I was born in 1954, in northeast Ohio, the same year as Brown v. Board of Education. My school district integrated with little fanfare, or so it seemed to me, by the time I was in middle school. I think my early understanding of race was mixed up in my privileged understanding of vocational and economic class/status as much as it was on skin color. The people of color I knew before I went to college all blue-color, working class, and poor, as I understood the terms at the time.
The upheavals of the 60s and 70s, including assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, Jr, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, and the Viet Nam era, happened around me. Although not actively engaged in social justice causes, I learned from the media and responses of friends and family that there were deep divides, even among people who stood for justice. But when I graduated from college and went to work in Washington, DC., it all became real. There I worked with, and for, people of color. My first boss was an African American woman, a nurse with a master’s degree, the second, an African American man. My baby’s first pediatrician was a woman from India. I carpooled and became friends with people from around the world. My understanding of the insidious nature of systemic racism deepened, informed by proximity and observation and witness. A fifteen-year sojourn in South Alabama opened my eyes even more widely to contemporary aspects of racism in the deep south, adding to my experiential education.
Fast forward through seventeen years in Central Georgia, theological education, ordination and service at a seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA). A deepened commitment to antiracism led to training, first led by a presbytery clergy team and then several sessions facilitated by Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing and Training. Participation in two” Big Read” book groups event on campus, and to the RevGal anti-racism reading groups followed. I sought out non-Eurocentric authors of color, writers of fiction and non-fiction alike. I’m a GRITS: A Girl Reformed in the South. In many ways. And the reformations are not over.
Which leads me to today’s launch of this phase of the RevGal Anti-Racism Project. In the past three years, I’ve read more books about racism and related topics, and works of fiction and non-fiction by people of color than any other single topic and or group of authors. I’ve been intentional, and I’ve been changed.
Thanks to RevGals, I read Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I Hart and talked about it with RevGals. I’d read Debby Irving’s Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race before participating in the RevGal online discussion. Thanks to the seminary’s big reads, I’ve read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, and Warren St. John’s story set in neighboring Clarkston, GA, Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference. Add to the mix Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and more. I read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood last weekend. Thanks to bloggers like Laura M. Cheifetz, Jan Edmiston, Denise Anderson, Marci Glass, MaryAnn McKibben Dana and others, I’m becoming aware of other voices and I’m paying attention. These voices, these books and associated discussions, continue the conversation in different ways, even if the conversations are in my own head, sifting the authors’ viewpoints and shifting my own.
As an educator interested in the ongoing development of people of all ages in faith communities, application of learning matters. That means that what I’m learning influences how we select seminar topics and leaders, and recruit bloggers for the seminary blog. Thanks to colleagues on campus and around the world, and author-teachers who I have yet to meet in person, seminars and online courses on topics such as social justice and evangelism, church planting and redevelopment, Christian Education formation and equity, justice and inclusion and are led by some of the best established and emerging scholars and leaders who are people of color. As it should be. And as it too often has not been. I acknowledge my own role in the past practices, and do what I can to do differently.
I invite you to join us in the RevGal Antiracism Project, to engage in conversation, reflection and application of what you discover along the way as this new phase continues. To learn what you can to “do differently.” New writers will post each month. We’ll ask questions. We might even get together via live discussion (technology connections!) along the way.
To start things off, do one or more of the following:
- Do a personal timeline about race and racism in your life. Who or what are some of the people, places, stories, books, current events that shaped, or began to reshape, your understanding?
- Assess your library – the books on your shelves, the books in your library que, your Goodreads history. Who wrote them? Where are they from? How many are by people of color?
- Many churches and faith-based groups have formed book groups to read and discuss anti-racism. Has yours? If so – are they homogenous groups, or do they include a mix of people of color and countries of origin? What would it take to initiate such a gathering?
- What is one intentional step you can make to be a more welcoming, inclusive and antiracist individual?
The Rev. Dr. Sarah F. Erickson is a clergy member of the Presbytery of S. Alabama serving as Director of Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. She is committed to nurturing others through all stages of the journey of faith, and has a special interest in the role of worship and music in faith formation. When not writing, preaching and teaching, she enjoys her dog and cat, reading, the out-of-doors, swimming, walking, gardening and cooking. She is also known to enjoy spending time with her two sons, their spouses and Grandboys #1 and #2.
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