Justice Education

Golden 2

Hope for Racial Healing: The Power of Love

Anika Prather

Artwork: "City Center" by Denys Golden © 2021

The evening following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder, my father was trying to drive home through the riots and chaos in Washington, D.C. My dad had been active in the civil rights movement as a college student and was not allowed to walk in his graduation because of his involvement. He graduated anyway and went on to dental school at Howard University. That night as he was driving home, he may have been reflecting on his time in the movement, and he was certainly hurting as he thought about the violent passing of his hero. That’s when he saw a mob chasing a white man down the street. To his surprise, the man ran up to my father’s car and jumped in. I can picture my father—a Black man deep in anger and grief—as he sat at a stoplight looking at this strange white man in his car. That white man could have been viewed a representative of the hate that killed his hero; however, when I asked my dad how he responded, he simply said, “I drove him home.”

This is love. Love was the choice to drive the man to safety even though he looked like the enemy. Whenever the weight of racism becomes too much for me, I think of this story. It gives me hope. If there is any hope for racism in this country to heal, that hope relies on the power of love.

Racial Healing vs. Racial Reconciliation

I don’t like to use the phrase “racial reconciliation.” Reconciliation implies that there was a previous relationship that is now being restored. But so far as I can tell, the relationship between Black people and white people has been poor from the beginning. There has never been anything worth restoring. Instead, I see this process as one of racial healing. The wounds caused by racism throughout the centuries are still there, and only through acting out of hope and love can we hope to heal them. Love covers a multitude of sins.1 Love keeps no records of wrongs.2 Love could be the healing balm for those open wounds.

Love for humanity fuels my efforts to write about racial healing in a way that I hope gives readers a new perspective. I am tired of reading books riddled with curse words to express the anguish of centuries long pain. I have read most of them. and even enjoy many of them, but when I get to the end of such books, I am left wondering, “What next?” In most cases, texts about racism detail the many forms that racism has taken and how it continues to shape our society. The constant barrage of “There’s racism over here! There’s racism over there!” only seems to be feeding the cancer of bitterness that is permeating our society. This listing of racism past and present often makes it seem too daunting to address; or if we try, our activism becomes another place where political polarization draws battle lines and new divisions are erected. I have felt, and still feel, the burden to fight racism. However, I decided one day that I was not going to take on the role of activist, but instead just love those around me as much as I could. I chose to love from a place of grace and truth. I did not turn a blind eye to my racist experiences, but I spoke the truth in love while also loving unconditionally, regardless of the response.

Choosing to Love

Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”3 In some ways, it is easier to remember the many times we have experienced racism. It can be easier to stay in that place, letting the memories wash over our heart, mind, and soul, feeling paralyzed and unable to move forward. Yet, releasing ourselves from these experiences in order to embrace the freedom of loving unconditionally is ultimately less painful. Bitterness hurts. Bitterness can prolong the pain of our traumatic experiences, allowing them to injure us over and over again. Love, on the other hand, takes us to a much higher place, where we can float above the burden of the pain.

Choosing to love is really for myself, and if you choose this path of love, then it is for you. It appears to be in service to the one receiving the love, but I find that as I chose to love, I am the one who is healed. I am the one who benefits. Bitterness is a burden we carry. Loving is a weight off our shoulders. Loving frees us from waiting for the person to deserve our love. We can simply choose to love, even while remembering our past hurt and recognizing still present racism. We must know our past in order to understand ourselves and be able to chart our path forward. The work of hope is to move us to love even while remembering and while waiting for progress that is still in process. Loving frees us from waiting until things get better and all white people are no longer racist. When we choose to love no matter what, we are finally free, because we are not depending on anything to conjure up that emotion.

Agape as DEI Work

The desire to love the white community unconditionally grew in me when I was in elementary school. I attended a predominately white Christian school with a few Black students. The racial lines were thick—Black and white students refused to play with one another, but for my 9th birthday, I decided to invite both Black and white girls to my slumber party. I distinctly remember wanting to do something to build a bridge. Only a few white girls came, and I remember those who could not come, sad that their parents wouldn’t allow it. I had no idea how powerful just the invitation would be. To this day, almost 40 years later, those same classmates have shared how that one act changed their perspective on race.
I do not believe in waiting for “the other side” to be sorry. I do not believe in waiting for anyone to apologize and amend their ways. I will not sit here, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the other side to have a revelation about systemic racism. I actually have no hope of racism getting better, at least not directly, but I believe human beings can change, one at a time, and slowly but surely that can transform society. Changing the world, however, is not my goal. My effort to show love to others is deeply connected to my faith, inspired by the initiative that Christ took in loving me. At the same time, even if you have a different faith or no faith at all, love is universally powerful. So hopefully, I can inspire others to let agape (unconditional love), be the foundation of their DEI work.

