Pastors discuss race at forum

Pastors discuss race at forum
March 19
00:00 2015

By Erin Mizelle, For The Chronicle

On the night of Tuesday, March 10, in a building that perhaps many Winston-Salem residents drive by without ever paying it much attention, a conversation was had, and it was one for all.

Housed at the Enterprise Center on Martin Luther King Drive for all to gather, this community dialogue was held to explore “faith community pathways” to ensuring an impartial and thriving city of Winston-Salem for all those who call it home.

Titled “Community Conversation for the Good of Our City,” the community faith-based dialogue was sponsored by the Institute for Dismantling Racism (IDR) and was hosted by a panel of clergy from churches in the Forsyth County area.  Occurrences of racial injustice in Staten Island and Ferguson, in particular, were to blame for the sense of urgency behind the night’s communal dialogue.

“When we began to talk about our community and what it could be, the thing that became very clear is that we couldn’t have what we wanted — what we deserved — unless the vast majority of the people in the community began to work together.  And the first step to that is to at least talk to, (then) hear and finally begin to understand one another,” said the Rev. Willard Bass as he opened the night’s special event.

“This is IDR’s effort to start that conversation,” said Bass, who is director of IDR. The organization has held a previous discussion session.

The conversation between the panelist of local pastors and the people of Winston-Salem addressed three specific questions, and started a dialogue that will continue for weeks and months to come:

1. What does a vision of the future of our city look like in which all communities flourish?

2. What are the obstacles for realizing this vision and the options for overcoming them?

3. How will we negotiate these obstacles successfully?

“We have to be ashamed of ourselves and we have to take personal responsibility because there was a time when we couldn’t,” said Pastor Nathan Scovens.  “And we have to accept that personal responsibility to make things better for everyone.”

The event was open to the pubic, allowing the conversation to be a “collaborative and continuous improvement project with the help of the community’s involvement,” as IDR had publicly hoped it would be.  Moderated by journalist and minister Dr. Bryan Williams, IDR made every attempt to relay the national conversation about racial discrimination and injustices to the future of  “our” Winston-Salem, or so it was referred on this night, time and time again.

“All of you that are here (in attendance) — your willingness to be here — is a statement about the kind of Winston-Salem you want to see.  And I commend you all for taking your time to be here,” Williams said, in opening the evening’s session.  “While religion has been a tool of oppression, giving legitimacy to the systems and institutions an unjust misuse of power, it has also served as sustenance and inspiration for those suffering from racism.  Tonight, we seek all forms and traditions that will deepen commitment to the work that we are all here to do.”

Throughout the two-and-a-half hour event, one point rang clear — regardless of race — as each speaker stood to take the microphone and address all in attendance:  In order for changes to occur in Winston-Salem and across the nation, these issues of social justice, and the lack there of, must first be brought to the forefront of every citizen’s conversation.

“We will remain vulnerable to each other, knowing that racism has taught us to be deceptive to self and others and that we need one another for accountability and integrity.  But here, our work begins with empathy for those who have been destroyed and wounded by the pathology of racism and with seeking the healing of the systems and institutions so that they might provide quality of access and equity in the distribution of power and resources,”  Williams said.

March 10 was the second attempt to do just that.

“Healing takes time.  Miracles take time.  And what we are asking for is healing,” Scovens softly remarked as he and the panel beside him began to close out the evening’s discussion.  “It does not — and it will not —happen overnight, but we will not lose sight of what could be.”

A third “Community Conversation for the Good of Our City” is already planned to happen in the near future.

Panelists were Rev. Darryl Aaron, Pastor, First Baptist Church; Rev. Steve Angle, Pastor, Southside Community Church; Rev. Tembila Covington, Cross the Red Sea Ministry of Rockingham County; Rev. Nathan Parrish, Pastor, Peace Haven Baptist Church; Rev. Nathan Scovens, Pastor, Galilee Baptist Church; Rev. Lisa Schwartz, Pastor, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship ; Bishop Todd Fulton, Pastor, Moriah Outreach Center  of Kernersville; and Rev. Chuck Spong, Senior Pastor, WS First.

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