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‘The country we’d like to see’

Webinar highlights connections between the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Last week’s webinar in the “Just Talk, Talk Just” series was sponsored by two centers that are part of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

LOUISVILLE — On the eve of last week’s inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, two institutions at Union Presbyterian Seminary hosted the webinar “From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter: Movements for Black Lives Across Generations and Genders.” Watch the 90-minute webinar here.

Those institutions, the Center for Social Justice & Reconciliation and the Katie Geneva Canon Center for Womanist Leadership, are hosting a series called “Just Talk, Talk Just.” The next webinar is set for 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 9.

Panelists were:

  • The Rev. Dr. Annemarie Mingo, assistant professor of African American Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University
  • Chris Burton (M.Div. ’15), director of Equity and Inclusion at The Stony Brook School in Stony Brook, New York
  • The Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, a civil rights pioneer and member of the Board of Directors of Interfaith Power & Light
  • Rodney S. Sadler Jr., associate professor of Bible and director of the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation at the seminary, who hosted and moderated the event.

Dr. Rodney S. Sadler Jr.

“It’s our responsibility as citizens,” Sadler said nearly halfway through the webinar, “to constantly work toward [shaping] the country we’d like to see.”

Durley, a disciple of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was asked what King would say about BLM if he were around today.

“Dr. King would be very impressed with what’s going on now,” Durley said. “He believed the strength of the movement was its young people. It’s always been one movement on top of another” dating back to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, Durley said.

However, “it’s a different time now. It’s essential to recognize how important it is to have a plethora of ideologies, and Black Lives Matter is at the heart of that. The women who are leading that movement have played such an essential role.”

the Rev. Dr. Annemarie Mingo

Women leaders “have always been there,” Mingo said. While Stacey Abrams’ name and work have gained attention in recent months, “she has been doing the work [ensuring voting rights] for a decade.”

“We have greater power when we understand that women have always been at the fore,” Mingo said.

Burton recalled a recent exchange with a student who told Burton, “We are the activist generation.”

“I said, ‘Slow down,’” Burton said with a laugh. “You’ve got to understand what John Lewis and Diane Nash did. It’s important for us to be students of history, the Sankofa mentality. We move forward and we’re only able to as we glean from the past.”

Chris Burton

Another seduction among people working hard for change, Burton said, is pessimism.

“I think it’s important to be hopeful,” Burton said. “We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did without optimism. We have to hope beyond our current condition.”

Mingo said she’s praying for the new crop of U.S. leaders, including the president, vice president and two new U.S. senators from Georgia, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock.

“Our nation is still sick with the cancer of racism and white supremacy,” Mingo said. “We have to pray the work they do will move us all forward … If anything, we have to shift into a different gear and move forward. A car in neutral can be pushed either way.”

“I’m not worried about a slice of the pie,” Mingo added. “There’s a whole bakery. Let’s work it all. Who we have at the table really helps us to do that,” Mingo said, suggesting we “move out of cake and pie and get some other nutrients,” including collard greens and fish.

“I’m excited to hold this administration accountable,” Burton said. “People will accomplish only what they are being pushed to do.”

the Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley

“When we have a great worship service, people feel great, and then we do the benediction,” Durley said. “That ought to be the beginning. I hope in 2021 we don’t sit back.”

For Mingo, Black Lives Matter is “a moral and theological statement around the humanity of life, which is centered on love. So many civil rights organizations [during the 1950s and 1960s] had different ways forward, yet they found a way to move forward.” Some groups focused on voting rights, while others charted strategy for cases as they proceeded through the legal system, Mingo noted.

“We can’t get distracted thinking we need to do one singular task,” Mingo said, “when there’s so much injustice. The work is the work, and the work is massive.”

“One thing I love about Black Lives Matter,” Mingo added, “is they are not looking for a singular leader. They have so many leaders they don’t need to have one singular person.”

Durley recalled the words of civil rights pioneer the Rev. Andrew Young, a King confidant who was later elected to Congress, served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and was Atlanta’s mayor. “We really don’t have a master plan,” Young used to say, according to Durley, who heard him say it many times, “but we have a master planner.”

Mingo said she saw a comment during the webinar that advocates both young and old ought to be working together.

“I already see that happening,” Mingo said. “There is and has been a council of elders working hand in hand with” the people taking current actions. “They are wise enough not to publicize it.”

As well, Mingo said, “there are many elders fighting with [younger people] in the streets. I don’t think there’s as much division, but the media will shape the narrative for us — and it’s not to the benefit of the oppressed.”

“We are pleased to bring you such brilliant guests,” Sadler said to wrap things up. “These are not two different movements. They are different expressions of the struggle for Black human lives. They are different ways of understanding.”

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