Twenty years ago after moving back home to the Pacific Northwest to start my pediatric practice, I had to drive through North Portland to see patients at Emanuel Hospital. I found myself locking my doors and feeling fearful as I drove through the neighboring streets. I had just witnessed the LA Riots and Rodney King atrocity in California, and had heard that North Portland was a dangerous area for shootings.  Soon afterward, I attended a Yearly Meeting workshop about racism taught by a professor from the North Portland Bible College, which I passed by on my route to Emanuel. He told me that my fears were a form of racism and that the black people who wandered through the streets did so because of cultural differences, not necessarily because they were more dangerous.


I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood with only one black friend, Michelle. My college and graduate schools also had very few people of different ethnicities. I believed the scripture in Galatians 3:28, that said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” yet I had no relationships with anyone who looked different than me. I had always believed I was someone who saw everyone as equal but that YM workshop started me on a spiritual journey to confront racism head on. If I truly wanted to love all people of all backgrounds in the same way that Jesus did, I would need to be more intentional about experiencing other cultures. I felt especially called to infiltrate African American culture right here in Portland.


When I found out that my second pregnancy was to be a boy, I felt a leading to name him “Isaiah.” Not only did the name represent a great biblical prophet of justice, it was a name that fit well in black circles.  I suspected that my boy would likely be a basketball player like his dad. When Isaiah was 10 years old he was recruited to play for the Inner City Players club basketball team by Pat Strickland, the current coach of Jefferson High School and probably one of the most respected basketball figures in Portland.


Isaiah was the only white kid on the team! We made many African American friends, and one of the mothers became a dear friend, Rochelle.  Over the last eight years Isaiah has had 6 different basketball coaches, all of them black and all of them amazing teachers. I learned that African Americans love to give hugs when they see you and use terms of endearment like “sister.” I have so much respect for my basketball family. They helped shape my son into the young man he is.


My school friend, Michelle, found me on Facebook, and I have attended her church’s beautiful Easter choir. I realized why we don’t have black people in the Friends church– way too quiet. The singing moved me spiritually in a way I had never experienced.


My friend Rochelle called me this last year when her daughter was experiencing a medical crisis, and I was overjoyed that she trusted me to help. Now when I drive to Emanuel Hospital my new fear is that I’ll hit a cyclist.

—Mari Kay