Black, White, Tan

By Natalie Nichols Gillespie, Copyright Christianity Today International

When Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Nicole C. Mullen looks around her dinner table, she sees a rainbow of colors. She is an African American woman married to "Caucasian" (as she puts it) producer and songwriter David Mullen, and their kids 13-year-old Jasmine and 4-year-old Josiah are biracial. Max, her 10-year-old adopted son, is African American, and the Mullens frequently welcome a multicolored mix of other friends and family. Nicole firmly believes that her racially diverse community of loved ones represents God's best handiwork, and she invests her life in relationships that span the spectrum of races and colors.

Nicole is frank when it comes to the subject of diversity. The church needs more of it, and that means intentionally developing relationships outside of Sunday mornings.

"I thank God, thank God, that my world is intentionally racially diverse," says the energetic singer. "And it is purposeful. I have women that I consider my sisters who are African American, and some are whiter than white. They are as different as you can get. I have one African American friend who remembers getting hand-me-downs, while another had everything new. It's not just color that divides. But we need to get together and learn about those differences, not shy away from each other because of them. It's not good enough just to worship together on Sunday. If you can't get together during the week, then you're faking it. That's not relationship."

Planting and harvesting

Nicole, who grew up in Cincinnati, went to a predominantly black church, attended a mostly white school, and lived in a neighborhood that was home to many races. She has siblings who were adopted, and her family always welcomed others who needed a place to call home. They took in single moms, foster kids, and children who needed a safe haven. So when she married David in 1993, Nicole says it wasn't really a stretch to blend their extended relatives.

"People are valuable regardless of the color of their skin," Nicole states emphatically. "You can be open about it and talk about it. You don't have to pretend that you are not different, but you can learn about those differences. I want to encourage people who have multiracial families to embrace them, love them. God didn't say, 'Ooh, I made you brown on accident.' He made them that color on purpose. And if you do not have friendships with other races, then ask God to bring you some. He will."

The theme of racial diversity and reconciliation is woven throughout Nicole's music, as well as her life. When she recorded her self-titled album in 2000, she included the song "Black, White, Tan," which she wrote for daughter Jasmine. The first verse begins, "Mama looks like coffee/Daddy looks like cream/Baby is a mocha drop, American dream" and repeats the fact that God loves us "black, white, tan." Her 2002 holiday album was titled Christmas in Black and White. And her latest cd, Sharecropper's Seed, pays homage not only to Nicole's own heritage (her grandfather was a pastor and a sharecropper, and her mother remembers picking cotton as a child), but also to God's faithfulness to harvest healing in the hearts of those who turn to Him.

"Sharecropper's Seed is an album of thankfulness, because we all have people who went before us who sowed into our lives," Nicole shares. "The Bible speaks often about seeds and planting and harvesting, and I want to say thank you to those who sowed into me. We are all the products of hardship somewhere.

"You are the seed of somebody else, and either you were watered and nurtured properly, or perhaps you were poisoned. If you were nurtured properly, then you have the ability to grow a great harvest and feed a great many. If you were the latter, then you have a chance to be healed. Just spray God's Terminix all over your contamination."

Nicole has experienced God's healing in her own life, after she suffered physical abuse in her short-lived first marriage. She felt God's healing touch again after she and David "lost a child" whom they planned to adopt. The birth mother reclaimed a baby boy who had been placed in their home before the Mullens' adoption of the child was finalized. The heartache was enormous, but Nicole says through it they learned lessons about trust and faithfulness. A year after that devastating loss, Max came into their lives.

"Max is proof of God's faithfulness," Nicole says. "He is a child of my heart, and he was definitely the right Max for us."

Bringing out the best

David and Nicole Mullen met when both were up-and-coming performers. David had won the Gospel Music Award for New Artist of the Year in 1990 and was becoming known for his songwriting talent. Nicole released two albums in the early 1990s and then sang backup for artists like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. The couple married in 1993 and five years later they picked up a Gospel Music Award for "On My Knees" (which was first recorded by Jaci Velasquez), a song they co-wrote with Michael Ochs. In 2000, Nicole's song "Redeemer" went to No. 1 on the charts, winning the Dove Award for Song of the Year and garnering her the coveted Songwriter of the Year award in 2001. In 2002 and 2005, she was named Female Vocalist of the Year.

But for Nicole, her pride and joy is not in the many awards she has received. Her true calling is to bring out the best in the lives she touches. In addition to her singing career, Nicole's family ministers in many areas. She nurtures adolescent girls in her "Baby Girls Club," an after-school mentorship program and dance class Nicole founded. She even travels with a team of 8- to 14-year-old "Baby Girl" dancers when she is on the road, giving them opportunities to blossom.

"Of the eight girls that travel with me, three are Caucasian, four are African American, and one is biracial—my daughter Jasmine. We meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the weeks when we are not on the road, and they dance, go crazy, and eat up all my food," Nicole laughs.

The Mullens also spend time with underprivileged kids at camp each summer and work with the I.N. Network, a Christian relief and community development ministry, to help feed hungry children and free African women ensnared in sex slavery.

p>Africa has been on Nicole's mind a lot lately. As she prepared to release Sharecropper's Seed, she and Jasmine visited Ghana and met with many of the young women who have been rescued from a life of sex slavery and are now learning vocational skills. For Nicole, the trip was a perfect example of God's goodness brought full circle.

"I was sitting on the airplane before we landed in Africa, and all of a sudden I got in this poetic mood, thinking that somewhere in this land my family was formed and taken from Africa to be slaves," Nicole says when asked about her experience. "Now here I was, a free American woman, coming back to testify that God is good, God is just. The prayers of the saints are still answered."

'You are rich'

Traveling to Africa was humbling, Nicole says. "What is trash to us is treasure to them. The food we throw away when we are done would be like manna from heaven to them. Yet their faith has this 'wow' factor, because if God does not provide, they don't eat."

Nicole says seeing the need in Ghana helped her realize the true abundance Americans have.

"I was able to come back to the Baby Girls Club and ask my girls, 'How many of you have eaten at least one meal today? How many of you have a place to live?' and say to them, 'Then you are rich. If you have just one dollar, you'd be considered rich in the places I saw.'"

The singer adds: "We all have something to give or can find something to give. If God can answer the prayers of the sharecropper and provide for his needs, He can provide for us, too."

Natalie Nichols Gillespie is the mom and stepmom of seven children and the author of Stepfamily Success (Revell) and Successful Adoption: A Guide for Christian Families (Nelson).Join Nicole in Ministry

The I.N. Network offers many ways that you can help those in need around the world, from short-term mission trips to sponsoring a child monthly. The nonprofit organization currently has more than 60 projects in 20 countries. For more information, visit www.innetworkusa.org and click on "Get Involved," or call 1-800-738-2912.

Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
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