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From white Jesus to Hispanic stereotyping, the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Advocacy Conference took on tough issues


The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins asks, ‘Are we going to be on the side of justice?

December 27, 2023

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins gives the keynote address at the Young Adult Advocacy Conference. (Photo by Darla Carter)

During an advocacy conference for young adults, the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins used the traditional image of a blonde, blue-eyed Jesus as a symbol of the need to challenge the status quo.

Standing next to examples of that Eurocentric depiction, Hawkins asked, “Why is this the image of Christ in our church when we all know that Jesus did not look like this in no form, shape or fashion?”

Hawkins, the advocacy director for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), went on to say that it’s “a question that we’ve got to deal with because it’s a promotion of white supremacy. Everything good has got to be white.”

That was one of the issues raised in Hawkins’ keynote address during the Young Adult Advocacy Conference held online and at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville.

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins interviews Louisville activist Melvin Boyd at the conference. (Photo by Darla Carter)

The conference with the theme “Jesus and Justice” was designed to teach young people, such as college-age adults and seminarians, how to stand up for what they believe in. It was hosted by the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations and attracted people from as far away as California and Iowa.

During his address, Hawkins acknowledged and praised young people for being involved in many of the movements that have arisen in recent years. For example, protests against a Muslim travel ban; the March for Our Lives, a gun control movement that sprang from a school shooting in Parkland, Florida; and waves of protests following the wrongful death of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis.

Later, the audience heard from Louisville activist Melvin Boyd, who was interviewed by Hawkins about various topics, including what it was like to be part of local protests of the killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020. Taylor, an African American woman, was shot by police who had forced their way into her apartment on a drug investigation in a manner that raised many questions. Her death sparked a major outcry in the city and nation.

Ricky Santiago, local chapter president for the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, is interviewed by Flor Vélez-Díaz, a ruling elder who is the manager for digital process and social witness for the Office of the General Assembly. (Photo by Darla Carter)

The police officers’ actions received intense scrutiny and later resulted in a multimillion-dollar settlement with Taylor’s estate. Since then, a lot of bridge-building, networking and other community initiatives have taken place to try to improve community relations. But more progress is needed, Boyd said.

A second discussion featured Ricky Santiago, local chapter president for the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, being interviewed by Flor Vélez-Díaz, a ruling elder who is the manager for digital process and social witness for the Office of the General Assembly.

Santiago, who is also the digital inclusion manager for Louisville Metro Government, spoke on a number of topics, including making sure that no one is left behind in the digital age. “We need to make sure that all our communities are connected and that they have the proper skills to use technology,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of recognizing that people from Hispanic or Latino communities are not all the same.

“We tend to allow those in power to reduce us to a blanket statement of Latino and Hispanic, and we can no longer do that,” Santiago said. “We have to advocate and uplift leaders of those particular communities, so that it’s not just ‘Oh, Latino outreach.’ No, it is a specific outreach to that community, to Puerto Ricans, to Colombians, to Cubans, because only they understand their experience.”

He also noted that there are differences in the level of privilege, so it’s important to show up for each other, Santiago said. “Use your privilege to protect, right? And use your privilege to deflect.”

He said sometimes Hispanics are reluctant to speak out. “Those of us that have the privilege to rattle the cage” should do so “because if not, our community’s going to continue to be invisible.”

The Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations are part of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

 Darla Carter, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Rev. Jimmie Hawkins took on tough issues at the Young Adult Advocacy Conference

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Janet Toole, Vice President, Affiliated Markets, Board of Pensions
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Let us pray

Gracious God, you are right beside us. Help us to see the opportunities we have to be present with others and to be grateful for those who are present with us. Amen.

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