Dr. Cornel West and Ifeoma Ike are the guests Saturday as part of the Westminster Town Hall Forum
July 18, 2023
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 recently joined Ifeoma Ike, an advocate, writer and policy advisor, at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis for Westminster Town Hall Forum’s Arc Toward Justice series.
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.”
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.
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.
West said the panelists present 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.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis host Town Hall Forum
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Ginger Harris, Associate for Lending Services, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program
Tom Harvey, Long term volunteer serving in England, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
O God, give us the strength to lend our help when disaster overtakes your people. Thank you for the grace that molds us in the likeness and spirit of Christ, so that day by day, we may grow closer to our Savior and become more like the one who died that we might live, even Jesus Christ. Amen.