And so, on a day wrought with emotion and tension for many, we want to share a story of friendship. Because true friendship closes the gap between differences. Friendship is a bridge.
“I have always been interested and passionate about racial reconciliation,” says Laura Korn, Short-Term Trip Coordinator at Kensington. She was challenged by a mentor to seek out experiences rather than only reading about this issue in books. While praying about an opportunity to do this, she decided to join the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama the following month in remembrance of Bloody Sunday – the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – and texted her husband, Joshua Korn, Worship Arts Director at Orion campus, to confirm. When he read the text, he was sitting next to Jalen Seawright, the new Worship Arts Director at Troy campus, in a conference. “Let’s do it.” He texted back, “But let’s invite the Seawrights.” The two families didn’t know one another well yet, but this was an invitation to the most authentic of friendships. “When they asked us to go with them, we were excited. Actually, more taken aback…” said Jalen Seawright.
The Korns and the Seawrights decided to travel together to the Civil Rights march in order to learn about one another and to learn from one another. And so, in early March, the young white couple with two young boys, and the young black couple with a baby girl, piled into a rented van to drive more than 800 miles from Michigan to Alabama for the 53rd Anniversary of Bloody Sunday. “The hours in the car were filled with history, experience, pain, and confusion. Because of this, I learned more about racial reconciliation than ever before,” said Laura Korn.
“It was powerful to learn from someone who grew up with a completely different life than me. I was naive to not realize how the black community still faces discrimination and racism. Jalen experienced discrimination the morning of the march, and it made me want to punch someone in the face,” said Josh Korn candidly. At the hotel’s continental breakfast, Jalen was approached three times by fellow guests requesting various things from him – each holding the assumption that he was a member of the hotel’s staff rather than a guest.
Despite the disheartening start to the day, the march itself was moving and memorable for both families. Both couples loved having their children present and answering the questions of the Korn boys. Having one’s own feet cross the bridge was like stepping back into history and also forging ahead for a better future. “The march was incredible – the city had so much history! …To listen to people who were a part of the original movement was amazing,” said Laura.
When Jalen and Keyonna reflected on the trip to Selma and the march they said, “The most impactful thing about this whole experience was not even the walking of the bridge itself, but that these friends – these new friends that are different from us – cared enough to connect with us and our experience by learning about our heritage.”
The Korns and the Seawrights are close friends now – in an unshakable, forever sort of way. Joshua was one of the first people Jalen called when their second daughter, Kaidence, was born this winter. “This trip created a true friendship between us,” Joshua said, “Jalen has been one of the greatest voices of encouragement in my life. Our family loves his family.”
When asked if he had advice for the Kensington community about building relationships with those who are different in culture or ethnicity, Jalen had this to share: “When you encounter a person that is ‘other’ than you, because you will, simply engage in knowing them. Not what you can do for them…share a meal with them and pursue understanding…Be honest with yourself about your feelings when uncomfortable topics arise. And most importantly, ask God to remove the feelings, thoughts, beliefs and convictions that aren’t of Him…There is no perfect way to do this because we are all imperfect. What is miraculous is that in our imperfection, our weird, awkward and uncomfortable attempts at relationships give birth to reconciliation, peace and ultimately a legacy that will create a better world for generations to come.”
by Keyonna & Jalen Seawright and Laura & Joshua Korn
with Kristin Pelletier