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."