Like most of the world, Jimmy McNeal, a worship leader at Austin Stone Community Church, has watched in horror at the racial injustices being continually revealed in our country. As a black man, he relates to the fears of many and is seeking to raise his family intentionally. Most importantly, he is crying out to the Lord for change. We asked him a few questions to get a better perspective about how the injustices our society faces affect someone on an individual level.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
Jimmy McNeal: For me, family has always been more than just the immediate. My family is huge! I am told that my ancestors resided in Benin, a country in West Africa, before being abducted and sold into slavery. I’m unsure of how my family got to the 1900s, but ancestry.com has shed light on what has been a seemingly forgotten lineage of history. My dad’s side of the family came to Texas from Oklahoma, and my grandfather on my mom’s side has told me of a great-grandmother unlawfully being married to her slave owner in Austin, Texas. This was one of many well-crafted nuggets that he gave me when I told him I was moving to Austin. Austin is where I met my wife of seven years, and we’ve been blessed to hold three of our beautiful biracial children (“black and white”). I love my family, and I’m so grateful to God for these beautiful additions to our family unit.
What’s it like to raise your sons in this environment?
JM: We’re raising my kids just like I was raised: to be aware of racial division, tensions, and how to handle those both internally and externally. I want my kids to be proud of who God has made them and not let confusion cloud what race(s) they are associated with or who God is calling them to be. For my sons, and my daughter, being “mixed” will be a hard road to navigate in America. Because I’m black, my three kids are called “black kids” by many. Their mother’s white heritage is tainted by my blackness and not even acknowledged. I hate this for my kids. Their differences bring about fears that I see from a different lens than just being a part of one race. I see the racism they can receive from any and everyone who doesn’t look like them.
What is going on inside your heart as you look at your sons and worry about their everyday safety? Would you mind sharing some of your fears?
JM: Some of my fears have already become a reality. At my son’s preschool I had to have a talk with parents whose children wouldn’t let my son be the “good guy” because he was darker and therefore was always the “bad guy.” My son was 3. I fear my sons will be confused about who they are as men in this world. I fear they will be pulled over and asked to get out of the car and have it searched for a broken tail light instead of given a warning. I fear them being racially profiled no matter what group of friends they are with. I fear them being the minority. I fear them being told that they are only black because of me being their father. I fear the racial slurs they will hear from both sides of their heritage. I fear they will not be accepted, but hated because of the color of their skin or their size and frame. I fear my sons getting into fights because someone does or says something racist to their sister.
And for my daughter, I fear these things, but I also fear that her beautiful curly hair and tan skin tone will make her a target. I fear her being called an “Oreo” (black on the outside, white on the inside). I fear that all the mean girls she will meet in her lifetime will contaminate her narrative.
I fear my kids hating that they are biracial because of the way that they are treated. I fear them being treated less than because of the way that they look. These are just some of the fears that are deeply embedded in my prayers for my beautiful biracial kids.
If you could tell your non-black friends anything about raising your boys, what would it be?
JM: I’d tell them to see them—see their color, see their differences, and try to embrace those, not just physically, but holistically. I would tell them to teach their own kids these same principles as well and to talk about the hard parts of our history. Being raised as a black boy wasn’t easy in modern-day America. I saw my skin tone and knew I was black every day. That will be the same for my kids. They are and will be seen as different their entire lives, and they will know that they are different no matter what ethnicity, class, status, job, or group of friends they are with.
After a tragedy like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, or the many other precious lives lost, what does it look like for your family to lament? How does it affect your family?
JM: There have been a lot of tears and grief as we’ve mourned with the rest of the black community. I’ve seen these things happen my whole life. But to my wife, like many others who are white, this is new to her, and every tragedy is real and raw to the core. She fears my death at the hands of racism and laments that this has become a new normal for her life. We have grieved together and with others as we’ve vulnerably processed and used our spheres of influence to bring these daily occurrences to light. My kids are so young that they aren’t yet aware, but for myself and my wife this is something that has rejuvenated a new sense of hope. Our lament may seem helpless, but it is not hopeless. Our hope is found in the hands of Christ our King!
What Scripture has provided comfort and space to lament?
JM: Romans 12:9-21 is teaching me and many other Christians how we ought to be living in this day and age. It shows biblical next steps, and it is this portion of Paul’s letter that I’ve prayed often during this epidemic and now during these tragedies.
You have called for a fast throughout the summer for the black community. What led to that, and what does it entail?
JM: The day that George Floyd’s death was realized and shared with the world, my heart was grieved and troubled. My first response needed to be to God and no one else. So, I lamented to him, mourning and grieving yet another black murder. As this was happening, I looked around and saw no one calling people to this type of action. So, I took what little voice I had and shouted from the mountaintops to pray and fast. It was meant to just be one day, but after some wisdom from a friend, I ended up asking folks to join me once a week for the entire summer to pray and fast for the black community. Every Tuesday morning, I post a passage and prayer prompts on social media and ask folks to join us by fasting from one or more meals.
Truly, what else can the church do to stand with you and serve your families?
JM: Be Christlike, and if you need more tangible specifics, you can live out all of Romans 12, especially keeping the black community in mind as you strive after these truths. There’s so much more I could say here, but why not fast and pray? I’m praying for a miracle, yes, yet racial reconciliation is not something that can be changed in a few weeks or months. But we sure can keep asking God to produce bridge-building change in our hearts and others.
It's evident that your heart is tender as you continue to trust in the Lord. How do you maintain this posture when confronted with such tragedies and evils?
JM: The grace of God. As finite as I am, I understand my need for Jesus and salvation. I know that this world is not my home, but while I am here I’m called to imitate Christ as I follow him. Only by his grace can that be made true for me.