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APCE’s Diversity Task Force presents its final report

From good people to just institutions

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

The Diversity Task Force presents its report during the annual event of the Association of Partners in Christian Education. (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Birmingham’s history of civil rights set the stage for the Association of Partners in Christian Education (APCE)’s Annual Event, held in the city Jan. 25–28, with pre- and post-event touring and learning opportunities around Birmingham and Alabama available to participants.

APCE attendees were also treated to free tickets to a staged reading of “Memorial,” a play that explores the legacy of lynching in surrounding Jefferson County. A workshop was also held featuring a conversation between Dorothy Walker, the site director of the Freedom Rides Museum, and Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., a Presbyterian minister, leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and college roommate to John Lewis, who led the second wave of Freedom Rides and was jailed in Jackson, Mississippi, for challenging policies of racial segregation on buses.

APCE’s Diversity Task Force also presented its final report at the event to be adopted by APCE’s membership.

The task force arranged several listening sessions and workshops to familiarize APCE members with its work and discuss how to deepen their inclusion and equity work in their own contexts. A virtual listening session around the report was held on Jan. 19 via Zoom, and a letter was sent out by APCE’s executive council with recommendations on steps to take after the report was adopted.

The 45-page report was the product of nearly four years of work by an eight-person task force from APCE’s four partner denominations. These members — Gord Brown, Kristi Button, Miguel Carlin, Christy Clore, Michael Edwards, Doris Evans, Danna Larson and Susan Young Thornton — took turns hosting several events on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice leading up to a lunch on Jan. 27 to discuss the report.

More than 50 people attended the lunch, where committee chairperson Young Thornton introduced the committee and described the history and process of its work, which included consultation with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training.

Christy Clore was among the report presenters during last week’s APCE annual event. (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

Carlin, Clore and Edwards read from the findings as outlined in the six-page executive summary. “In carrying out its work, the task force has observed that APCE’s culture is insular in nature and avoids engagement with new voices and communities, is focused more on programming than on building relationships, and can be receptive to new ideas, but not to their implementation,” Carlin read. Clore identified a practice of centering “educated, employed, white, cisgender constraints” and “honoring productivity over reflection and rest” and relying “on people of color and other marginalized communities to lead people for diversity.” Clore then asked the group to respond, asking what rang true, what felt difficult to hear, what challenges APCE would face in its future implementation work, and how the individuals present might participate in diversity, equity, inclusion and justice work in APCE or their own contexts.

The majority of respondents agreed with the diagnosis in the report. Some identified such accessibility barriers as the price of membership or the focus on people traveling to APCE’s annual event rather than APCE reaching into communities. The Rev. Maxine Jenkins, the first African American to be certified a Christian educator in Pittsburgh Presbytery and vice moderator of the Black Presbyterian Caucus of the Northeast Region, expressed appreciation for APCE’s approach and optimism for its ability to accomplish its goals. “I want to feel positive upon reading the report that they will change. I come to APCE for refreshment. It gives me life. I come to get enough energy for the next year. My experience of APCE is if they set a goal, they move towards that.”

Many of the other workshops facilitated by the task force showed a dedication to move toward its goals, starting from a place of confession: “We all want to believe that we are ‘good people’ and we are — good people who have been acculturated into systems that privilege some and oppress others,” the executive summary explains. “Opening our eyes and our hearts to and confronting this truth enables us to acknowledge where and how we have fallen short and empowers us for the hard work of becoming the people and the organization God calls us to be.”

On the morning of Jan. 26, the task force presented on the topic of “Supporting APCE Members in Anti-Racist Work.” Later that afternoon, Brown offered resources in a workshop called “Empowering Families in Becoming Anti-Racist.” Volunteer presenters picked up the civil rights and diversity theme as well in their workshops. Jenna Campbell, director of children and youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater, Oklahoma, translated the three foci of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 invitation to encourage congregational vitality through efforts to eradicate poverty and dismantle racism in “Engaging Children and Youth in Matthew 25.” Michael Schulte from The Dwelling in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, drew from his experience in congregational ministry and in a service learning nonprofit to present “Dismantling Transactional Ministry” in anti-poverty work.

“In our three years together the members of the Diversity Task Force have identified much in APCE’s culture, structure and practice that inhibits our becoming the diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just organization we have proclaimed ourselves to be,” the executive summary reads. “The good news is we have also found many colleagues who are up to the challenge of becoming all that we say we want to be.”

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