The next step: After dialogue on race, what’s the way forward?
By Rev. Anthony Smith and Rev. Robin Tanner
For the Salisbury Post
After hours of public comment at the City Council meeting on July 21, Reverend Timothy Bates asked, “What now?” On Thursday night at the forum held at Hood Theological Seminary, community member Quintin Rankin echoed Reverend Bates’ question, “so what is next?” Among the community members encouraging dialogue, many of us have been asked, “what do you want? What’s the end-game?”
In Greek mythology, among the many roles of the figure Fame was to share the news. Angels have long been heralds in Christian, Muslim and Jewish teachings. Whether you think Fame is an angel or the Greek figure from mythology, it is clear that she has sent out the news. Over the last six weeks the news has been shared at the dinner table, while reading the paper, via Facebook comments and posts, in the City Council chamber, around the water cooler and across fences.
We do not have a secret strategy or a covert end-game. We seek a stronger Salisbury. We seek the dismantling of institutional racism. We believe in beloved community.
The Great Salisbury Race Conversation of 2015 must be set in the context of the American Race Conversation of the 21st Century. As a non-white majority city in the South, talking about race is not entirely new to us. Engaging systemic racism and creating a conversation that leads to economic empowerment and hope for us all would be new to many of us. We need new language. We need new models. We need new relationships. We need new economic development with all hands on deck. We need new rules in our schools. We need new diversity training that engages the system.
So when Reverend Bates asks “what now?” we believe a new consciousness must answer. It must be drawn from the soul of a city that knows this is about way more than a monument. It must be drawn from an awakened people who know dialogue must lead to development. It must be kindled by the hearts of all the people. It must include a shift in power. It must begin with truth. The kind of truth that unsettles your soul. The kind of truth that leads you to lean in and to learn.
Once the message has been sent out, the leadership begins.
Leadership from within the community calls out the deeper history and truth in that community. This was the model utilized by South Africa after apartheid ended. Truth and then reconciliation. As President Nelson Mandela sought to rebuild and unify his country in the wake of racial terror, he turned to Bishop Desmond Tutu. Bishop Tutu proposed a model whereby the perpetrators of the most terrible crimes could receive forgiveness if they told the full truth of their crimes. The families of survivors listened and were led by a process larger than any one person. From this truth came communal reconciliation. It worked. It is working.
Greensboro drew on this model in 1999 when they began to try to heal from a shooting in 1979 that resulted in the deaths of five community activists. From a democratic process independent of any public system or government entity, the community of Greensboro appointed seven commissioners after a two year community engagement. For two years they held educational events, spiritual listening circles, community conversations and retelling of the true and full history. Once the commissioners were appointed, they interviewed community members, studied the modern systemic connections to the 1979 shooting, and issued a comprehensive report. It worked. It is working.
The news has gone out. Whether myth or angel, Fame has done her work. Now it is time for the truth telling, for the Moses-movement to emerge. Rather than one figure, we need the collective consciousness to arise in Salisbury. We need not just a leader talking, but the people walking from slavery to freedom. We need the shackles to be broken by the minds’ opening. If our community began this process, we would start with a Truth, Healing, Hope Equity Project. T.H.H.E. Project would facilitate peace circles. From these peace circles or listening circles, T.H.H.E. Project would identify the major community stakeholders. The stakeholders would identify persons to serve on a selection committee. T.H.H.E. selection committee would take nominations from the community and name the 7 commissioners.
T.H.H.E. Commission would be charged with a full analysis of the public systems and institutions. Their work would be comprehensive, concrete and actionable. T.H.H.E. Commission would examine institutional racism and offer an actionable plan of truth-telling, healing, hope and creating equity. Their work would have to include an economic development plan, equitable resource distribution, and empowerment through existing community organizations.
One of our community members, Tonya Miller Cross, spoke on Thursday night at the forum. She said, “we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” We agree. Our coalition of community members stands at the ready to begin a truth and reconciliation process. We are all ages. We are all races. We are all religions. We humbly offer our time, our lives and our vision. While this past Thursday’s conversation on healing at Hood Theological Seminary was energizing and hopeful it was a beginning. So, Salisbury, what now?
Rev. Anthony Smith is teaching pastor at Mission House in Salisbury. Rev. Robin Tanner is lead pastor at Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church in Salisbury.