoLogic can terminate my space agreement, but they can’t terminate what I am doing,” Moses said.
In February, Moses plans to step up her efforts and invite so-called “gatekeepers,” educators, juvenile advocates, community leaders, human resource managers, members of the media, law enforcement and politicians to the table for reversing racism sessions.
“I know this movement is needed,” she said. “As we prepare to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I see my event and sessions as extensions of the civil rights movement taking it to people one-on-one, changing folks one-by-one. I know it’s straight from the most high, and I‘m not a sappy religious person. I believe that when things happen, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. Spirit has given me this and I’ve got to run with it. “
If you’re black, race can feel like the only thing you ever talk about. If you’re white, you probably hope the subject never comes up.
If that makes you uncomfortable, it’s indeed time to talk.
Come Meet a Black Person
5-8 p.m. Jan. 18 and Feb. 15. Free. ArtBar/Sonesta Hotel, 1775 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth. 404-460-2793. comemeetablackperson.com
Reversing Racism Workshop
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 15. $49. Pickneyville Community Center, 4650 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Berkeley Lake. 404-460-2793. comemeetablackperson.com