If you’ve paid any attention to the news this year, you know there’s a problem with racism in America.
Citizen asked Ryan Bomberger—who is biracial, the product of rape, and founder of the Radiance Foundation, based in Maryland—to talk with U.S. Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who are working together to raise awareness of where the roots of the problem really lie, and what we can do to heal our nation. Their joint initiative, “Solution Sundays,” launched this summer, is challenging American families to build relationships with people of other races the old-fashioned way—over Sunday lunch in their homes.
Citizen: Sen. Scott, when you were elected, you tweeted “In South Carolina, in America it takes a generation to go from having a grandfather who is picking cotton to a grandson in Congress.” I love that. How much has America changed, in your opinion, since your grandfather’s time?
Tim Scott: I think we’ve seen perhaps the greatest change in the shortest amount of time perhaps in recorded history on interpersonal relations. It’s not to suggest that we still do not have issues, because obviously our country is experiencing a level of turmoil that hasn’t been seen in three to four decades. Even within that snippet of time, Americans’ hearts have transformed so radically that it’s hard to not be able to measure it in significant achievements in multiple areas. That should be the marvel of the world. I think our faith community has played a significant role in that.
C: How did “Solution Sundays” get started?
TS: James (Lankford) is a good man who loves the Lord, and it was mostly his brain child. And I’ll tell you the reason why we thought this was a good idea is because people who break bread together and who work on a project together tend to end up with more respect and appreciation for how different people bring different skills to a situation. So we felt like we would all benefit from that experience.
James Lankford: Solution Sundays really arises from my disdain for hearing people say, “We need to have a national conversation on race.” People perceive “a national conversation” as being a group of politicians sitting around a table, with a bunch of media cameras around them, as those individuals talk about race and try to resolve things. That’s not how we resolve anything in America. The issues that are hard, that we face as a nation, are typically resolved by families, and they’re generational changes.
The easiest way to do that is for one family to sit down with another family, over the dinner table at someone’s home. You’re going to have an open, honest conversation. That’s how we develop friends. That’s how our children see us interacting with other families. That is a mom or dad modeling, “Here’s how our family thinks about race and here’s what our family thinks about other Americans.”
C: When it comes to race relations, we increasingly are hearing Christian leaders say, “Well, we need to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement.” Do you feel the church should be embracing that?
TS: I think the Church should do a better job of immersing itself into the conversation about lives mattering. I think the focus on Black Lives Matters is an opportunity, or at least a desire, to say to folks, “Hey listen—too often, too many black folks have been invisible until things are going wrong.” So I understand and appreciate what their goal is; I just think you should reach that goal in a very different manner. And that manner is for people of goodwill and faith to engage in the process of understanding the other person’s perspective. When that happens, we do walk away with a realization that all lives matter, including blacks and whites.
JL: Instead of the Church itself saying, “What are we doing about race?” we go to other organizations and say, “They’re doing something, we will join them.” But the Church should lead the way in dealing with race in America. God’s affection for all people is clear from scripture. Going to an organization that may have antithetical views doesn’t necessarily solve the issue. It still means the root issue is still there.
C: Do you feel conservatives have a substantive response to that movement?
TS: What I see in my Senate Opportunity Coalition is the answer to that question. In the Senate Opportunity Coalition, we are working together to solve some of the problems we believe challenge the very foundation of this country. Some of those solutions include education reform, school choice, and work skills and apprenticeship programs. It deals with going into neighborhoods, listening to the concerns first and then addressing the issues.
When I go and meet with the folks throughout the nation, I consistently hear the same themes that lead to incredible levels of frustration, irritation, disappointment and hopelessness. And those issues are joblessness, which can be solved through education and work skills and apprenticeship programs. Hopelessness can be solved through a stronger foundation of financial independence and financial prosperity. We can address some of these issues legislatively, but we also have to teach folks that putting yourself in a position to win is a very important part of achieving success.
C: Sen. Scott, you were raised by a courageous single mom. Greatness often rises from adversity. What is your best advice to kids of any color about navigating the world they’re growing up in today?
TS: I think there is this learned helplessness that’s starting to consume a part of America, and that’s very dangerous. I think there is this notion that you have to have been born into the right house in the right neighborhood in the right community at the right time. Attended the right school and then gone on to the right college to get into the right field so you can make the right income so you can have the right family so you can repeat the process.
The quest of life is to measure success by where you start from and how far you go. Success is available to every single human being, particularly in this country, and it doesn’t take equal footing to get started.
So for me I would like to encourage kids to: A.) find a personal relationship with the Lord, and B.) study scripture and apply it to every facet of your life, and then you will be prosperous. It may be measured in money. It may be measured in lives helped. It may be measured in making a difference. The world will be better because you lived. All things are truly possible to he who believes it is and works towards it.
C: You say in one of your explanations about what’s going on today with race: “We don’t solve things based on a vote, in America.” Racism has never been “solved” by a vote. Do we have a way out of this?
JL: Children who grow up in a home that doesn’t see race as an issue will grow up to be adults that don’t see race as an issue. I do think Americans forget that we are still the world leader on some of these issues. Other parts of the world are much more racist than America, and much more divided by ethnicity than America. When we set a good tone, we set a good example for the world. Many parts of the world don’t believe you can interact with people that either look different or come from a different background. We set the tone when we say, “No, not only can it be done, we are doing it.” As all the violence and all the issues come out in our country, lately, we’re telling the world, “See, I told you so. This doesn’t work”—reinforcing a lie. So go set the tone.
Originally published in the December 2016 issue of Citizen magazine.