As we kick off this incredible new series that will honor the stories of the ones who are interviewed, it is important to take a moment to reflect on these stories and challenge your thoughts on systemic racism. The women who have come forward with her story are to be honored. They are brave and their love is unconditional.
Heather Harris’s Story
Cara H.: So Heather, what do you do for a living?
Heather H.: Well, I work as a customer service representative and then I’m also a health coach. I help women lose weight and reach their goals. I attended the Health Coach Institute and I’m still working towards more education by taking that course. And yeah, I love doing that.
C: Oh how nice, and when did you start doing that? I think I saw on Facebook somewhere that you had graduated from Health Coach Institute.
H: I started the program in September of 2019 and I’ve coached a few clients on changing their relationship to food to help them lose weight and take back their power over food. I’m still in school learning how to coach on a deeper level of identity and belief and change.
C: That’s really nice, where are you originally from?
H: Well, I grew up in East Tennessee and we moved here to Murfreesboro.
C: I see, did you like growing up there?
H: No, not at all. It felt just like a dark cloud all the time. I’ve gone back to visit a couple times and it just feels dark. I moved back for a little bit, I have no idea why, but then we settled here in Murfreesboro.
C: Is there a reason you didn’t enjoy it?
H: Growing up, I went to a pretty mixed school. Well, in the last year they decided to integrate the schools so they bused us to schools in the country instead of breaking up all the black schools and integrating them. They didn’t like that at all. I guess they did’t want too many black people in those schools. They used to say we didn’t belong and call us the N-word.
Eventually, we moved here and I like it so much more. The people here are so much nicer. When I moved here, initially I was looking for a black church because that’s what I was accustomed to. Growing up in the south you went to a black church if you’re black and a white church if you’re white. There was very little mingling. Much to my surprise I visited the church my mother was attending, which is mostly white, and was welcomed with open arms and so much love. I couldn’t believe it because they didn’t even know me. They truly made me feel loved and at peace like God intended His church to be.
C: So, if you don’t mind me asking, we are in a pretty monumental time. What do you think about all the current events that are happening that pertain to racism?
H: You know, it’s really sad. I’m tired of seeing black men getting killed. I think a lot of it falls on leadership, you know. It really feels like we are all divided. I think we need change and better leadership and God. I just pray because we need prayer. I just think about my daughter and raising her, you know.
C: Right, absolutely. How are you teaching your daughter about racism? How old is she again?
H: She’s five. And you know, black women can be perceived as angry or threatening if we display too much emotion so we have been taught to tone down our emotions. White people can be equally as emotional but they’re not perceived as being threatening only passionate. My daughter can be loud at times so I’m teaching her to not be as loud because she could be seen as a threat when she gets older. There are some people who will judge her based on the color of her skin, but she is to love everyone no matter how they may treat her.
C: That’s eye-opening to hear. Do you think being taught that has toned down your confidence?
H: Toned down my confidence? I don’t really think so, I think it has played a bigger part in how I see myself and I am still finding my own confidence.
When people are made to feel like they’re less than or don’t matter it’s hard to believe any differently unless you’ve been taught differently or have positive people in your life. It’s hard to change what’s been ingrained for generations. It doesn’t mean it’s not possible but it just makes it that much harder. I try to instill in my daughter she’s very smart and can do anything she puts her mind to doing. I want her to have confidence in God and herself to know she can make it in life.
It feels like we can never get ahead. Like there’s always a blockage. When I hear about another person killed on the news — I hear about “well, he was doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing” and that’s tiring. We all make mistakes. There are just as many bad people who are white too.
There was a time when I was in the grocery store, and I only had a certain amount of money in my account, so I had asked the clerk to take the chips off. I could tell she was new, and the computer did something weird and so she asked me if I had food stamps or WIC. WIC is a government-funded program to help women and children purchase healthier food with a voucher. I had my debit card in my hand and the cashier didn’t have a voucher in her hand, so I’m not sure why she just automatically assumed I had food stamps or WIC. My first thought was she made that assumption because I’m black. I truly don’t believe she would’ve asked a white woman the same questions. I may be wrong and making my own assumptions, but that’s what it felt like at the moment.
C: Mmm. Right, I feel like I hear that a lot too. I feel like a lot of people look at these current events and just say “all of this ended so long ago,” talking about the civil rights movement, and your story is proof that racism is still very prominent. Is it okay to ask, and it’s definitely okay not to answer, but are you ever scared?
H: It’s okay to ask. Yeah, I am. You know I have a daughter and I worry about her growing up and I’m scared for our black men and boys. I have a young man in my life I love as a son and he’s only 14, but he’s very tall and could be seen as a threat. So I asked his mother to please teach him about being out in public and how his actions could possibly cost him his life if he’s not careful because of other people’s perception of him.
