A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table
September 25
00:00 2014
(pictured above: Family members touch Michael Brown’s copper-top vault during his burial at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Normandy, Mo.)

Ministers want to engage community in talks about Ferguson and other topics

The Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity will kick off a series of town hall forums with one about police and community relations – a timely topic in the wake of the events that roiled Ferguson, Mo.

Members of the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity pose for a photo on Tuesday at Emmanuel Baptist Church.

Members of the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity pose for a photo on Tuesday at Emmanuel Baptist Church.

“Can (Ferguson) happen here? Sadly, of course it can,” Ministers’ Conference President Rev. Willard Bass, assistant pastor at Green Street Church, told members of the media Tuesday at Emmanuel Baptist Church. “The Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity believes it is time to be proactive in our efforts to … build community efforts toward equity and justice.”

There is no timeline yet for the four-forum series, but members say it could began as soon as this fall. Police relations is one of the four main thrusts of the Conference, an organization of mostly African American clergy. Economic development, education and health care are the others. They will each be addressed during forums of their own.



“We believe that we can make advances and change the social culture in our community with honest, crucial conversations,” Bass said. “We believe that we can discover new ways of growing together.”

But ministers say they do not want the conversation to be one-sided. Participation from “decision makers” and “movers and shakers,” including those from the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce and the city’s influential health care industry, is essential, they said.

Dr. Dennis Leach, pastor of Morning Star Missionary Baptist, said income disparities are at the root of the problems between police and communities of color and must be addressed head-on.

“There is a tremendous link between poverty and crime,” he said.



Bass said the Winston-Salem Police Department is on-board and cooperating with the Conference in the planning of the initial forum. Assistant Chief Wilson Weaver II was on hand at Emmanuel. He said police officers are striving every day to build trust with the residents they serve, including by simply getting out of their patrol vehicles to strike up conversations.

It is unclear if WSPD leaders and the Ministers’ Conference will see eye-to-eye on the latter’s plan to broach the topic of giving subpoena power to the Citizens’ Police Review Board. Some say giving the board the ability to call on and question officers would give it the ability to truly investigate citizen complaints about officer misconduct. Historically, the WSPD – which conducts its own in-house review when complaints are filed – has not been in favor of that.

Dr. Serenus Churn, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, said he hopes the first town hall is more about compassion than confrontation. While acknowledging that the viral “Hands Up” protest in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson had its place, Churn now believes a more conciliatory tone is needed to engage allies of all stripes in the fight against social and economic iniquities.

“I personally am wondering whether our response needs to turn from ‘hands up’ to hands out,” he said.

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T. Kevin Walker

T. Kevin Walker

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