Trinity Episcopal Church hosted a conversation on racial equality and racial justice on October 11. The speaker was Bishop John L. Selders Jr, the Organizing Pastor of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford, and a leader of the Moral Monday CT movement.
It was the second such conversation hosted by the church in recent months.
On Sunday, Bishop Selders spoke of how the experience of being treated differently and devalued affects peoples’ life experience, especially for persons of color living and working in Connecticut.
The assembled group included people from Trinity Episcopal Church, St James in Danbury, St Stephens in Ridgefield, St Johns in New Milford, and from the Bahá’í community. They spent part of the evening in discussion around tables while eating dinner. These facilitated discussions gave people a safe place to process their thoughts and feelings about racism and how it is experienced in Connecticut and the country.
At the end of the evening, Trinity member Rick Chamiec-Case challenged Bishop Selders and his wife Pamela Selders.
“We've covered a lot of ground tonight: the importance of developing relationships with people who are different from us, the deep connection between economic disparity and racial injustice, the enormously disproportionate rates of incarceration between people of color and people who are white, the need for education reform, and the like,” said Mr Chamiec-Case.
“You’ve made a convincing case that saying or doing nothing about racial injustice is, in fact, implicitly supporting it,” he continued. “So as important as it is to be having this conversation, we need to move beyond conversation to action. But with so many issues on the table, it is hard to know where to start.”
Bishop Selders suggested that they “start local,” and stand in front of the church showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement as a first step to opening up conversation and dialogue with the wider Newtown community.
Many from the assembled group were ready to meet his challenge. On Monday evening, 15 people stood quietly with signs and candles in front of Trinity Church on Main Street in the first vigil for racial justice and equality.
Mr Chamiec-Case said the purpose of the vigil is to raise awareness of the staggering racial inequalities and injustices within Connecticut and throughout the country.
Fellow Trinity member Sue Roman said they plan to be back out next Monday, and Mondays after that.
“We are in an important moment in the US where we can right the wrongs of the past,” said Ms Roman. “I want to be part of the solution. We hope others who feel the same way will join us.”
Newtown, CT June 1, 2015 - On Sunday night, May 31st, 75 people gathered in the Undercroft at Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown to take part in a conversation about racial equality and justice. The event was organized by Trinity Church. Participants were from Trinity Church, area churches, and the Newtown community.
Participants held small group discussions over dinner and then listened and interacted with a panel of three speakers. Organizer Rick Chamiec-Case said that the goal was to "get a conversation started here at Trinity and we hope in the wider Newtown community. "
Chamiec-Case told the assembled group “Most of you are probably aware of some very serious incidents that have happened over the past year here in the United States in which unarmed people of color died while being arrested or in police custody. Some of the names are probably familiar to you, Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, but you also probably know that in some ways this is just the tip of the iceberg and these incidents represent so much more that’s going on around issues of racial equality. We are starting from the premise that this is a social issue that is not going to just go away. It’s an issue that effects our whole society and many of us are people of faith and we believe that it grieves God to see so many of God’s children hurting, angry, and feeling like they are being treated as far less than equals."
Pastor Kathie Adams-Shepherd, rector at Trinity, said in her opening prayer "May we be compelled to choose actions together and individually that cause the kind of change that honors every person as beloved of God, deserving of justice, equity, dignity, respect, and life itself."
In addition to small group discussion, attendees heard from three people who have played active roles in the discussion of racial equality for many years in Connecticut.
Dianne Jones, the vice president of the Connecticut Center for Non Violence spoke. She teaches people how to stand up for their rights based on the non-violent principles of Dr. King. She reminded the group that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked not just for Black rights, but for human rights.
Next spoke the Right Reverend James Curry, retired bishop sufragen of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. He introduced himself by saying he had grown up in the segregated north. He responded to the question of why people who are white, including people of faith, have such a difficult time understanding, or at least identifying with people of color? He said "It’s because as a culture we’ve built barriers. We’ve built institutional barriers that have to do with economics and education and health care and jobs. We’ve built barriers that have to do with friendships. The challenge for us is to cross that threshold into the neighborhood that is so nearby us. And then, a lesson from my dear friend Henry Brown. Show up. Just show up. Not with answers because a whole lot of these questions and problems that we face don’t have answers yet. If there were answers we would have solved that already."
Bishop Curry was referring to Reverend Henry Brown, a founder of Mothers United Against Violence in Hartford, who spoke next. He began his talk “I want to start off by saying that I love every one of you in here, and there is nothing you can do about it. Not a thing."
Reverend Brown said to the predominantly white group: “There’s a great difference between our white counterparts and our black communities. You can go home and sleep at night. You don’t have to have the fear of a bullet coming into your window. You can walk down your street. Your elderly can sit out on the porch. You can go to court and be treated fairly. You can go look for jobs and be treated fairly. You can go to some of the best restaurants and people don’t look at you like you are crazy. If we sit here and think that we don’t have racism in our midst then something is wrong with America. America needs to examine itself because we are regressing, not progressing."
Katie Gottlieb, a young adult who grew up attending Trinity Church, moderated the conversation at the youth table. She remarked after the event: " I have been burdened with thoughts about the growing discord in our country and the sad barriers that separate us from our neighbors. It was so uplifting to be surrounded with so many wise and gifted people, many who I have long looked up to. Not only to listen, but to be invited to share the conversation as a respected peer."
About Trinity's Racial Justice Group
During the winter of 2014/15, a small group at Trinity began to talk about beginning a conversation in our parish focused on the crucial social issues of racial justice, equality, and reconciliation, especially in light of the incidents during the summer and fall of 2014 involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, etc. As a first step, we invited a panel of speakers to present to us in May of 2015. Please see the Newtown Bee press release summarizing this first event.