Thursday, September 4, 2014

10 People Doing the Awesome Work of Racial Justice & Reconciliation

by Rebekah Mays

If you’re like me, you weren’t able to take your eyes off your Twitter feed a few weeks ago. If you’re like me, you still feel grieved and overwhelmed by what you’ve seen in Ferguson, and maybe even a little cynical that it’s ever going to get better.

But here’s the good news. We may not be aware of it, but many people are already doing everything they can to help heal our country’s deep racial wounds. They are slowly changing the world with their sermons and homeless ministries, their blog posts and youth mentorship programs. Please reflect upon the words of these ten individuals, organizations and churches who are all doing the beautiful, often messy work of racial justice.

1. Rev. Willis Johnson of Wellspring Church  
Ferguson, Missouri

Rev. Johnson is the pastor of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, on the very street where so much national attention has been fixed the past two weeks. During the protests, someone captured a photograph of Johnson laying a hand on 18-year-old Joshua Wilson. In a powerful interview on NPR, Johnson describes his identification with Joshua’s anger, and breaks down in tears as he describes his own son he’s trying to raise. “This is a not a race issue,” Johnson says, “this is a human issue.” Listen to the interview here.

Church website:
Twitter: @FWillisJohnson

2. Christena Cleveland
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Christena Cleveland is a social psychologist and the author of the book Disunity in Christ. She speaks about racial reconciliation around the United States and is an associate professor of reconciliation studies at Bethel University.

Her website is a treasure trove of thought and practical advice on overcoming cultural divisions. In a recent post, “The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail,” she writes:
“It’s relatively easy to see the suffering Christ in black men who are already dead and aren’t threatening to hurt anyone. But can you see the suffering Christ in black men who are still alive and might hurt someone? Can you see the suffering Christ in violent responses to injustice? Can you see the cross in the Molotov cocktail?”
Twitter: @CSCleve

3. Austin Channing-Brown  
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Austin Channing-Brown speaks and writes about racial reconciliation and leads diversity trainings around the country. In a fascinating post on Rachel Held Evans' website, Channing-Brown thoughtfully responds to several questions about implementing multicultural initiatives in Christian communities. Read her answers here.

Twitter: @austinchanning

4. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove 
Durham, North Carolina

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is the author of many spiritual books and articles and a leader in the New Monasticism movement. He has also started a “house of hospitality” for the formerly homeless and recently began coordinating content for the blog Red Letter Christians, which strives to take the “red letter” words of Jesus seriously.

Read this wonderful piece he recently wrote on God’s gracious commandment for Americans to “go to hell.”

Twitter: @wilsonhartgrove

5.  A House on Beekman 
Bronx, NY

A House on Beekman serves the neighborhood of Mott Haven, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. The house provides long-term spiritual, educational, economic services to the neighborhoods’ residents and hosts a number of summer camps and after-school programs for local youth. The House is directed by Sara Miller and supported by Trinity Grace Church in New York City.

Watch “Sara’s Story,” the director’s beautiful testimony about dedicating herself to the renewal of the South Bronx.

Twitter: @ahouseonbeekman

6. Daniel Hill and the River City Community Church 
Chicago, Illinois

Daniel Hill is the founding and senior pastor of River City Community Church, a vibrant, multicultural body of believers. Hill is deeply committed to bringing both spiritual renewal and social justice to Humboldt Park of Chicago.

In a recent interview in which he discusses the choice Christians have to be brave or to be safe, Hill says, “If we actually have the luxury of choosing between safe and brave, then we are living in a far more comfortable existence than most of the world … That is just one more reminder of what has always been true – safe is not the goal of a believer!”    

Twitter: @danielhill1336, @rc3chicago

7. Mihee Kim-Kort

Mihee Kim-Kort is a PCUSA pastor and the author of Making Paper Cranes and Streams Run Uphill. Her prose is gorgeous and emotive, often grappling with the issues of racial and gender equality in the church. Read her compelling post “#BlackLivesMatter and Vigilance.”

Twitter: @miheekimkort 

8. By Their Strange Fruit 
Columbus, Ohio

“By Their Strange Fruit” is a blog that facilitates conversations about racial divides and renewal and is edited by Kaitelin Hansen. The blog is extraordinarily well-researched and informative – a great starting point for anyone wanting to deepen their understanding of racial injustice.

Twitter: @BTSFblog

9. Shane Fast and Rebirth East St. Louis  
St. Louis, Missouri

Rebirth founder Shane Fast first began volunteering with East St. Louis High School’s football team in 2009. Since then, Rebirth has been expanding its support to the young men in the area, and now provides athletic, academic, and spiritual support through a range of opportunities.

Fast recently wrote an excellent essay on CNN iReport responding to the Ferguson tragedy. You can read it here.

Twitter: @RebirthESL

10. Jonathan Walton and the New York City Urban Project 
New York, NY

Jonathan Walton is the director of the New York City Urban Project, a ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship that  works with college students to feed the homeless and fight sex trafficking. Walton has mentored dozens of students through NYCUP’s Spring Break Plunge and Summer Immersion programs and often uses spoken-word poetry to encourage and challenge his listeners.

“Would you say I didn’t deserve to grow up in poverty?
Or would you say, ‘jonathan, yours is such a great story!’”
Read the rest of his poem here.

Twitter: @foreverfocused

These are just ten of many others working for racial justice and reconciliation. Who are the other leaders who have challenged and motivated you to pursue racial justice? Tell us in the comments. 

Rebekah Mays is a Barnard College graduate originally from Austin, Texas. She currently works and writes in Prague, Czech Republic. You can find more of her writing on her blog The Prague BLOG or follow her on Twitter @smallbeks.

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