Trinity Wall Street’s Task Force Against Racism is a congregation-led committee that has been active since 1984. We spoke with a few Task Force members about the importance, and the challenge, of talking about race.
Selvena Mosley: “What the Task Force Against Racism does is promote dialogue amongst all peoples, to come together and be able to express their positive views, their negative views, or whatever. It’s an education. I think we’ve seen some folks who have come to the Task Force who we thought might never be interested in this subject. ”
Toni Foy: “These are hard things to talk about. It becomes very personal, so folks will feel attacked. I’ve experienced that a couple of times in my conversations. I don’t think that should stop the conversation. Even my son gets really annoyed with the whole race question because he says, ‘There’s no such thing as race. It’s a social construction. I don’t want to talk about it.’ I say, ‘As long as your skin is black, brother, you’re going to have to talk about it.’ It’s good in a way that it’s on top of people’s minds, but if you’re not prepared to have that conversation then it’s even more difficult to have. It brings up emotions that you haven’t been trained to deal with. So when we have the conversations we have to know what our triggers are. I have to think about what I say. My experience can offend other people. Even telling your story is a challenge. ”
Susan Garcia: “I started attending [Task Force meetings] in early 2015. It's provided an opportunity for open sharing of our individual stories in a small group setting. A lot of thought and research goes into the planning of these sessions, so it is always a fruitful gathering and time well spent—it's 'real.'
“As a 'white' member of the group, I am perplexed and dismayed by the low ratio of people of my skin tone in attendance. These conversations seem to be the best and most honest way to foster attitude change in society by way of personal transformation and the hope it brings to the entire group. This important work cannot be accomplished by a small number of dedicated individuals. We need to do this together—white, black, Latino, Asian/South Asian, those of inter-racial unions and others."
Mildred Chandler: “I didn’t experience racism until I came here from Barbados, to be truthful. I grew up in school where 99.9 percent were black. When I came here and I was applying for jobs and I found myself in a corporate environment it was a different situation, because I had to compete with whites. ”
Lonny Shockley: “I face race issues every day. I work at a public school that’s 98.9 percent minority kids. It’s an alternative school so a lot of them have probation records, they’re dropouts, they have low reading scores. All that is the result of the race issue and the unbalance it causes in education in their communities. That’s an everyday ongoing occurrence for me—counseling and teaching them how they can overcome that against all odds; try and give them a little glimmer of hope so they can go forward.
“My father is always telling me that you have to fight racism. You have to say what is wrong. Don’t be afraid. I think I got that attitude from him. It’s not going to go away unless you say something. I need the conversation with someone who doesn’t agree with me. We can’t go forward unless everybody is committed to it. We need to talk it through. It doesn’t just affect the black community. It affects the whole nation. It’s the differences that are going to make us better. ”
Roz Hall: “It’s all connected. It’s a continuum. Sometimes people are more inclined to focus on prison ministry and mass incarceration but you can’t genuinely do that without focusing as well on the issues around racism because the statistics show that predominantly people who are incarcerated are people of color. Generally speaking people don’t fully understand the different levels of racism that there are. They think it’s just personal bias. They don’t think of it being institutional or systemic. Then you’re talking on different levels and you miss the connection. It really is an educational issue. ”
Chester Johnson: “Last year, I was given one of the great honors in my life when I was asked, through the Task Force Against Racism, to be the Martin Luther King Jr. speaker for the birthday weekend celebrated at Trinity Wall Street. I believe it captures the essence or focus for some of your questions."
You can watch the sermon here.