Earlier this evening, at their annual conference, the Academy of Parish Clergy announced their winner for the 2019 Book of the Year Award, and they selected both Preaching about Racism and Anxious to Talk about it for this honor, saying they belong together. I am elated with excitement!
But at the same time that I am immensely grateful to receive this honor, I am aware that news of ongoing racism continues unabated:
The Southern Law and Poverty Center just released its report today, saying that for the fourth year in a row, hate groups have been on the rise.
And in Alabama, an editorial on Monday suggested the KKK should go ride in Washington, D.C., with nooses.
Racism is not going away any time soon.
Make a commitment to talk about racism in your communities. Even if you feel you are not racist, or you feel your church or community is not racist, please join me in having these conversations. While you may not know anyone in a “hate group,” such groups become bolder in the face of silence and inaction.
Last weekend, I was with Reverend Steve Miller at the HBCU Oral History Project at St.Phillip’s College in San Antonio. We collected 49 stories from members of the community, who were interviewed by students from HBCU’s across Texas, as well as a few from City University of New York. The stories shared took place many years ago, or as recently as a few days ago.
These stories may be dramatic, or they may have been more subtle: a mother went into her child’s classroom to see the teacher, and she couldn’t find her son’s family tree that he had turned in for school. After looking everywhere, she found it low on the wall, behind the trash can, where no one could see it. Telling this story to one of the students, the mother’s eyes filled with tears of fury and frustration.
When I was speaking with pastors and congregants in Midland a few weeks back, an elderly black pastor approached me after the event and shared his story from two weeks prior: he had gone to the police station where he was bringing someone into custody, and the police charged in from another station, making him get on the ground, and put a gun to his head. This pastor appeared to be in seventies. Telling me this story at the end of the event, he seemed to be sharing with me a deep secret: a terrifying and humiliating experience, brushed off by the police officers as a mistake.
Yesterday on Austin Seminary’s campus, we hosted a Day of Memory and Hope, looking back at the history of African Americans at Austin Seminary, and we hosted a panel of several luminaries, including one of our alums, the Rev. Sharon Risher who I had the privilege of taking to dinner Monday night. Rev. Risher has become a national figure, speaking out against gun violence and racism. Her mother, Ethel Lance, was one of the nine victims of the Mother Emanuel AME church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. She has been invited to speak all across the country, recently returning from a trip to Liberty University, the school Jerry Falwell founded. At dinner Monday night, she shared with me her surprise at being invited to speak at Liberty, but when she got there, she noticed she was speaking in a rather small venue. The Diversity and Inclusion officer congratulated her after her talk, and Rev. Risher responded by asking: “so when do I get to be on the big stage?” He laughed, answering: “Now let’s be careful: we can’t move too fast.”
Conversations about racism are too often relegated to the side, to the small venue, to the informal book study. What would it look like for our country to have these conversations across our communities–in our churches, our schools, our local businesses?
These stories need to be heard. We need to create more space for persons to share their experiences of racism, and for all of us together to fight it. Even if you or your church has already gone through an anti-racism training or workshop or book study: make it a regular part of your conversations. Make it a main-stage event. Include it as required curriculum.
I am really grateful to have been honored to be the Academy of Parish Clergy’s 2019 Book of the Year winner, and I going to give myself a few minutes to jump up and down in celebration, and then I am going to go back to work. We all have work to do. Use your own gifts in your own spheres of influence to make a difference: speak against racism, listen to the stories others have to share, and create spaces for compassion in your communities.
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My professor also generously shares wisdom, graciously provides guidance, and mentors her students in search of preaching craft, skill, and effectiveness. Yes, she’s all that!