My History is Now

My History is Now  /mī ˈhist(ə)rē iz nou/   phrase . – 1: an individual’s intrinsic link to the past, present, and future. 2: the idea that every action has historical significance. 3: to urge someone to make the most of the present time.

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Interview with Bernetta

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

I am Bernetta McKindra, and I have been on this journey for quite a while. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. Good and bad. I think that the good has far surpassed the bad. My background is I am from Kansas City, Kansas. My family is from Bonner Springs, Kansas, but I went to school (grew up) in Kansas City, Kansas. I’m the youngest of five siblings. And so, it’s quite a span between me being the youngest and my oldest sibling. There were four girls and one boy… two sisters have already passed. We grew up in the northern part of Kansas City, Kansas, in the Juniper Gardens housing project for the most part.

And I went to school there (in that area) all my life. About five of us have been together since elementary school and graduated from the same high school… the orange and black original Sumner High School. And we still meet to this day… and it’s a warm community where we support each other. And I’m saying that there was a cluster of neighborhoods that were together, and a lot of that was before desegregation. So that’s always a good feeling, too… to be able to not live in the community now but still have such deep roots in the community.

You got through high school and then what happened?

I left high school and went to Donnelly College, which was after the riots and everything. They were given grants to students. I might add that I was the first one in my family to graduate from high school and the first one to graduate from college. So, I went to Donnelly College, which opened up a new avenue for me that I didn’t know existed. I started talking to people from other countries and people from Kansas City, Kansas, but you know, I just had never come in contact with them. So that was good. I’d say Donnelly College… I’m pretty endeared to it, and it has helped shape me.

I went on to graduate from my undergraduate. Years later, after that,  I got my master’s of education from the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth (Kan.). Pretty much I’ve spent my life working with people. I love working with people. I love working with high school and college-age students. I went back and worked for Donnelly College. From there, I worked as a Graduate Assistant at the University of St. Mary. I have also worked at Girl Scouts as a Cristo Rey Kansas City High School director. All of my work has been working with the youth and young people.

I think they give me energy. I learn from them; they learn from me. And so, I just enjoy that. Along this journey of working, I also found myself being called to ministry. And so, I was a full-time pastor. Before being a full-time pastor, I was a senior associate at my church. So, the gospel of Jesus Christ has shaped me and given me a foundation. Peripherally, I passed that on to my daughter, who’s married, and my precious little granddaughter, who is nine now.

How would you define beauty?

In general, I would say that beauty lies within the heart. There’s a Bible passage that says that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). And so, I say what transcends out of a heart defines and gives us beauty.

“There’s a Bible passage that says that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). And so, I say what transcends out of a heart defines and gives us beauty.”

How would you define Black beauty?

I would still define Black beauty as being in a person’s heart. Now, the heart’s content really has to do with many things we have experienced outwardly. What I’m saying with that is that Black beauty is special. And I’m thinking about as I answer this (question) what I’m teaching my granddaughter, who goes to school in a non-Black community—having her know that beauty is within our hearts. It’s not what somebody else has defined as beauty; the beauty we carry within us emanates. And the beauty comes from above. It’s a God-given thing. Do not let someone else’s idea of what beauty is define us… define you… define me.

There are a lot of elements in Black culture (e.g., food, music, fashion). When you think about all those elements, especially growing up in a predominately Black area, is there anything that you instantly identify regarding our culture?

Yes, it’s still prevalent today. I do not live in the community that I was raised in. I do not live in the community that I bought my (original) house in…. that I grew up in, that I worked in. Several years ago, my husband passed…. So, I moved just a few miles down the road. And so, to define what is Black culture… There’s still that feeling when I return to KCK (Kansas City, Kansas). There’s that feeling when I’m with my high school friends, and we’re having breakfast once a month, and there’s just a language and a community.

Often, you don’t even have to speak words. It’s just like a summoning. No matter where you are, you know that when you see a name, visit a wedding, or go for breakfast or something, there’s just this family feeling with you. You see, it’s almost like you could be somewhere, and that other person will be somewhere else, and they play a tune; it’s bringing you back to the same place.

“There was a family in the church and the gentleman wrote me a letter, which I still have. He told me that he did not believe that the church was ready for a woman or an African American.”

