At Sacred Conversation, attendees examine history with race written in

Posted by: Gordon on 1/25/2015

Sacred Conversations About race pix

MCU held its Sacred Conversations about Race (+Action) kick-off Sunday


Sometimes, rethinking race means re-writing history. That lesson hit home for 300-plus attendees at the kick-off of MCU’s Sacred Conversations About Race (+Action) the Sunday after Martin Luther King Day.

The crowd, about a third African American and two-thirds white and from some 50 different congregations and faith communities across St. Louis, heard from speakers and viewed a timeline of the making of racial segregation in St. Louis by a local professor, from neighborhood covenants that segregated the city in 1919-23 to urban renewal policies of the 1960s and 1970s.

In breakout groups they added their own experiences with race to the timeline. The pattern that emerged looked pretty different from the history they teach in school:

  • One woman said at her college in the 1950s, roll call included both a student’s name and her race.Another remembered an election where voters decided against a high school for the city’s north side that would have served newly-arrived African-American families. When it failed, some enrolled in Ferguson and other county districts, she recalled.

  • Several people cited the protest in the 1960s by two men who shut down the building of the city’s famous arch to protest the fact that not a single African American was involved in building it.  

  • Others talked about experiences with redlining when a bank was happy to take their deposits but refused to loan them money.

“People had all kinds of details and stories,” said Pastor Dietra Wise-Baker, co-chair of MCU's clergy caucus. “I think for a lot of people, we didn’t realize how much we knew, or how deep and overt racism was, historically. It made people think about their history in a totally different way.”

In addition to the alt-history lesson, organizers said attendees had some fidgety moments talking about race, for example when Presbyterian minister Deb Krause walked the group through a definition of racism as “prejudice + power” and unpacked African-Americans’ experiences with law enforcement.

Most will be heading into more, not less, uncomfortable territory as their congregations prepare to continue this process. Even before the event 30 congregations had already signed up to hold similar sacred conversations led by a multi-cultural facilitator team from outside their institution. Then, many will join with a different church or faith group to continue the process, before the whole group comes back together in March. 

While MCU organizers will be in the state capital to push for education and health care reform next week—their first visit since participating in a mass “die-in” at the rotunda earlier this month—they did not make a call to join in that action a central part of the Sacred Conversations event.

The deliberate process is the best way to build a solid base of multi-cultural understanding within the organization and the city, Baker said. 

“I think this is the right move based on our Ferguson experiences,” she said. “It was clear that we’re not ready to go forward with action – we were out there in the middle of action and having problems around issues that we thought were in the past.  When we come back in March, we can decide what we are going to go after together around structural racism.”

The event was covered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Public Radio.

Tags: MCU | St. Louis | race |
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