DETROIT – Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, cities around the country -- including Detroit -- have seen protests against police brutality and racial inequality.
As we end the week with more protests and more unrest, a group of religious leaders joined Local 4 for a roundtable to discuss working to be part of change in our community and this country.
The congregants at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Detroit and many others are virtually fighting for a change in race relations.
A roundtable of visionaries from the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan has formed with a bishop, two pastors, a nun and three lay-people. They’re having difficult conversations about a 401-year history of inequity for people of color -- from 1619, when the first slaves were brought to the British Colony of Jamestown, Virginia, to now.
They say it’s a history they can no longer look away from. They are looking for ways to prop open a short window of opportunity to exchange privilege for peace.
“My sense is, and I’m not alone in this, is racism is primarily a white problem,” said Bishop Bonnie Perry, of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. “It is a problem about how white people interact with our sisters and brothers who happen to be black and Native American and Asian, and how we react.”
Leading this specific charge from the Episcopal altar, Perry, installed in February, is getting to know Michigan by disrupting it and making as many people as possible uncomfortable.
“As a white woman, I can invite my sisters and brothers,” Perry said. “I can coax my white sisters and brothers to begin to deal with our white privilege and see the realities of white supremacy that’s embedded in our structures.”
Since the protests began, she leads regular virtual meetings where talk turns to listening, and listening turns to action.
“We’ve seen it,” said Carol Allen Sullivan, of the Interfaith Center for Racial Justice. “We’ve heard it. We’ve experienced it. Now it’s really time to help with the work of fixing it again.”
“The country is calling us to another level of engagement that the deaths that we’ve seen in the last month are calling us to begin again and have a deeper conversation, and maybe where we weren’t willing to talk,” said Rev. Beth Taylor, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak. “We’re coming to realize we can’t continue doing what we were doing.”
They deal with their own histories with racism in blistering, painfully honest terms. They force themselves into the fire to steel themselves to fight for change.
“These videos didn’t reveal anything I didn’t know, but when it hits you in the heart, it changes you,” said Rev. Ian Reed Twiss, priest-in-charge at Holy Cross in Novi. “I think being white in this country has been an ongoing process of waking up from a dream that everything is OK that lulls you. I have walked away from the work, and that has been my white privilege.”
“I think in order for us to move ahead, it is going to take my white brothers and sisters to drive the conversation, because when black people do it, it’s like, ‘There they go again,’” said Dr. Ronald Charles, M.D., a member of St. Matthew and St. Joseph in Detroit. “But when white people talk about it, the defensiveness drops.”
“It’s not like Jesus made everybody comfortable,” said Rev. Sister Veronica Mary, of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. “Jesus did not. In order to get the waters rolling, we’re going to have to make people uncomfortable, but at the same time, they need to know that we’re doing it in a way that shows love.”
“I am so mad,” Perry said. “I am angry and I am sad -- more so than I was before, and I’m always hopeful.”
“For me, in terms of Bishop Perry’s work, it gave me hope and reassurance to see a white person very publicly doing her own work and being honest about the work that she had to do with herself in order to address racism,” Mary said. “People have seen racism as a black problem, but it’s not, because white supremacy was structured to benefit white people.”
“Seeing these things on the videos has opened my heart to see how relentless and degrading, and how vicious our white supremacist culture is,” Twiss said.
“Watching someone having their breath crushed out of them -- I can’t unsee that, and because I cannot unsee that, there’s nothing I can do but to continue to work on this,” Perry said.
You can watch part one of the roundtable conversation in the video at the top of the page. Part two is posted below.