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Diverse leaders discuss how racism, pandemic impact them and their communities

‘Everyday God-Talk’ witnesses authentic experience

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Alexandra Zareth (top left), So Jung Kim (top right) and the Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt describe how the COVID-19 pandemic and racism have impacted them and their diverse communities.

LOUISVILLE — In the latest episode of “Everyday God-Talk,” a trio of diverse church leaders share how living with the twin pandemics of the coronavirus and racism is affecting them and their respective communities.

In the first of a three-part conversation, available here, host So Jung Kim asked her guests — the Revs. Ashley DeTar Birt and Alexandra Zareth — whether they would use the words “protest” or “uprising” to describe the Black Lives Matter movement.

Birt, who works with youth and families at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City, said she prefers the word “uprising” — because the movement feels like a groundswell of energy pushing up against something that has been holding people down.

“It’s literally in the word, rising up,” she said, “against the forces that have pushed down certain groups of people, specifically Black people in America for so long.”

Hearing this, Kim, who is an associate for theology in the PC(USA)’s Office of Theology & Worship, admitted being “very challenged” hearing the Black Lives Matter movement referred to as an “uprising,” because it triggered memories of growing up in authoritarian South Korea in the ’80s.

“There were many protests in my childhood that reached the level of uprising, because of police brutality,” she said. “They would use violence and torture — and counterinsurgency — to suppress those who were protesting.”

So, when Kim first heard the word “uprising” to describe what is happening in this country, it triggered those scared feelings from her childhood. But she said she is unlearning her fear associated with the word and learning to embrace the uprising language that Birt referred to.

Zareth, who works on leadership development for leaders of color in Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, said language is so powerful because “it comes from the heart and connects to so many different experiences” that “it lives in you.”

Because language matters, Zareth, who is also a trained therapist, believes conversations like these, where people can practice calming down by asking “What do they mean?” and acknowledging that “maybe I heard it differently,” are valuable. But she’s not sure people are creating and honoring spaces to do that very well right now because of the stress they’re under from both the coronavirus pandemic and racism.

“When our bodies become tense, it becomes very unclear,” Zareth said. “We can’t listen very well, and we can’t think very well.”

In part two of the conversation, which will be released on July 15, Birt, Zareth and Kim talk more about the power of naming and how America’s racism and Black Lives Matter movement is impacting them and their family and friends.

Watch Kim’s conversation on “Everyday God-Talk” on the Office of Theology & Worship’s Facebook page

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