One month ago on April 4, 2018, American Baptists gathered in Washington, D.C. to join faith partners for the Unite to End Racism Rally marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This article features reflections from Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri and Anaya Onwubuariri, Regional Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin and her daughter.
When the Wisconsin Council of Churches announced in early 2018 their efforts to coordinate bus trips to attend the Unite to End Racism Rally and Advocacy Day, I was very interested for personal and ministerial reasons. Being a part of this national observation of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King coupled with a contemporary call to confront the reality of racism was sure to be an impactful experience. Alas, this event was to occur during my children’s spring break, and the tension between commitment to family and ministry weighed heavy on me. From this tension, I asked my 10-year-old daughter if she had any interest in attending with me (an example of an intentional approach of integration, rather than balance, of life commitments). I already convinced myself that riding a bus, seventeen hours each way, without an overnight stay in between, would be too big of an ask. But to my delight and surprise, she said yes!
Anaya chose three questions to help in our ongoing processing of the experience. We share our written responses to one another below:
What did we learn?
Anaya: I learned that even after the Civil Rights Movement, racism is still happening and everyone, even I, can help to stop it.
Marie: Good first question! To be honest, I’m sure there are things that I heard that were new to me, but as I reflect now I can’t help but think that what I remember are the things that affirmed what I already knew—that racism is alive and well, that those who benefit most from it must be involved in dismantling it, and yet everyone has a role to play. But what I’m learning even as I respond to this question is that to counter ignorance, stagnancy, and self-righteousness, we must go into situations (especially those that we think we will be very comfortable and knowledgeable in) ready and expecting to LEARN something, and when we do, to walk away with that new knowledge, revelation, or conviction in our active consciousness, motivating our next move. [Good thing for me is that much of the rally day was livestreamed, and the video is available on the National Council of Churches of Christ’ YouTube channel.]
What did we take from the speeches?
Anaya: What I took from the speeches is that there are a lot of perspectives, and you don’t have to agree with everything, and even when you disagree on some things you can still be on the same side with someone.
Marie: Yes, I agree! A general observation is that it was encouraging to see several white brothers (in particular) and sisters committed and engaged in the work of awakening, confronting, and transforming (A.C.T.) the issue of white privilege and white supremacy. It was important to see a variety of expressions in addition to the speeches—like dance, music, video, and poetry—because people engage in justice work in different ways. For example, probably the most powerful moment for me was the silent prayer walk from the MLK monument to the National Mall. And what I most viscerally took from the speeches? Emcee Rev. Julian DeShazier’s (J.Kwest) opening reality check “…if all we gonna do is march—let’s march, but please don’t think you’re gonna get more than just sore knees; if all you gonna do is yell and take selfies, leave—’cuz if we don’t use now to make plans to change and look at ourselves to hear something today and decide that from now on you’ll never be the same—then all of this is a play, and this is an act now…” And from the last speaker of the day, Bishop Vashti McKenzie’s charge to “Take a Stand” on our scriptures that speak a call to justice and to continue in the work to end racism.
What is our goal for how to stop racism?
Anaya: My goal is if I see anything to tell them that it’s not okay and even when I don’t see anything to still tell people not to think about doing any racist things.
Marie: Ha! that’s good Anaya—“don’t even think about doing racist things!” That is true for intentional racist things—things we do that we know are going to hurt someone; I also believe people must be very thoughtful to fight racism because even if we don’t think to be racist, we can still support a racist society. My goal is to keep on working on myself—to awaken to my own privileges and to the ways that a “white American normal” has shaped who I am [internalized oppression]; to confront and take a stand when I hear and see something that may be normal to others but play a part in keeping a racially-divided and racially-unjust society in tact; and to foster transforming conversations, interactions, and structural changes whenever I can. I hope to also join others and encourage others in their own ways of working toward racial justice. It means so much to me to have had this experience with you.