Panelists discussed the role of faith in grappling with racism and divisions within the church during a virtual town hall hosted by Little Lights Urban Ministries on Tuesday, June 30.
Moderated by Little Lights Executive Director and Founder Steve Park, “Little Lights Town Hall: A Conversation on the Need for Racial Justice” included a discussion among five panelists followed by an audience questions and answer session.
Discussing racism and police brutality in the U.S., Program Director Karmen Taylor said faith has helped guide her through continued pain, anger and grief. Taylor, who has worked at Little Lights for seven years, began her career at First Union National Bank. After two white, female classmates with fewer educational credentials than herself received much higher positions, Taylor said the “blatantly unfair” situation overwhelmed her.
She said the frustration she felt in her position “brought [her] to God.”
“Racism didn’t stop,” Taylor said. “Racist things continue to happen all the time. But the difference is that when I was facing it before I opened up to God, I was facing it alone.”
Panelists included Taylor, Program Coordinator Dominique Scruggs, Board Member LaToya Archibald, Board Member Derek Sykes and Volunteer & Mentor Coordinator Teddi Beschel.
Taylor said she’s hopeful that many members of historically black denominations have publicly embraced protesting, organizing and advocating for racial justice. Still, both Taylor and Archibald emphasized that such a response is not universal across the church.
To Archibald, it’s frustrating that some Christians continue to adopt the viewpoint that “justice is not a Jesus issue,” said the Board Member, who is also the Director of Partnerships at The HOPE Scholarship, a non-profit organization that provides need-based scholarships to students attending historically black colleges and universities. She encouraged town hall attendees to study black theologians and liberation theology.
“As a person, as the black person in the church who always has to bring up these things, it’s frustrating to have to continue to do so,” Archibald said. “There needs to be great reform and repentance within the body of Christ. Before we can go out in the world and try to evangelize or disciple other folks, we need to be making sure that we’ve got it right at home.”
Park said the organization has focused on justice and “racial reconciliation” for years, and decided to host a town hall in light of increased awareness of police brutality and the country’s racist history. According to a survey at the start of the discussion, around half of the attendees were white and had connected with Little Lights before. According to the organization’s website, Little Lights is “a non-profit organization that empowers under-served youth and families in Washington, DC through practical assistance, racial reconciliation and the love of Christ.”
When an audience member asked panelists to discuss one area of racial justice work they are passionate about, Sykes emphasized equity, saying that selecting a single area is nearly impossible. Sykes is the Vice President of Finance and Operations at Community of Hope, an organization focused on ending family homelessness in the District.
“Racial injustice impacts so much of the experience of black people that it’s hard to just pick one area where you can see it manifest,” Sykes said. “It impacts everything, from where we live, through where we learn, through what we eat.”
Scruggs, who grew up attending Little Lights, turned the conversation to the District. He said he’s worried about the young people who live in wards 7 and 8, where food and housing insecurity is common and healthcare access is limited.
Scruggs said he wants “to be the protector of our youth.”
“I have just been feeling very much frustrated with everything that’s going on — that’s continuing to go on for years, decades,” he said. “We all want change. But still, a lot of individuals have no change in their hearts or in their minds. We want them to change for the better of our country, for the better of our neighborhoods and for the better for our people.”
In August, Park is teaching a cohort of Race Literacy 101, an 11-session study and discussion group that meets weekly to discuss race and racism. To sign up for the virtual class, email [email protected]. Visit https://www.littlelights.org to learn more about Little Lights.
Eva Herscowitz is a journalism student at Northwestern University currently interning with the Hill Rag. She writes for Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern. You can reach her at [email protected]