My momma has a lot more stories than I do, you know, because she grew up when she had to use separate bathrooms and water fountains. There was a time when we lived in my hometown and we were walking into a dress shop for the Debutante Ball and we were in a nicer part of town, and these men in a truck rolled down their windows and shouted “n*ggers!”
But when I pass a big group of white men I usually go the other direction because you just never know, especially at night time. It is scary.
C: I hate that you’ve had to encounter all of this. I love you so much, Heather. It’s not fair and I wish I knew why racism was a thing and where it started and just — I don’t know. That’s what I’m hoping from this interview series I guess. I want it to be acknowledged. I want your story out there so people understand that it didn’t just end with the civil rights movement, you know?
H: Aw, thank you, Cara. I love you, too. Well, racism started when they took our people out of Africa and made us property. You know, we weren’t seen as human, we were seen as animals. And then we weren’t taught about Black Wall Street or any of that in school and history gets erased from textbooks. I didn’t even hear about it until recently.
C: Yeah absolutely, exactly what you said. How you are treated is just inhumane. But I had never heard of Black Wall Street what is that?
H: Well, there was a time — in Tulsa, OK, I believe that these black people have built businesses and were making great money and a white woman came and set all the buildings and businesses on fire because she was angry.
C: Oh, wow. Yeah, I had no idea.
H: Yeah, and it just goes back to that premise of “yeah, we can’t let them get ahead”
C: Heather, do you have hope or what do you hope to see come from this movement?
H: I do have hope. You know, I think it starts with people educating themselves on our history. I hope to see people just acknowledge that racism is real instead of being in denial. I want to be treated equal. I want people to know I am just as human as they are. I’m just a different color. And I hope that a great change will come of it.I am so proud of all the people coming together for the movement — I mean I was shocked when I saw the UK and Germany all standing. It feels like we have more people on our side. You know, I think if Jesus were still here on earth He’d take action by teaching about God’s love and that no one is better than the other. He would teach us ALL how to be saved and that’s what we should be doing as well. We should absolutely trust God and pray about this situation, but I feel we should act by loving one another as God loves us and instill that in our children. Don’t laugh at the off the cuff remarks, but speak up and let the person know it’s not ok. We don’t all have to go protest, everyone’s not made for that, but we can all do small things to create big changes.
C: Exactly, and I feel like this is just as big of a movement as the civil rights was. This is a historical moment and I feel like my generation is better about acknowledging racism is real. And I don’t like it, but I was taught very racist things growing up, but that’s what I’m trying to do here is break the stigma and break that cycle of racism over my family and my hope for those that are still racist will just read your story and see how it’s still affecting people. And I told my friend Ashley this, and she’s also apart of this series, but if it takes being uncomfortable and having these hard conversations — I will absolutely do it because nothing and I mean nothing, is ever going to compare to what you’ve been through.
H: Thank you, Cara. I really do appreciate that so much and I’m excited about this. What made you start this?
C: To be honest, the Lord told me. I’ve always been a writer. It took me a while to find my voice. I’ve always been surrounded by creative people and never truly felt confident until after I got out of a relationship that wasn’t so great. I had a couple of pieces published and that helped me realize I was good at what I do.
And this isn’t you know, a pity thing, but I saw the video of a black man being yanked out of his car during a protest after they had set curfew and I sobbed. And then I watched the George Floyd video and I sobbed. While I sat there I just heard “Uncomfortable conversations” and I thought about it for a couple of days, but it was really placed on my heart, so I put the project together and here we are.
H: Wow, and I appreciate that so much. Really. I had thought about telling my story somehow but I didn’t know where to go.
C: Yeah, and I want your story to be heard and it deserves to be heard, so I’m using what I do have. So, as we wrap up — if these series were to make money, where would you like to see this go to? Because any money this makes, will go to any small black-owned business or organization of yours — the women who are interviewed — their choice.
H: Well, I appreciate it so much. Oh wow, I don’t know maybe a youth program? I’d love to see our youth grow up and be educated about all of it. I’m not too sure. I know my cousin has a business. I’ll have to let you know.
C: That would be amazing! Of course. Well, Heather thank you so much for doing this with me and being willing to educate me on things I don’t know. I know it can be exhausting explaining things over again. But I’m truly grateful for you talking with me and being a safe space for me to come to and ask and have the uncomfortable conversation with.
H: Aw, you’re welcome, Cara. If you ever have any other questions or want any more stories you are always welcome to call me again. I am so excited to see where this goes.
From this point on, Heather and I said our goodbyes on the phone and we told each other we loved each other and talked about if we both worked tomorrow. She also suggested that I watch “Just Mercy” and I agreed to do so. Heather is a walking testimony and I’m so thankful for our friendship. I have a feeling this series is going to deeply impact how I view God because the people He created are beautiful and resilient.
Thank you, Heather, for the Uncomfortable Conversation.
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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