Rico Melendez Shares His Personal Journey from Indifferent to Empathy
Rico’s is a voice I’ve come to appreciate. He has a passion for truth, justice, reconciliation & Jesus. I love the way he weaves them together for his online community. His empathy for people of color and the marginalized are just a couple reasons I follow his Instagram.
Rico isn’t alone in his journey towards racial reconciliation. It was actually his wife who helped him move from his indifference toward empathy. His multi-ethnic family is a beautiful mosaic. Rico is biracial, Korean/Puerto Rican. His wife is white and in 2019 they adopted their daughter, Niomi who is a beautiful, Black little girl. When I asked him if he’d be willing to share his story, he was both excited & gracious to do so. So indifference to empathy…Let’s Talk About That…
Being A Part of the Community Didn’t Mean I had Empathy for the Community.
“I wish I could tell you that growing up in a black neighborhood and being a minority
myself led me to think in a healthy way about race and racism. But it didn’t. I wish I could tell
you fostering three black girls for almost a year changed my view on race and racism. But it
didn’t. I wish I could tell you that adopting our black daughter changed my view on race and
racism. But it didn’t. Honesty, it wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd that my view on race
and racism changed, forever.
Unfortunately, the second clause of Romans 12:15, “mourn with those who mourn,” is
something I’d pick and choose whenever I felt like applying it. For example, if I knew you had
depression and we were somewhat close, I would sit and empathize with you. I would educate myself to better love you. I found myself doing that with many different types of personal battles outside my own experiences.
However, when it came to the murder of George Floyd and the response to it, I chose to
ignore, “mourn with those who mourn.” I didn’t understand why some of my black friends , both n and out of the church, were outraged, sad, heartbroken, and angry. I thought to myself, ‘Yes, it was
heartbreaking to see one of God’s image bearers die. But before we react, let’s get all the facts.
Let’s see what truly happened before the time of the murder. And let’s not assume the motivation
of the murder was racially motivated.’ As you can see, I didn’t want to engage in the complexity
of a different story because I truly believed my story was the only one that mattered & that it
was the right one. At the time, my analysis made me hold judgment in abeyance, I
refused to weep with those who were weeping.”
The Three Relationships That Helped Grow My Empathy
“Things started to change when three relationships in my life challenged me.
First, my wife helped me. The number of conversations we had about the issue of race in America increased exponentially. Looking back, I lament that I used to make fun of her for being ‘woke’ or an SJW’ when she would share her heart about racism. This whole time, she was a clear example of what Christian empathy should look like towards injustice, and I mocked it. Nevertheless, she was gracious enough to continue to educate me and help me see how racism is still prevalent.
Second, we had a young black man living with us during this time. Seeing him
visibly impacted and hearing why it was a big deal to him really moved me.
Third, a sweet friendship with a black family from our church began to blossom. They
had the greatest impact on me. God used this relationship to educate me, to convict me and to
move me to see how prevalent racism is in our country. They were gracious and patient with
my ignorance, open to answer all of my questions and set a beautiful example of what
Christ’s love looked like in the midst of pain. Also, they helped me see the reality and
magnitude of raising a black daughter in America. It started to become clear that I didn’t have
the ‘privilege’ to be indifferent or turn a blind eye to race and racism without it negatively
affecting my family.”
I Started Doing the Work
“So, I started listening to podcasts like United? We Pray, reading books about black
history in the United States and the church, studying Scripture more to see how the Bible
speaks about racism (or in more biblical terms, ethnic partiality), justice, diversity, etc and I
started to pray like I never have before.
As you can see, I had missed the mark. However, God used the horrific murder of
George Floyd, the grace of others, to not only teach me about the realities
of race and racism, but to teach me how to be a faithful father to my daughter, as well as, how to
‘mourn with those who mourn.’
HB Charles Jr once said, ‘The Bible calls us to weep with those who weep; it doesn’t tell us to judge whether they should be weeping.’
Three Lessons I’ve Learned
Throughout this process, I’ve learned three important lessons:
- Diversify your Relationships: Be willing to learn to understand people who are different
then you. Take a step out of your comfort zone and broaden your perspective beyond the
boundaries of your own ethnic group.
- Listen attentively: Don’t come with assumptions. Listen well by hearing their stories,
wounds, pains, affliction, hopes, joys, etc.
- Believe your brother or sister: When a brother or sister shares their racialize experiences
with you, greet them with a love that is willing to say, “I believe you, I lament with you, and I will
hope in Jesus with you.”
Rico’s story is similar to so many others. He had his ideals, perceptions and opinions and held them tightly. It wasn’t until personal relationships began to challenge those beliefs that his heart began to soften. His story is one of hope. Hope for the heart you’re praying for to soften. Hope for eyes you’re praying to see differently. And hope that Jesus is still working & changing hearts and lives.
You will definitely want to add Rico’s social media to your feed. His post will encourage, challenge and even make you laugh. (Let’s be honest, when you’re in the trenches of racial reconciliation / racial justice work, you need to be able to make space for laughter.) Most of all, he keeps Jesus at the center of his words & work. I’m thankful to call him friend and fellow reconciler.
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