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

I don’t know that I can recall experiencing societal pressures as a child growing up. Not to say that they weren’t there, but you know, if it didn’t happen to me, it didn’t happen. And part of that reason being that you just didn’t go a long way outside of your community. At least we (my family) didn’t. I’m sure there were other Blacks, other African Americans that did. But, we just were  in this little neighborhood, in this little circle and everything was encompassed in there. So, I didn’t feel societal pressures there, didn’t even feel it in the people that I associated with when I got to college because you still found your community of people that looked like you. You might do other things and work on college projects with other people in your classroom. Still, when we got through (with class), we got in our cars and we back to where we came from.

However, a couple of things that just happened within the last few years that I really knew “something sounds a little different here” was when I was pastoring the church not far from my house. In fact, it was at the end of the block.

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I had been familiar with the church for years. I had went back and filled in the pulpit for the pastor when the pastor was away. It was an all White congregation and I had a longstanding relationship with them for at least 10 to 15 years, never dreaming that one day I would be “the” pastor. So, I was working at a job when I felt the call or the need of God. I like to do things in my community… So, I resigned from my job to go and be the pastor of the church. So, I  sat there for a couple of years as the senior associate pastor… my name coming up on the program every week. So they (the church) moved the people… they moved the pastors they appointed. The church is not that large. So where did they think the next pastor was going to come from if I’m the senior associate… if I’m the associate pastor? So, I was appointed the pastor.

The next week when the congregation would come through, they would say, uh, Bernetta… Pastor, this is my last Sunday. So, that was that was my first experience. And, I didn’t have a problem so much with them being upfront and honest about it.  Them wanting to move on did not necessarily have to be because of my color. However, there was a family in the church and the gentleman wrote me a letter, which I still have. He told me that he did not believe that the church was ready for a woman or an African American. So he waited (to tell me his issue). We had fellowship… been at their house to eat and everything for about the last 10 years. And so my question being, where in the world did they think the next pastor was coming from?

If they know the progression is an assistant moves on to be the pastor, where did they think the pastor was coming from? So, that was very hurtful. It was hurtful also because during that time my husband passed and the denomination did not send a replacement. They did not send anybody to support me. They just kind of like left me there, like I didn’t exist. And so, that has probably being the the most imminent thing in my mind as far as race.

There are these historical moments in your life, like Martin Luther King’s passing and desegregation, what was that like? What were your understandings of those experience?

I can’t really recall specific experiences. Only hearing my parents talk. It did not, as far as I can remember, directly affect me at that time. But a few years later, which we (my friends and I) still talk about to this day, the schools opened up to where now there was busing. Before we were in that close-knit community and a few years later, it was no longer Sumner High School. It became Sumner Academy. And so all of the memorable beauty, all the things that we had there were just parceled out. And what I remember (about that moment) was, I don’t think that we knew that was going to happen. So, your world was fragmented. I can remember some people that would normally have gone to an all-Black school… their older sisters and brothers went to that school…  it was kind of a family thing that you went to that school. And you thought that you would be going (to that school) and graduating, but now you were going somewhere else and other people were coming into your community.

“When you’re watching TV and people are getting awards, you know, they’ll have women but the women they’re honoring have always done a lot of something in the community, like served on boards. What about the women that are Sunday school teachers? What about the women that are foster grandparents?”

What do you feel you have accomplished in your life? What are you proud of?

Hmm. That one takes just a little thought. What I think that I’m most proud of is the mentorship and the leadership that I have been a catalyst for. Providing, or being the bridge, or the resource, for a group of people. That probably is one thing that I feel good about. Like I said (earlier), my granddaughter is nine and I (also) feel good about helping her, especially at this point in life. And only having one (grandchild), you know, the things that I can teach her and impart to her are wonderful. But, overall,  just really the ministers and other people that I have mentored and continue to mentor… watching them grow and blossom.

One of the other things that I’m proud of: when I was at the church there was a program that I created to honor the women who were just unsung. I did it for a couple of years…. I plan to establish it again. But, I see women all the time. When you’re watching TV and people are getting awards, you know, they’ll have women but the women they’re honoring have always done a lot of something in the community, like served on boards. What about the women that are Sunday school teachers? What about the women that are foster grandparents? What about people that would just be overjoyed  if they got a letter in the mail and told them to come to this award ceremony? So, I put together a little review board, asked my friends and they asked their friends to nominates someone. And that’s what they did. We had the ceremonies in the church. And I tell you… If you could see them when their names were called. They never thought anybody was paying attention to what they were doing.

