United Christian Leadership Ministry of Western New York, Inc. (www.uclmwny.org) sponsored a conference in memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 16, 2016 entitled, “Finding Solutions – Community Healing, Restoration, and Justice.” The event sought to promote Dr. King’s philosophy and to examine the role of Christian faith in addressing individual, institutional and structural racism in several areas including the Christian Church itself.
Workshop facilitators were members of UCLM or individuals with their own expertise and organizations/agencies in the community. Facilitators were asked by UCLM to invite workshop participants to continue the discussion about solutions for healing, restoration and justice in follow-up meetings in the hopes that each workshop facilitator would help participants develop one goal that could become a part of an overall UCLM MLK Conference Agenda. It was UCLM’s hope to create a new collaborative body of organizations, who would retain their separate identities, but coordinate their activities in accord with the MLK Conference Agenda with UCLM acting as the coordinating hub.
When one of the original co-facilitators of a workshop entitled, “Black and White Churches Addressing Institutional Racism” based on Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html) decided to participate in another conference workshop, At Liberty Ministries, Inc. (ALM), agreed to step in and develop a presentation based on the Letter. During her part of the workshop, Rev. Judith Davis, Founder and Executive Director of ALM, discussed the four steps of any direct action campaign as outlined in the Letter:
- Collect the Facts,
- Self-Purification and
- Direct Action.
Rev. Davis also discussed the stark difference in perspective on the use of direct action campaigns as a method of social transformation between King and the white clergy to whom the Letter was addressed. By the end of the session, Workshop participants agreed this sharp division in perspective remains unto today, 54 years after King’s writing of this Letter.
ALM, on behalf of the three co-facilitators of the workshop, invited participants to continue the discussion. However, the other co-facilitators did not continue and ALM alone facilitated the follow up meetings.
ALM met with Black and White Churches Addressing Institutional Racism participants and others from the community for the first time February 23, 2016. Participants attended the initial meeting and subsequent meetings representing themselves, their church or another organization. It is important to note here that a group focused on racism in education also coming out of the MLK conference, co-facilitated by Mr. Howard Eagle, stopped meeting a short time after the conference and Mr. Eagle joined Black and White Churches.
ALM continued to coordinate/facilitate Black and White Churches meetings at its base of operations, Community of the Savior, until the group crystallized into what would become a working Steering Committee. The Steering Committee developed the following goal to bring healing, restoration and justice:
- The creation of vibrant coalitions of churches that engage in direct action campaigns to improve the quality of everyday life for persons of color by dismantling/amending laws, policies, processes etc. presently generating inequitable outcomes by race in housing, healthcare, employment, education, criminal justice, voting and media representations.
The first step towards creating such a coalition was to educate the church on the history of racism in general in the United States and, more specifically, the history of racism in the Christian church. Unfortunately, the research that would need to be done to create this series was beyond the bandwidth time-wise of many of the initial MLK workshop participants. Therefore, in the end, individuals and organizations that had already been studying how institutional racism operates and functions would mostly comprise the Steering Committee.
Incubating in the basement of the church for nine months, with each person/organization bringing their expertise, the Steering Committee gave birth to a 10 week educational series ready to pilot in November of 2016.
By November 2016, however, it was apparent that a collaborative of separate agencies with UCLM as the hub and an MLK Conference Agenda had not materialized as Black and White Churches Addressing Institutional Racism was the only workshop that turned into a Steering Committee with a goal. The Steering Committee of Black and White Churches asked UCLM if they wished to co-sponsor the educational series but UCLM declined and wished Black and White Churches the best in its endeavors.
Black and White Churches Addressing Institutional Racism, financially sponsored by ALM, Open Arms Ministries, members of the Steering Committee and participant donations, held its pilot educational series from November 14, 2016 to February 20, 2017 on Tuesday evenings at Community of the Savior, 4 E. Henrietta Road, Rochester, New York and graduated 18 individuals (9 black and 9 white) ready for engagement in anti-racist work.
Black and White Churches Addressing Institutional Racism is now The Movement for Anti-racist Ministry and Action (MAMA). More information can be found at the following link on facebook: fb.me/MAMACampaigns. MAMA’s work will focus on education and its first campaign is to call for the hiring and retention of significantly more race and class-conscious teachers of color.
MAMA’s first event is a Candidates Forum on August 10, 2017 where all candidates for the RCSD School Board will be asked what they will do to ensure the hiring and retaining of significantly more race and class-conscious teachers of color.