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Presbyterians building partnerships for protest and resistance in Louisville

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins presents on his 2022 book, ‘Unbroken and Unbowed: A History of Black Protest in America’

by Mark Koenig, Administrative Services Group | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, who wrote the 2022 book “Unbroken and Unbowed: A History of Black Protest in America,” speaks to a crowd of about 40 Tuesday at the Presbyterian Center. (Photo by Edwin González-Castillo)

LOUISVILLE — Momentous events in Black history have occurred in August over the years:

  • Aug. 28, 1955 — Emmett Till was kidnapped from the home of his great-uncle and brutally murdered.
  • Aug. 28, 1963 — Some 250,000 people, at least, took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, calling for civil and economic rights for Black Americans.
  • Aug. 29, 1968 —The first US Open (tennis) of the open era began. Arthur Ashe, an amateur at the time, would win the tournament, the first, and still the only, Black man to do so. In 1957, Althea Gibson was the first Black woman to win the US Nationals, the precursor to the US Open.
  • Aug. 28, 2023 — Angela Michelle Carr, Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., and Jerrald Gallion were shot and killed in Jacksonville, Florida, in what is being investigated as a racially motivated hate crime.

Given how racist oppression and Black resistance intertwine through these events, it seems fitting that on Aug. 29, 2023, more than 40 people — members of the Louisville community and employees at the Presbyterian Center — gathered to engage with the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the PC(USA)’s advocacy director at both the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in New York, about his book “Unbroken and Unbowed: A History of Black Protest in America.”

 The presentation and book signing by Hawkins had its beginning when the Administrative Services Group (ASG) visited the Roots 101 African-American Museum. Founder and CEO of the museum Lamont Collins reminded the ASG staff members that “Africans had resisted ever since they were first stolen from Africa.”

This understanding is a central theme of Hawkins’ book. “During every period of oppression,” he writes, “active, deliberate, and ongoing movements have evolved to match the levels of oppression experienced. Black protest is defined as the variety of ways African Americans have resisted oppression, racial discrimination, and exploitation.”

Hawkins goes on to explain that Black protest “has taken place through overt resistance by public demonstrations, nonviolent and violent revolt, marches, petitions, publications, sit-ins, migration, community organizing, and boycotts.” Because penalties against Black protest have often been severe, “covert action was a necessary approach.” As a result, Hawkins notes that “A wide range of strategies and programs was used to make life better for Black Americans and oppressed people.”

ASG staff members realized that Hawkins and Collins needed to meet. An introduction was made, and a conversation arranged.

That conversation identified a presentation and book signing on “Unbroken and Unbowed” as a next step to deepen the partnership between the Presbyterian Center and Roots 101 and to reach out to others in the Louisville community.

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins signs a copy of his book, “Unbroken and Unbowed: A History of Black Protest in America.” (Photo by Mark Koenig)

Invitations went to members of the Louisville community. Maha Kolko, project manager for community outreach and volunteerism, drew upon her extensive network of community connections to extend those invitations. Kolko knew some invitees from her previous work with Kentucky Refugee Ministries. Others came from groups with whom Kolko is working to build relationships on behalf of the Presbyterian Center.

Those who gathered came from a variety of faith traditions and included Presbyterians, Jews, Baptists, Methodists, Unitarians, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Episcopalians and Catholics. Community groups such as Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Catholic Charities, and the Lions Club International were represented. Charles Booker from the  Governor’s Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives attended.

In addition to the presentation by Hawkins, the gathering included brief comments from Collins about Roots 101 and from Brelin Tilford, founder and CEO of Media Pros Production. Collins and Tilford spoke about the Upcoming Storytellers Program (formerly known as the Trailblazers Program). This partnership among Media Pros, Roots 101, the Louisville Central Community Center, and the Presbyterian Center gathered young people, ranging in age from 6 to 18,  for a week to create a video about events of oppression and resistance that occurred in  1963. The short film, “1963-Still: Same Shot,” will screen at the Presbyterian Center on October 18.

Tuesday’s gathering began with a welcome from Ruling Elder Kathy Lueckert, president of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation. Ruling Elder Kerry Rice, deputy stated clerk, brought greetings from the Office of the General Assembly and the Rev. Bronwen Boswell, the PC(USA)’s Acting Stated Clerk.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, spoke about the PMA’s ministry. Moffett identified the historical significance of the day and provided information about two ways PMA supports Black protest efforts: the Matthew 25 Movement, particularly its focus on dismantling structural racism, and the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms.

The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation published “Unbroken and Unbowed.” David Dobson, the PPC’s president and publisher, introduced Hawkins and facilitated the book signing.

Hawkins noted many times throughout his presentation that protest and resistance are communal tasks during which people stand together to protest, resist, and work to build a better world. Partnerships played a key role in the past. Partnerships play a key role in the present. Partnerships will play a key role in the future.

In the many conversations that followed the presentation, business cards were exchanged, phone numbers and email addresses were shared, partnerships were initiated and nurtured. It will be interesting to see where those partnerships lead.

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