What books or television or anything has shaped your life or impacted your life to better understand who you are or what you want to do in the world?

One of my favorite books that really moved me was Succeeding Against the Odds. It’s about John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony. It was almost like a journal. I can’t remember the town that he came from, but when his mother was saving up money for him and she didn’t have enough at the end of the year, he had to repeat that grade over again until his mother got enough money to send him on. And the ridicule that he got from some people in the town because they decided his life path. You know, like he could be in here working and you’re having him wait another year? You’re having to do this another time? But his mother saw that there was something in him and she wanted a better life for him. So, he was obedient, he stayed the course, and it eventually paid off.  I can’t say it was the best book, but for where I was (in my life), it just really stuck (with me).

What are your personal dreams?

To make the net wider for the people that I mentor…  Make the net wider for resources and connections.  You know, we stay segmented in our own thoughts, in our own communities and our own minds, but bringing the same people that didn’t ever think they could have a seat at the table and to be able to be the catalyst of bringing them to the table would be my dream.

Some older Black individuals kind of have a burden that they carry based on their experiences. How do you stay so open and willing to trust to everybody?

I think it goes back to the word of God. It says love will always prevail. And that has to be what I live by. Regardless what goes on in the world, if we don’t have the hope and the faith in Christ and follow the path that he has given us, then we are going to be miserable people. All hope was gone. So for me, that’s the foundation of what I have to come back to. And I recognize that there are so many other people that have had far greater experiences of segregation and other things being done to them. For me, that answer has to be no matter what… it might not be that easy… I have to come back to what God says.

“I think for me I had to recognize, okay, this is where I am today. This is my community now. And so with that attitude and that thought, it brings me into being vulnerable. I have to connect with people…”

Community is a major aspect of your life. Technology is meant to bring us together but society still seems fragmented. Why do you think we’re still so disconnected from our “neighbors”?

I’m glad you asked that question because, like I told you, I live in a different community in a different neighborhood now.  So, what I said for this year is that I’m going to reach out to my neighbors and not wait until they reach out to me. Just begin to show kindness. For a couple of the neighbors, I can’t see their house numbers but I see my mail person all the time, especially on the weekends. I’ve begun to ask her what the house numbers were. I write just a little note telling them a little bit about myself and inviting them over if they see me out.

To be present. I know that’s the word that we use all the time, but when you’re connected with your phone, it means that you’re not connected with anybody else around you. Making eye contact and those little niceties. I think for me I had to recognize, okay, this is where I am today. This is my community now. And so with that attitude and that thought, it brings me into being vulnerable. I have to connect with people and emanating, as I said, from the heart. As a Christian, being a catalyst for God and really loving your neighbor. That is the connection that I have.

What are you dreams for society?

Recognizing each other’s gifts. Kindness. Leading from the heart and with the heart. My dream for society would be that we will be able to come to the table for conversation, listen through pure eyes and ears, and be open to what the other people have to say.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

It would be through reading, education, fellowship, music, and community.

“A text is a means of communication, but it’s not the answer. It’s not face-to-face. You can get so much from a person when you’re in the presence of them.”

What advice would you give to other black people?

Never give up hope. Know the source of wisdom. Follow the path of wisdom. Pure wisdom comes from above.

What advice would you give to non-Black individuals to help them understand the Black experiences?

Probably cause I’m with a non-black community more than I thought I’d be than I’d ever be… I’d advise to listen… to actively listen… to intently listen and not categorize. Because when you start to categorize, you don’t listen as intently. You’re already compartmentalizing  and thinking that you already know the outcome. So, I would say listen intently.

Based on all the experiences that you’ve had, what advice would you to the younger generation as they’re going on through life?

Stay in touch… Not only with technology, but make the visits, make the phone calls.  A text is a means of communication, but it’s not the answer. It’s not face-to-face. You can get so much from a person when you’re in the presence of them.

Additional Information

Interview Date: 01/14/2020

Day 1 — Story posted on January 31, 2020

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