From ‘Black and White’ to Brownicity: Our story of disrupting race.
by Lucretia Carter Berry and Nathan Berry
Brownicity /brounˈ isədē/
pronounced like ‘“ethnicity”
noun. A combination of the words “brown” and “ethnicity.” Brown represents melanin, the pigment we all have. Ethnicity means “that which we have in common.” Essentially, we are all hues of brown.
Brownicity: The Art & Beauty of Living & Loving Beyond Race is our platform for disrupting the race narrative and its legacy of racism. We are family-focused and dedicated to advocacy, education and support for racial healing and anti-racism.
Evolving from a family-focused conversation, Brownicity emerged from our desire to equip and empower our children with language and substance that would inform their true identities which transcend the social and political construct of race. 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 our hyper-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 (the socio-political construct). 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 slightly tan skin and black, big-curly hair. One day, she came home from preschool where they had read, ‘The Colors of Us’ and painted their portraits. She 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 affirmed her observation and words! 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 exclusively ‘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, (1) the pastor’s passion and (2) 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. In June, we will celebrate 15 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 college students doing the work of change.
We have created and offer resources, classes and 'fun'-shops to help folks put change into practice. Our Color Conversations 'fun'-shops help caregivers navigate skin tone and race conversations with children. Our curriculum, 'What LIES Between Us' guides learners through educational resources, reflective journaling and engaging exercises that equip them for racial healing and antiracism.
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What LIES Between Us Journal & Guide: Fostering First Steps Toward Racial Healing can be purchased through Amazon.
Learn more at Brownicity.com
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Nathan and Lucretia Berry are the founders of Brownicity: The Art & Beauty of Living and Loving Beyond Race, their platform for equipping and empowering families for racial healing and antiracism. Nathan Berry serves as RVP of Regional Sales for Passport. He received his bachelors from the Iowa State University School of Business and received his M. Div from Wake Forest University. Nathan is an ordained minister. Lucretia is an author and speaker. She received her Ph.D. in Education (Curriculum & Instruction) from Iowa State University. Nathan and Lucretia have three little girls who are the inspiration for their work through Brownicity.