Echoes of last night’s Martin Luther King Commemoration have been reverberating in my mind all day. My Summit clergy colleagues who attended the event were having the same experience. Fortunately, the Summit Interfaith Council had our monthly meeting today and those of us who were present last night had an opportunity to share our reactions. We enthusiastically shared our learning with those who weren’t able to attend last night. It sparked a very deep and meaningful discussion, about problems that we rarely raise, but that reverberate just below the surface of our community’s culture. It was about issues of race and diversity.

Tim Wise’s powerful and provocative presentation called America to task for acting as if we have realized the dream of Dr. King and the civil rights movement. We may have made progress, but the inequities in America are still profound. Symbolism can’t replace the real quality-of-life issues that remain. Too many Americans are self-satisfied with language of diversity and are blind to the continuing injustices that hold African Americans back. And, as we allowed ourselves to admit, this dynamic even plays out locally within our largely prosperous suburban community.

One of our members of the clergy group observed that the community MLK commemoration at the Fountain Baptist Church was attended mostly by the church’s African American members, joined by a handful of local politicians (who are white) and a few other white clergy (myself included.) The rest of the community who attended community MLK events yesterday were largely self-selected, with most whites attending events within their corner of the community and mostly not interacting with their African Americans neighbors. A couple of churches have made concerted efforts to invite diversity, but most have not. It is not out of exclusion; rather it is a blind-spot in the way we go about our service to our congregations.

As we discussed these realities in an air of friendship and concern, we realized that Tim Wise’s talk afforded us an opportunity to open a more open conversation about race than we have had in our community in many years. It was yet another moment when I have been grateful to be part of such a strong interfaith community. We shared ideas about possible upcoming programs for our whole community. We have the potential to lead our community and model a vision for the just and compassionate society that we wish for America.

We acknowledged that the entire conversation was being held in the shadow of devastation in Haiti. The terribly poor nation of Haiti has been suffering from its troubled history in relation to the great Western powers, especially America, for many, many decades. We not only pledge our prayers and our funds to help the people of Haiti, that they may recover from this disaster, but we pledge too, to help our communities to honestly reflect on the problems Haiti faces. We hope this can open opportunities for a new age for Haiti. We will invest in doing what we can to help.

I close with prayers for justice and for healing.

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