Race, reconciliation, disability and the church

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2:12-16 (ESV)

If we’re to have any hope of putting our society back together, the church will have a very large role to play in that task. A good place for us to start is by showing concern and support for some of our friends and neighbors who are going through an especially difficult time.

In my job as a child and adolescent psychiatrist I get to witness lots of pain and sadness. In that context, the extent of the hurt and fear and many of our African-American friends and neighbors are experiencing is overwhelming.

Even after 30-plus years of working with kids and families, I never fully appreciated the level of fear common to parents of Black kids that something bad will happen to them because of their race. In the last few days, I’ve seen story after story after story in my Facebook feed about police showing up at their homes after their child went door to door looking for pet-sitting jobs or was simply playing in the neighborhood. Stories of parents having to have a different kind of “talk” with their teens when they get their first driver’s license.

I’ve learned of concerns of parents raising Black kids with disabilities that I never knew to ask about before. A woman who writes for our ministry described her terror when her son with autism left their yard and climbed into a car appearing very similar to hers in the driveway of a neighbor who is a combat veteran with severe PTSD. We know that African-American families impacted by mental illness may experience unique challenges in approaching their churches for care and support – a huge consideration at a time when anxiety and depression are present in record levels and members of the Black community are at heightened risk for mental health issues as a result of trauma, toxic stress and fear of profiling while wearing face masks.

Everyone’s struggling right now, but our black friends and neighbors collectively have it worse. Blacks are more likely to have lost jobs because of COVID-19 related closures. They have all kinds of elevated risk factors for the virus, including a lack of health insurance, disproportionate representation in frontline jobs, living in densely populated areas and living in multigenerational households where it is more difficult to take precautions to protect older family members or isolate them when they’re sick. The latest overall COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times as high as the rate for Whites and 2.2 times the rate for Asians and Latinos.

Yesterday morning a psychologist friend reached out to me who had been broken by a recent experience. To put this in context, she’s an expert in trauma who runs an orphan care ministry and makes several trips to Africa each year to serve children of parents who died from AIDS, or political strife. In her role as an organizational coach she’d recently been invited to work with a predominantly African-American church. Here’s a portion of the story she related to me…

My brain is mush. I heard back from a 70 year old sweet lady. Her daddy and MLK senior worked together joining the black universities of the south. I just listened for about three hours last night to the pain she feels and how the black community feels paralyzed and in chaos right now. We unpacked that for awhile and why the current hurts are more crippling than the past. She said a few key leaders would like to talk to me as well to try to unpack the pain and find their way forward. I feel very unqualified after seeing through her eyes and humbled that I am who they are wanting to speak to.

After hearing about her witnessing her great grandpa’s lynching in the front yard and watching her family take his body down and so much more …. I’ve realized I’ve lived in a bubble.

I rescheduled my patients today so I could be at the Black Lives Matter rally in Chagrin Falls, It’s the least I can do to show my support for the families raising Black kids served by our practice. I also want visitors from outside our town attending the rally today to know there are Christians living here who will welcome them and help them feel safe when the boarded up windows throughout our downtown might convey a different impression.

Our ministry will be sharing content on the influence of race and ethnicity on the experience of disability. You can expect to hear from a number of our writers and speakers, as well as new voices from outside of our organization through our blogs, roundtables and webinars.

I’ve been most impacted by the stories shared by friends and neighbors over this past week. We’d like to extend an invitation to our ministry followers, especially our African-American friends to share your experiences of disability as a person of color or member of an ethnic minority. Your stories, which you can choose to share anonymously, will help churches better understand how to welcome and minister with people of all races and ethnicities impacted by physical, developmental, intellectual or mental health disabilities.

We know the lives of our Black brothers and sisters are precious to God. It’s important they know their lives matter to us.


About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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