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What prevents your organization from being antiracist?

UKirk Collegiate Ministries wrestles with the question during antiracism training

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

During an effort to recruit students last year, Shaniya Auxier, at right, is pictured in front of the Pres House at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — As the digital national “101 Racism & Organizing Training” event for UKirk Collegiate Ministries began last week, Shaniya Auxier admits she was “a little bit hesitant.”

The multiracial student leader of the Pres House at the University of Wisconsin was concerned about how the dynamic between co-trainers Sarah Dunne Pickrell and Dachia Busch would play out. But by the end of the training, Auxier left with a good feeling.

“They did a great job working together,” she said. “I related to what Busch said about how institutional racism exists on our campuses.”

The anti-racism training event came together after many campus ministers told UKirk executive director Gini Norris-Lane that in light of George Floyd’s murder and the killing of Breonna Taylor, they — and many students — wanted to speak out against racism and white supremacy.

When the  Office of Christian Formation heard their desires, associate coordinator Stephanie Fritz helped UKirk, a member of the Christian Formation Collective, by providing funding for the event. Norris said the office also them helped plan and organize the training and develop campus minister cohorts — one of which is working on dismantling systemic racism.

As co-trainers for the event, Pickrell and Busch are part of a cohort of about 20 racism trainers from The Open Table, a worshiping community in Kanas City. The two were paired to work with UKirk because of the training experience they have around what UKirk wanted and needed.

As an educator, Busch said it’s important to her that real authentic dialogue happens during training. That includes being able talk about things that are not commonly talked about in mixed-race groups or in professional spaces around race. It can be challenging for white people to hear messages about race, she said, especially when the message is from people of color.

“This is more than just training for me. It’s a calling,” Busch said.  “I have a husband, a father, a brother and uncles who any day could become the next dead victim on the local news due to the ‘everyday’ of racism.”

Initially, Pickrell, who is doing antiracism training work with Heartland Presbytery, pursued racial justice work because she wanted to see systemic change. But now that she’s developed deep relationships with people of color, she realizes how personal it is for her too.

“I see how racism and white supremacy shows up, how it keeps people from getting close,” she said. “And I see how it has damaged my own life.”

Nearly 50 students and campus ministers from 27 universities in the UKirk network participated in the event. Several said it was great to connect with one another in small groups and to address together the question from the co-trainers: “What prevents you as an organization, or your group, from being antiracist?”

The Rev. Amy Klinkovsky at a Black Lives Matter protest in College Station, Texas. (Photo courtesy of United Campus Ministry in Aggieland)

The Rev. Amy Klinkovsky, campus minister and director of United Campus Ministry in Aggieland, said the race training will help her work with students for positive change at Texas A&M University.

During Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the Twitter hashtag #hateisthehiddencorevalue showed incidents of racist comments and microaggressions that students were experiencing. Those led the university to create a task force to study how to improve race relations on campus.

Klinkovsky said the students she works with at Texas A&M and Blinn College want to be better allies to students of color on their campuses by working to discover what their own implicit biases might be and striving toward antiracism.

“As we make changes in ourselves, we hope to impact the university community and the communities where we live,” she said.

Nii Addo Abrahams, associate director of campus ministry at the Pres House, said on the surface, the university in Madison, Wisconsin, is located in a nice progressive community.  But by digging below the surface, Abrahams said, one will find deeply entrenched racial disparity around imprisonment and the policing of young Black kids.

Nii Addo Abrahams preaches during outdoor worship at Pres House in Madison, Wisconsin. (Contributed photo)

As a 26-year old Black man who doesn’t want to have to worry that if he looks at someone the wrong way or runs a stop sign that it might be his last day — leading a predominantly white campus ministry energizes him. Aware that many students may have never had a relationship with anyone who wasn’t white, Abrahams tries to help them make connections to how harmful racism is to their own growth and faith journeys.

“Most college students are in the most diverse community they’ll ever be a part of,” he said. “We want them to become antiracist here so they’re antiracist in the communities they become a part of as they move into the work force.”

Presbyterian Campus Ministry-Raleigh (North Carolina) student leader Annie Haunton at North Carolina State University said the training was impactful, especially when the leaders defined what the white supremist culture is and how it can appear in church and hinder antiracism work.

“Recent events make that message even more relevant,” she said. “Sometimes we as white Christians want to check the work of antiracism off our list. But it’s never really done. We must work at it over and over.”

In every training they do, it’s the goal of Busch and Pickrell to encourage participants to undertake education on their own, then act and organize to dismantle racism in the systems they are a part of. With faith groups like UKirk, they can go deeper, helping participants see Jesus’ ministry as a story of mercy and justice — and one of racial justice too.

“These are places where we can see it’s not just the right thing to do,” Pickrell said. “This is holy work.”

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