From ‘Black and White’ to Brownicity: Our story of transcending race.
We are Nathan and Lucretia Berry, creators of Brownicity: The Art & Beauty of Living & Loving Beyond Race. Brownicity (pronounced like ethnicity) is our platform for disrupting the race narrative! The term, Brownicity is a combination of the words ‘brown,’ as in we are all hues of brown and ‘ethnicity,’ as in that which we have in common.
Brownicity emerged from our desire to equip and empower our children with language and substance that would inform their true identities which exist beyond a social and political construct. Our children bare the image of God. Essentially, they are creators, light, life, beautiful, gifted, talented, kind, loving, forgiving, sensitive, brave…we could go on and on. But unfortunately, in a highly racialized society, the race narrative will try to inform who they are–race will try to dictate their future.
With our first child, we searched for ways to give our then four year old a framework for conversations about skin tone and race that were age appropriate and that met our objectives of not centralizing our identities around race. We needed to be able to talk about daddy’s light skin and black straight hair, mommy’s deep brown skin and infinitely curly hair and her (our daughter’s) slightly tan skin and black big curly hair. One day, she came home from preschool and said, “we are all shades of brown. Daddy is really light brown. I am a little bit brown and mommy is a lot brown.” We loved it! We took that and ran with it. Our four year old understood how melanin works and had deduced a unifying truth from it: We are all shades of brown.
Equipping, empowering, encouraging and inspiring our children to live life outside of the race lie has opened the door for us to do the same for many other multi-ethnic families, people and communities. So, it is truly ironic that before the beginning of ‘us becoming one’ our lives were very ‘black and white.’
Lucretia. Born and raised in Winston-Salem, NC in the 70’s, a second generation integrated community had impressed upon me the significance, or rather insignificance, of being black in a white majority. Some of the lies race taught were easy to reject. Other lies were subconsciously internalized. But, the uprooting of the race ideology would soon begin my journey of healing and liberty in of all places, Iowa…talk about a white majority. Iowa State University was my home for several years while I completed my graduate work. I managed to find a black church on campus that seemed to serve as my spiritual and cultural oasis.
The authenticity and kindness of that church resurrected my life. I believe that God guided me all the way to Iowa to experience the growth, encouragement and connection I experienced as a part of that faith community.
One Sunday, the pastor laid out a vision for a multi-ethnic ministry. “We will no longer be a black church,” he said. “We will be a reflection of heaven. We are Becoming Interracially One…BIO!” I wish that I could say that my heart leapt with excitement about BIO. But, the pastor’s words felt like a punch in the face. Betrayal. Those words stung like salt in a 400 year old racial wound!
‘How could he destroy my oasis?’ I lamented. My thoughts turned to how much blackness I’d have to sacrifice, allow to die, in order to welcome white people into my faith community. While my emotions responded to the painful history of racial injustice, my spirit seemed to know that there was a greater work in the making. I aligned myself with the vision of becoming a multi-ethnic church. I opened myself to change. It was complicated and uncomfortable. My emotions and thinking were in constant contention.
But, I did the work of change. Change allowed me to meet Nathan.
Nathan. I was born and raised in Indianola, Iowa, a small community known for farming and hot air balloons. Growing up, I knew less than a hand full of people who were not white. As a small child, my father was the pastor of a country church that literally had corn growing on three sides of the building. About the time I finished elementary school we were moving so that my dad could begin pastoring a church in Des Moines that would have a focus on ethnic diversity. At the time, I didn’t know what ethnic or diversity even meant.
In the fall of 1996, I began my freshman year at Iowa State University. My “churched” background required that I attend a campus ministry weekly–even though like most 18 year olds, I had no desire to attend a church service every Sunday morning. Fortunately, I found one that started at noon, so I could recover from the activities of Saturday night and still make it to church on time. I attended this traditionally black church for an entire semester, sat in the back and no one ever spoke to me. By the time my second semester began, the pastor began to engage with me about an idea to create a church that could reach people of any ethnic background. Two things connected me to this idea, the pastor’s passion and he wanted me to help.
Nathan & Lucretia. Serving together to realize the pastor’s vision demolished all kinds of racial, cultural, and religious barriers in our faith community and within ourselves. The church’s transformation was a chrysalis for personal transformation. Post graduation, our professions took us to two different regions of the country. But, we kept in touch and the rest is history. Striving toward a common goal solidified our friendship and gave us a unique and dynamic foundation–a foundation and a story that continues to speak through our family. On June 15, we celebrate 14 years of marriage and have three beautiful little girls. It’s humbling to reflect on the now 20 year old ripple effect caused by a few ISU college students doing the work of change.