June 7, 2020 Sermon
By Dr. Terry Swicegood
“Doug and the SWA Flight Attendant”
Scripture: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus” – Galatians 2:20
I want to tell you a story this morning which exemplifies the meaning of this scripture. It’s a true story, a story about JacqueRae Hill, who has been an African-American flight attendant with Southwest Airlines for 14 years.
On the day after the violent protests in Minneapolis she drove to Dallas Love Field for a flight to Panama City on Friday. As she drove she prayed for something like hope. Understanding. Peace. Something to put a smile on her face. She said she prayed on her way in“ ” God, please help me get through work today."
The flight started boarding, and Hill performed her usual safety checks, greeting passengers with a hello and a smile that her eyes had to deliver, because she was wearing a mask. "I feel stupid, I can’t stop smiling, even though you can’t see it."
Then she noticed one of the final passengers to board was carrying the book "White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism," by Robin DiAngelo.
She said "I knew the book for a while. Michael Eric Dyson wrote the foreword. It had been on her list but she hadn’t gotten to it yet.
After she finished her service, she moved toward the back of the plane, where the man who was reading the book was seated, alone, next to a window, typing on his phone.
"I plopped down and said, ‘Hey, how are you? So that book, how is it?’"
The two started conversing about the book. Hill recalls the man, who was white, saying, "It’s our fault. We have to start these conversations."
As the man spoke these words, Hill became overwhelmed with emotion and began crying. "I know he didn’t know what to do. I know I startled him. I was embarrassed. I didn’t expect that. It was just a genuine moment for me, and we talked for 10 minutes."
She thanked the man profusely for the incredible conversation, for his interest and for caring, weighed hugging him (she did). He asked her name, and she introduced herself. Then the man told her his name. She left to get back to her duties.
As the white man deplaned he handed her a note he had scribbled.
“Thank you so much for coming back to speak with me. It was a gift from God and an inspiration to me. I am saddened that we as a society have progresssed so slowly on an issue that has a clear right and wrong. Much of the problem is that we don’t talk about it enough. Thank you for talking about it with me and sharing your emotions . It took courage.
“The book White Fragility is great. But it is more for poeople like me than you. A black friend recommended it to me. I really appreiate you. If you would like to continue the conversation here is my email: thank you, “Doug” PS Say hello to your mother for me.”
The “Doug” in this story is Doug Parker the CEO of Amerian Airlines.
JacqueRae S.Hill: "I was thankful even if he was a random person that had no influence. But because of his position in life, the fact that he’s reading that book. He does not have to educate himself. And the fact that he is, I just think that speaks volumes as to the work we all have to do in trying to bring ourselves together."
Hill waited a day before posting about her experience on Facebook. "With all those emotions, I wanted to process it fully. I wanted to make sure how I wrote it was exactly how I was feeling."
As the responses came flooding in after she shared her story in a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, she realized that she had touched a nerve. A positive one. "I didn’t know it would be this big. The response has been overwhelming. I have cried every day. Happy tears."
Hill had texted the story of her encounter with the CEO to her mother, Patti Anderson, who is an American Airlines employee. Anderson contacted Doug Parker to express her gratitude for the moment he shared with her daughter on the flight — and for the hug.
Parker replied to Patti Anderson, " JacqueRae certainly left an impression on me. Reading a book is one thing — spending time with a kind, strong, young black woman who is hurting and trying to learn from others is another thing altogether."
Parker finished his reply by thanking Anderson for thanking him, "I was the one who was blessed by that conversation."
Hill for her part is riding high on this incredible moment, but she doesn’t plan on letting it pass. "I want to work on a solution. I want to have conversations. This experience gives me hope. I feel like a shift will come out of this."
If you are like me you have asked yourself. What can I do? The problem of racism seems so intractable. And we are just individuals. Impotent. Not much power. Not much influence.
But think with me for a minute. Why are we placed on this earth? I believe God put us here to touch at least one other life and impart courage when the sky overhead is dark, to mediate grace when that person’s life is broken, to model faith when that person has nothing to believe in.
That’s why we are here. By ourselves we aren’t much. But arm and arm with other Christians–red, yellow, black and white, some one billion of us across this planet, we will make a difference.