On Tuesday, September 12, at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, a sizeable crowd gathered to hear from an esteemed panel of public intellectuals and activists, moderated by professor and activist Rev. Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds. My understanding of the purpose of this conversation regarding Charlottesville and Race in America was that the voices we needed to hear were those in communities most directly affected by racism in the United States. The panelists were:

  • Dr. Melina Abdullah, Professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University; Black Lives Matter organizer, Los Angeles
  • Lawyer Luz María Frías, CEO of the YWCA Minneapolis; noted thought leader on race equity
  • Rev. Brian Herron, Senior Pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis; Board Member of the MN Council of Churches
  • Dr. Keith Mayes, Professor at University of Minnesota; expert on African American history

 

As the only white panelist, I was surprised and honored to be included. I was offered a rare opportunity to participate in an honest, unfiltered, transparent conversation about racism. I expect that the conversation we heard on Tuesday night rarely occurs in public settings in Minnesota. As white people, we were afforded a glimpse into the real discussions that occur often in black-only or people-of-color-only settings. Until we can get to these really honest assessments of racism and its systemic power, which has very personal effects, it is difficult to move forward. In order for this to happen more often, white people need to sit in places where we are not in charge or acting as the experts. Rather, we need to listen and learn … and commit to changing our perceptions and actions as a result of these encounters.

 

In the Q&A portion of the evening, a gentleman from the audience, attempting to measure my credibility, asked me what color Jesus was. I just smiled to myself. I have been preaching and writing about the Afro-Asiatic Black Jesus since leaving seminary at Howard University School of Divinity in the 1980s, where I learned the truth from black biblical scholars. It is when we white people place ourselves in contexts where our voices do not dominate that we learn more truth about racism. That truth can transform who we are and how we respond.

 

Most of the event was filmed on Facebook live by the Twin Cities’-based music group Mint Condition. It can be viewed at: https://www.facebook.com/mintconditionmusic/videos/10155478073022110/.

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