The public-facing work of #LoveInAction:Voices in Social Justice culminated on May 3rd with a one-day conference held in Union Theological Seminary’s Social Hall, “Organizing for Racial Justice, 1960s and Today.” The conference, an inter-school (Columbia and Union), inter-departmental (the Burke Library, the student fellows, Union alumni/ae, the Office of Alumni/ae Relations, and the Office of Student Affairs), inter-generational collaboration (I believe the ages of those involved with the planning ranged from 20 to 90!), featured Union alum that were involved in the Student Interracial Ministry in dialogue with current Union students and faculty. Consisting of four panels, the day’s events were so rich, so charged with energy, that now upon reflection two weeks later, my words seem lacking in comparison. Luckily for us, all of the panels were taped and will be available soon!
The conference started off by a welcome and general introduction by yours truly. I made sure to scoot off the scene quickly so Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. (’62) and storäe michele (class of 2017) could open the conference. Each read powerful poems they had written at different points in their lives. The poem Dr. Forbes shared was written shortly after the legal integration of lunch counters in the South, where he had suffered an unfair and unjust encounter. storäe read a powerful poem she had written in response. The second panel, “Setting the Context: Racism and Student Activist in the 1960s,” was led by Dr. David Cline, author of From Reconciliation to Revolution: The Student Interracial Ministry, Liberal Christianity, and the Civil Rights Movement, 1960 to 1970, who gave a brief history of the Student Interracial Ministry. After which Rev. George D. McClain (’64), Rev. Charles M. Sherrod (’66), Petra Thombs (M.Div. candidate), Benjamin Van Dyne (class of 2017), and Virginia Wadsley (’67) gave their responses. All focused on their own personal experiences, for Rev. Sherrod, Rev. McClain, and Wadlsey these centered around their involvement with SIM. Thombs and Van Dyne offered a critical lens from their own personal experiences at and around Union.
The afternoon sessions were started off with a talk by Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas (’82) based on her book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, “White Supremacy in the Age of Trump.” Union student and #LoveInAction fellow, Tabatha Holley (M.Div. candidate) and Director of Alumni/ae Relations, Dr. Marvin M. Ellison (’81) co-moderatored the session, with Dr. Ellison introducing Dr. Douglas. After Dr. Douglas’ talk, Holley asked some questions to get the conversation started. Last but certainly not least was the final panel of the day, “White Supremacy and Student Activism Today,” which featured a mix of current Union students and professors including, Associate Professor of Ecumenical Studies, Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung (’87); Jessica Halperin (M.Div. candidate); Yazmine Nichols (class of 2017); Kaio Thompson (class of 2017); Assistant Professor of Homiletics, Dr. Lisa L. Thompson; and Wesley Morris (class of 2017). The panel was introduced by one of the SIM founders, John Collins (’61), and the questions moderated by #LoveInAction fellow, Kristine Chong (MA candidate). Each panelist gave extremely poignant and personal stories about where they were coming from with regard to social activism, both inside and outside of the classroom.
The conference was followed by a Union Medal ceremony that honored Rev. Charles M. Sherrod (’66) and Shirley M. Sherrod for their lifetime of work for racial justice in Southwest Georgia. As with the entire day, the ceremony is hard to justly give summary to. Opening with the remarkable documentary about the Sherrod’s tireless efforts, Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Beloved Community, the Sherrods were individually presented with the Union Medal.
Stay turned for more blog posts about the various components of #LoveInAction: Voices In Social Justice!