What do local historian Tom Hanchett, storytelling duo Epoch Tribe, and multimedia artist and activist Bree Stallings have in common? They are each a key component to a new anti-racism resource list compiled by Mecklenburg’s Metropolitan Interfaith Network (MeckMIN).
MeckMIN is a nonprofit comprised of nearly 100 congregations representing more than a dozen faith traditions. It promotes interfaith collaboration to foster understanding, compassion and justice.
MeckMIN’s anti-racism resource list compiles a roster of local people and groups, including thumbnail biographies and contact information, willing to work with houses of faith and community organizations to plunge into transformative conversations — the challenging, rewarding and sometimes difficult discussions about race, racism, power and privilege that are becoming more common and necessary each day.
It’s not that these topics haven’t been tackled before, offered MeckMIN executive director Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski, but the difference with the organization’s latest list is people. Instead of a more traditional reading, watching or listening list, this directory is comprised of people that can engage participants in a back-and-forth dialogue.
MeckMIN’s roster of human resources is not confined to academics and consultants.
“Something different, and complementary, can happen when a congregation comes together to encounter an art performance or to hear stories or to work with a trainer,” Polaski told Queen City Nerve. “Reading, listening, [and] watching on your own can only go so far. Everyone on this list can help congregations take what they’ve read, heard, and watched and go deeper into understanding and deeper into action.”
If there is a common thread uniting all the people on the roster, Polaski thinks it’s their willingness to work with congregations and people who are at every point of this journey –– those who’ve wrestled with these issues for years as well as people who’ve only recently had their eyes opened.
The project germinated last March when MeckMIN convened a series of conversations over Zoom designed to keep congregations apprised of coronavirus-related developments. Although the meetings began as COVID-focused forums, Black Lives Matter demonstrations arose as we moved into summer, and talk in the meetings turned to power, privilege, oppression and how congregations could respond.
The crucial spark arrived when more and more faith leaders came to MeckMIN and shared that their congregants seemed ready, more than ever before, to grapple with issues of racial inequality, Polaski revealed.
As well as facilitating conversations and learning experiences with congregations, Polaski also views the list as a tool to help people like dancer and choreographer Camerin Watson, educator Janeen Bryant, experimental theater duo True Lobster Charlotte and many more who have joined MeckMIN’s anti-racism roster. After all, it’s not only congregations who can use the list to cultivate engagement.
The entries on the directory go into detail about the classes, seminars and training opportunities offered by the people and organizations on the list.
“Many of the people on the list make their living doing this work and … are struggling [because of] the pandemic as many of their scheduled events have been cancelled,” she offered. “I hope the list will get them some much-needed income.”
Like the people who make up the living components of the anti-racism resource list, Polaski sees the resource as a living document to be updated and expanded constantly.
“Anyone who wants to suggest someone, or themselves, is welcome to reach out to me,” she said. One thing Polaski hopes to add to the document soon is information on specific racial justice projects so people can eventually move beyond educating themselves and become active in local efforts.
Polaski hopes faith leaders will take a look at all the possibilities the resource list provides and choose the best ones to help their congregations delve deeper into societal issues. With dedication and effort, more and more people will do the hard work of reckoning with the continuing power of racism in this country and in this city, she offered.
“I also hope that people who read the list will be encouraged, as I am, by all the many ways there are to address these difficult issues,” Polaski said.
She asserts that inspiration can be found, “In all the people already doing the heavy lifting of teaching people to talk about race and racism in the hard and truthful ways that have a chance of being transformative.”
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