By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
PORTLAND — One of the best illustrations of Larry Anderson’s message at the annual Christmas event for Portland Business Luncheons may have happened before he even spoke.
As Anderson, a retired Portland police officer, later explained, the fact that criminal defense attorney Wendell Birkland introduced him at the event can perhaps only be attributed to God’s grace and intervention.
Anderson was initially furious years ago when his police work required him to have contact with Birkland, for Anderson was filled with anger over how the justice system had so often failed the local community. And thus he saw Birkland as “representing everything that I despised.”
The last thing he wanted was any dealings with Birkland, but “little did I know God had other plans,” Anderson told the hundreds attending the Dec. 13 luncheon at the Oregon Convention Center. Today, he and Birkland are best friends.
“I actually like Wendell!” exclaimed Anderson, his voice conveying the surprise he still feels about that.
Anderson grew up in Northeast Portland and primarily worked in that community as a patrolman for 28 years. He is a founding member of a racial reconciliation movement in Portland known as the Friday Morning Men’s Group, and recently became president and CEO of Friday Group Enterprises, a non-profit that promotes business relationships in communities of color.
During a passionate, high-energy presentation, Anderson emphasized how such turnarounds in attitude between people can only be accomplished through a God-motivated change in hearts.
“It’s not about racial reconciliation, it’s about redemption,” he said. “I’ve watched God deliver men. Redeem men. Heal men. I’ve watched God bring men down on their knees.”
Anderson was one such person himself. As a young boy his family experienced racial prejudice, causing him to be filled with bitterness.
“My mother never hated white people — I hated them for her,” he said.
Anderson also grew at that early age to hate a Christianity that he saw as hypocritical.
“On the inside I was all messed up, at 7 years old,” he said. It took years to get thoughts of religion out of the way so I could see God as He really is,.”
Anderson said because he saw white people as a “necessary evil” in life, he pretended to get along with those who didn’t share his skin color. Anderson determined he would be a “free, liberated black man” who was suspicious of traditional authority, but who nevertheless eventually decided to join the city’s police force.
“You think you were surprised? How about me!,” he said. “I hated the police!”
Yet as a policeman witnessing the heartache that gang violence brought to the community, Anderson was driven close to madness with frustration. “I was losing my mind,” he recalled.
He also vented anger toward God. But, he said, “God began to whisper, ‘It’s OK if you don’t believe in Me; I believe in you.’ I began to break down, because I had no more answers.”
Anderson realized that he had an “unsurrended life.”
“You’ve got to surrender, but first you’ve got to come to the end of yourself,” he said.
And it is at that point that true reconciliation with others becomes possible. “When you are surrendered to God, then you are capable of submitting to one another,” he said.
In addition to the annual Christmas event, Portland Business Luncheons bring business people together monthly at two locations — one downtown and one on the city’s eastside. With speakers sharing their faith stories each month, the luncheons’ goal is to carry out Jesus’ greatest commandment — to love God and each other.
In looking over the December event crowd, Anderson expressed delight at the mix of races represented. It didn’t used to be that way, he said. “I am so honored today. I see diversity. I see a room full of my friends, and that’s a gift from God.”
Local businesswoman Serena Morones told attenders that in 2018 she hopes the gatherings will not only continue to promote racial reconciliation but also address the concerns of the “millennial” generation, recognize the leadership roles that women hold, and hear more from those who have long-term commitments to Portland and the city’s well-being.
For more on Portland Business Luncheons, go to pdxlunch.com