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Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis hosts its livestreamed ‘Arc Toward Justice’ forum

Dr. Cornel West and Ifeoma Ike are the guests Saturday as part of the Westminster Town Hall Forum

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Cornel West of Union Theological Seminary was among the panelists for the Westminster Town Hall Forum at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Union Theological Seminary)

LOUISVILLE — Declaring himself to be “a small product of a great tradition who believes we should never be surprised by evil or paralyzed by fear,” Dr. Cornel West joined Ifeoma Ike, an advocate, writer and policy advisor, at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis Saturday for Westminster Town Hall Forum’s Arc Toward Justice series.

Angela Davis of Minnesota Public Radio was the moderator. Listen to their conversation, which starts at the 42:30 mark, here.

West, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary and the author of 20 books, and Ike, an attorney and the founder of the social impact firm Pink Cornrows, met in Ferguson, Missouri, following the Aug. 9, 2014, killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

“Those young people to this day are still facing resistance and still saying, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’” Ike said. “The genius, beauty and mysticism of what it is to be Black and of African descent is that love is part of who we are in our DNA.” The response to George Floyd’s murder in 2020 proved Black people “are willing to put our bodies on the line and recognize that marching was never safe. People on the Edmund Pettus Bridge almost lost their lives just to exercise the right others have,” Ike said. “Black death is almost a prerequisite for us to be out there. I don’t want to march forever.”

“Justice is what love looks like in public,” West said, repeating his most often-quoted line, “but for Black folk, tenderness is what loves feels like in private.”

“I don’t want us to lose sight of what young people are doing,” Ike said. “For 300 days straight, poor young people in Ferguson marched,” long after the television cameras had been moved elsewhere. “I think it’s really messed up that we can’t mess up. That’s exhausting.”

Davis wondered: How do the panelists care for themselves?

“I don’t think about that question so much,” West said. “So much love has been poured into me that I would need four or five lifetimes to even think about running out of gas.” Then he offered this life hack: “Recognize you’re a cracked vessel trying to love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart.”

Ifeoma Ike (Photo courtesy of Pink Cornrows)

As someone dealing with the effects of long Covid, Ike said that sometimes we concentrate too much on self-care “when it’s the environment that made us sick,” adding appreciation for care from family and friends that includes words of encouragement through text messages and other sources.

Davis asked West for his thoughts on recent news reports on U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas accepting travel and other gifts from a billionaire friend.

“They’re the same thoughts I’ve had for decades. [Thomas] is made in the image of God just like me. He’s a beautiful Black man aesthetically,” West said. “The decisions he has made I agree with about 2% of the time. He sides with the wealthy and the powerful rather than the least of these.”

West recalled meeting Thomas once at an airport. “I gave the brother a hug and asked about his family. I said, ‘You know we are in an intense struggle with each other,’” West recalled. “He said, ‘Yes, I know.’”

An audience member asked Ike this question: What can Minnesota students do about Florida rewriting history?

“What I love about that question is we have to recognize the lines that create states are imaginary,” Ike said. “All this is our backyard.” Pay attention, Ike suggested, to the speed with which decisions to ban books and prohibit coursework are made. It may be difficult to reverse a bad decision like Dred Scott v. Sandford — “we’re still doing it,” Ike said — but “if I can beat you to it, we can reverse it. I always believe in supporting organizers on the ground.”

She teaches students the 1855 case from Missouri, Celia, a Slave, in which the state executed an enslaved woman for killing her enslaver after he continued his pattern of raping her. “Why is that continued significant? Slaves were not considered human,” Ike said. “To have a court case called Celia, a Slave is actually groundbreaking.” Circuit Court Judge William Hall, who tried Celia and delivered instructions to the jury that led to its guilty verdict, would later be part of Dred Scott process, Ike noted.

Angela Davis (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio)

Asked about where liberation lies and what it looks like, Ike said there’s a “powerful movement happening in the Black church” because “when it comes to the health and wellness of all human beings, we don’t talk about all human beings. We get further when we talk about Black maternal health and death.”

West said the panelists present on Saturday wouldn’t be speaking to the large crowd at Westminster Presbyterian Church “if it weren’t for ordinary people who kept on anyhow.” His outlook, he said, is, “You’re a wave in the ocean — you ain’t the ocean. Thank God the Westminster Town Hall Forum still has the vision of saying, ‘Let’s have honest conversations about a future we don’t know but are willing to fight for.’ Thank you for having us here,” West said as attendees rose to express their thanks. “We appreciate you.”

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