Bryan Stevenson, Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative says “The great evil of American slavery was not involuntary servitude and forced labor. The great evil of slavery was the narrative of racial difference, the ideology of white supremacy that we created to make ourselves feel comfortable with enslaving people who are black. We’ve never addressed that legacy.”
A group of residents in Farmington and Farmington Hills want to change that – to bring the conversation about race into the open.
“Many don’t really understand the history of racism in our own country and how it has impacted everyone,” said Rev. John Burns.
“Our thoughts about race influence our lives in ways we don’t even think about, let alone talk about across racial lines,” added Farmington-area resident Cheryl Willette.
Burns and Willette along with six residents of the two cities, are inviting others who want to explore the history, language and effects of racism through readings, video and meaningful dialogue, to participate in the four-part series called “Justice & Reconciliation”. The talks begin on September 20 and culminate in a trip to Montgomery, Alabama, where they will visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and other historically important sites.
All dialogue sessions will be held at the First A.M.E. Church in the Chapel at Nardin Park United Methodist Church in Farmington Hills. The September 20 session will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; sessions on Nov. 8, Jan. 24 and March 21, run from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m
Residents who choose to make the Montgomery trip are expected to attend all of the sessions.
“Participation isn’t just about the trip to Montgomery,” said Tom Shurtleff, planning committee and Chair of the Multicultural and Multiracial Community Council. “We are committed to learning and building bridges. Knowledge leads to understanding and understanding brings wisdom. We are seeking a compassionate path toward recognizing the dignity of all.”
The series will be led by Rev. Burns, pastor of the First A.M.E. Church and social justice activist, and Dr. Pat Coleman-Burns, University of Michigan Professor and originator of courses addressing the issues of black women in white America, women’s and multicultural studies.
Rev. Burns notes, “It’s important for the First A.M.E. to be a part of this initiative to help bring a sense of history and unity and to continue the work of creating a beloved community in Farmington and Farmington Hills.”
The trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, is limited to 20 and planned for April 25-27, 2019. The Memorial is a six acre site dedicated to remembering the more than 4,400 African American men, women, and children who were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.
Travelers will also visit The Legacy Museum, on the site where black people were enslaved in Montgomery; the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge where walkers fighting for human rights were met with police brutality, fire hoses and dogs; meet with staff members of the Equal Justice Initiative; stop at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The planning committee is seeking wide participation from the community.
“There are 65 nationalities represented here,” said Tanji Grant, Realtor and resident. “We would love to see people from every cultural and religious group in our cities. Racism is a pervasive issue in our country and society. We believe the only way to solve a problem is to identify and talk about it, respectfully and honestly.”
Organizers are: Rev. John Burns, Pastor First A.M.E. of Farmington Hills; Dr. Patricia ColemanBurns, First A.M.E. and Professor, U of M; Karen Linnell, Mission and Outreach Chair, First Presbyterian Church of Farmington Hills; Jonathan Kuriakose, Farmington High School and University of MI graduate, now a City Year Fellow; Reverend Sean Myers, Pastor of Antioch Lutheran Church; Tanji Grant, Realtor and Resident of Farmington Hills; Tom Shurtleff, Chair of MCMR; and Cheryl Willette, Farmington Resident.
“All residents of the two cities, and those who work or worship here are invited to participate,” said Karen Linnell. “We want to include as many as possible.”
The committee is hoping to take a student videographer along and to share with the wider community upon their return. Jonathan Kuriakose will be working with FPS to recruit young people of high school and college age to participate and to interact with the travelers via video feed.