Agape as DEI effort is so much simpler than fighting “the system.” Love is something you can do right where you are and with whatever is in your hand. Love gives birth to grace, which opens us all up to listening to and empathizing with others, no matter what their stories may be. In this exchange of love, relationships are formed that allow each person to reveal their deepest hurts and pains. These relationships can also lead to listening to stories you may not have been open to hearing before. I love how Cornel West calls himself a “Love Warrior.”4 Love is that powerful. Love gives you a supernatural strength to fight through your own wounds to touch another heart. Walls are torn down and replaced with bridges built with the bricks of our common human experiences.

Loving through Conversation

Loving others opens us to hear the common human experiences shared through conversations. Not too long ago, a new friend of mine and I read the book of poetry Olio by Tyehimba Jess. In fact, we did not become friends until we read the book together. I was so drawn to Tyehimba’s use of Black music, poetically telling the story of the Black experience. My new friend found a portal into the Black experience through her love of poetry. I am a poet and she is a poet. I love reading and writing poetry. She loves reading and writing poetry. We ended up talking about the book for hours. From that moment, a friendship was formed. Even though we engaged in reading and discussing the book for our careers, something more came from the experience, a truly loving friendship.

Later on, she and I were at the same conference, and over dinner I began to share about my negative experiences with police. After I shared, she then shared about her negative experiences with police. I was shocked, because I just did not think that a white woman would have a negative experience with police. She went on to say, “I do not understand why, but something about my personality really rubs police the wrong way.” These words opened my mind up to a much larger issue with regards to police reform. Even though I know about the racist history of America’s policing system, her story caused me to realize that it’s not just Black people who struggle, but anyone could fall victim to a policeman or woman who mishandles power. I listened to her. She listened to me. We left the restaurant and headed back to the hotel and then she turned to me and said, “Anika, I have always been afraid to share my story with people. I thought that maybe sharing my pain would be disrespectful to the pain Black people have endured.” Starting with discussing a masterful book of poetry, a love relationship formed that opened both of us to hearing one another’s stories.

What I found beautiful about us sharing our experiences with police is that I did not have to “prove” that I actually had those experiences. She did not ask me questions to see if I somehow deserved how I had been mistreated. Neither did I give her the “side eye,” as if a white woman could never go through being mistreated by police. We believed and respected one another’s stories of our life experiences. Together, we created a safe space to talk to one another without fear of judgment or dismissal. How did we come to be in that space? The ground for this was made fertile months prior when we discussed Olio. Love was formed through that moment and it removed any hindrances to us sharing pieces of ourselves with one another. Perfect love casts out fear.5 In me loving her and she loving me, we were no longer afraid to open up this part of ourselves.

Interconnectedness and Love

Martin Luther King says “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”6 Racism has torn us apart and it has also forged us together. In many cases, our DNA is intermingled and so is our history, because through this painful history, we created a people, a country. When we segregate ourselves from one another, we sever a piece of ourselves and leave a hole in our human story. Understanding our interconnectedness reveals an inescapable truth: loving is the key to our healing.

When my father drove a white stranger home on the evening of Martin Luther King’s murder, he made a simple choice of love instead of leaving the man at the mercy of an angry mob. Whether the anger was justified or not is not the point. This man was a human, and in treating him in a way that dignified and protected his humanity, my father sought a world in which every person’s humanity would be dignified and respected. As a we reckon with our hard history and present pain, it is this kind of commitment to love in everyday and extraordinary ways that can provide a foretaste of the future we hope to conceive.


Love is freedom
Love breaks the chains of memory that bind us
Love is here to remind us
That its power is greater than any other
It can make our enemy our brother
All we have to do is choose
To love instead of hate one another
One simple choice
No matter who’s worthy or not
Without love any good deeds will rot
And come to nothing, but with love
Our works are a sweet aroma that reach Heaven above
Love is like a sweet song 
That serenades humanity
So no need to list the wrongs 
Or hold the anger long
Because this is bondage and not of God’s Kingdom
Love is freedom
Hate is bondage
Be free

—Anika Prather



  1. Peter 4:8.
  2. Corinthians 13:1.
  3. Martin Luther King, Strength to Love.
  5. John 4:18.
  6. Martin Luther King, Why We Can’t Wait.

Anika Prather serves as Director of High Quality Curriculum and Instruction at Johns Hopkins University, and is the founder of The Living Water School, Alexandria, VA ( She is also the author of The Black Intellectual Tradition (co-authored with Angel Adams Parham) and Living in the Constellation of the Canon: The Lived Experiences of African-American Students Reading Great Books Literature.

Summer 2023






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