One is a black man who grew up in Akron. The other is a white man who came from Missouri. 

Both men are ministers. Both have a strong faith in God. But it's their shared recognition that a racial divide persists that keeps them together.

They are Bishop Joey Johnson of the House of the Lord and the Rev. Mark Ford, executive director of Love Akron.

“We don't recognize race as a tragedy,” Johnson says.

“Race is our cultural hurricane,” Ford says. “It is eating us alive. We are the divided states of America.”

The two men have bridged their differences and become friends with one shared belief: It is through building cross-racial relationships that we can understand one another and eliminate our prejudices.

Today the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com begins a series of stories that explore how we deal with our racial and cultural differences. Our goal is to show where we have succeeded in bridging our differences through the stories of individuals in our community.

We initiated a conversation about race following the events in August in Charlottesville, Va., by asking the question, “What does it mean to be white in America today?” More than 200 of you responded with a diversity of thoughts.

We knew the conversation about race we had started needed to continue.

But we struggled with figuring out what to do next. So we met with the two ministers.

They told us of how they have gotten to know each other as individuals rather than part of a race or class. While it may be easy to dislike a group, disliking a person is more difficult.

Johnson pointed out that we tend to set a goal of “solving” the problem of race. But the racial divide has been with us for hundreds of years — and it still is not “solved.” Yet over those years we managed as individuals to get along.

We connect by telling stories. You can create a conversation with a story.

“Stories are the most powerful ways to communicate,” Johnson says. “Stories can cross bridges.”

And that is what we are starting today and will continue over the next months — telling stories that cross bridges.

If you have a story to share that fits this narrative, let us know by emailing editor@thebeaconjournal.com. In the meantime, take a few minutes to read the first example of the stories we have found so far.

This is how we are continuing our conversation on race.

Bruce Winges is editor of the Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com. He may be reached at 330-996-3858, bwinges@thebeaconjournal.com or @BruceWingesABJ.