The world we are living in today looks very different from the one we were living in when 2020 began. Early this year as the pandemic took hold, everyday tasks brought a new sense of risk for all of us. We faced deep uncertainty about the future of our health, our economy, and our communities. As the virus spread, we grappled with news of disparities in COVID-19 infections and the related economic shutdown, which hit people of color the hardest. Then, in the spring and early summer, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd led to prolonged worldwide protests over the legacy of racism.
These events are revealing longstanding and difficult truths about how the world is organized. And in the midst of these crises, we have the responsibility to shape a new normal—one that’s better than before.
How do we do that? It’s a big question that needs lots of answers. We don’t have all those answers, of course, but we do have one: the way forward is relationships—individual relationships, mentoring relationships, church and organizational relationships.
As a solution to a big social problem like inequity, “relationships” may sound too simple or too soft. But lack of connection between people perpetuates a lack of empathy and understanding, which leads to a lack of vision for lasting change. And there’s nothing soft about relationships—it is tough to live out long-term, persistent relationships, especially ones that call us into unfamiliar places and push us toward people whose experiences are very different from our own.
In the fall of 2019, we sent a community survey to over 20,000 people, most of them Christians living in various parts of Texas, predominantly Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. The survey measured responses to questions about the huge gaps in opportunity that exist between neighborhoods. We’re concerned about these gaps because we know that neighborhoods are the engine of children’s lives; studies show that one of the top predictors of life outcomes is the ZIP code of a child’s birth. In San Antonio, for example, there is a 20-year difference in expected lifespan between people living in different neighborhoods that lie just a few miles apart.