(This post was written by Marissa Walker. Marissa is a student at Salisbury University studying international studies) and a JustPeace intern for the summer of 2016)
A group of clergy, youth pastors, young adults, and staff from the Division on Ministries with Young People (DMYP) from all five United Methodist jurisdictions came together over the last weekend of July to discuss race and racial justice within the United Methodist Church in Lake Dallas, Texas. Kendra Dunbar, a member of the JustPeace staff collective, was a co-facilitator of the conversation.
The event kicked off Thursday night with brief introductions then a community conversation. Local folks from Dallas were invited to come and speak about the recent police shooting that had taken place downtown, the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as racial justice within the United Methodist churches in Dallas.
The local pastors gave details on some of their projects and programs they have initiated in their churches. For example, “Together We Ball” is a project where the local Dallas police force participates in basketball games against the pastors of local churches. Additionally, the group was able to hear about the accounts of two young adults who were at the protest during the time of the shooting.
The group also learned of an effort amongst lay and clergy leadership to develop an initiative that looks to restore relationship between officers and the community and too facilitates dialogue and action to heal the wounds of racism in the church and community. And finally the group was briefed on the Day of Togetherness sponsored by the Dallas Mavericks for youth within the Dallas community and a national phone call being held every Friday for the for seeable future.
On Friday, the group continued talks about racism, racial identity, racial justice and dignity. We reflected on what had been shared the night before and expressed any other concerns, questions, feelings, opinions, and experiences with the Black Lives Matter movement and other racial justice movements. Afterwards, we spent time in a circle process where each participant shared a piece of her own racial identity and reflected upon how he is called to racial justice work. To aid this process, we each brought an item(s) that represented our own racial identity, and explained our personal connection to that item. Next, we split up into small groups and discussed the various ways structural and interpersonal racism impacted our lives. We discussed how the church has acted and how it has remained silent regarding racial injustice. The silences shared were particularly painful and frustrating for us.
A list of resources about race, racial justice, and engagement in difficult conversations was provided and we collectively brainstormed what resources we thought were missing and what we would add to the list. The group also mapped programmatic resources within the United Methodist Church, separating them into three main categories: Do Justice, Love Kindness (charity), and Walk Humbly with God (spirituality). After this session, we started brainstorming ideas for action planning programs, projects, initiatives or movements for young black youth in the United Methodist Church. We separated into jurisdictions and each group focused on the problems their jurisdiction faced, whether it be within the church or within the community.
On the last day, Saturday, each group presented their action plans for engaging black youth in their jurisdictions and how they could use resources outside and within the United Methodist Church in order to execute their plans. The group created a facebook page as part of their plan to communicate with one another, share resources, and lift up local events/trainings.
The conference was a blessing to all those who attended. Although there were some tough discussions, participants felt that theirs concerns and opinions were heard, and their action plans could be enacted in their jurisdictions. All have agreed that another conference needs to take place in order to check-in on each other’s action plans, gain insights on how plans have worked or not worked, to voice new concerns, and brainstorm additional action plans.