Were You There When They Killed King?

Gimbiya Kettering at the MLK memorial in Washington DC (2012).

We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it.
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
3 April 1968, “I’ve been to the Mountain Top”

Depending on your social circles, you may have recently had many conversations about the passing of Martin Luther King Jr. — or none. The fiftieth anniversary of King’s assignation has been commemorated in magazines and radio programs. The National Council of Churches held a rally in Washington DC and a number of communities held local rallies. At the same time, the day seemed to generate less awareness than the annual MLK holiday which for many families mean a day off from school with a scramble to find childcare or the excitement of a three day weekend. Fifty years is a lifetime – and in that time our nation’s understandings and interpretations of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. has changed. At the time of his death he was disliked and unpopular, with over 70% of White Americans by some polls of the era. While he is now seen as integral to our national story –and there are spaces around the country named in his honor.

The May “Continuing Together” call sponsored by Intercultural Ministries, was a conversation about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Using National Geographic articles available online from the April 2018 issue that focused on race, we asked two questions that spun into a conversation that considered family histories, imaged hypotheticals, and how our values are shaped by the valules of MLK:

Where is Martin Luther King Jr. in your neighborhood? Participants took a survey that asked them to look at their neighborhoods and communities and also the National Geographic article Martin Luther King Streets World Wide. (See the results of our survey in the charts below.)

How would our national history be different if he had never been assassinated? The National Geographic explored this question in the article, What if Martin Luther King Jr. Were Never Assassinated.

SAVE THE DATE: The next Continuing Together call will be Thursday, June 14, 2018 – 1:00-3:00 EST.

Gimbiya Kettering, Director, Intercultural Ministries
Church of the Brethren

Results for MLK Near You Survey

Demographics of survey responders:

Barbara Daté at the MLK Memorial in Washington DC (2012)

Barbara Daté, member of Intercultural Ministries Advisory Committee and Revelation 7:9 Awardee, at the MLK Memorial in Washington DC (2012). The quotes included in the memorial are an example of how we selectively remember King. King also said:
Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will…Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. (Why We Can’t Wait)

Where is Martin Luther King Jr.?

“I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago.”  – Rev Martin Luther King Jr., in 1966

(l-r) Tom Wilson, pastor at First Church of the Brethren Chicago and Martin Luther King Jr, mid 1960s.

Where is Martin Luther King Jr. in your neighborhood? How would our national history be different if he had never been assassinated?

We often think of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the context of his work in the South – Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta. But in the mid-1960s, Martin Luther King Jr., worked for racial justice and equality in Chicago. Many historians have confirmed his insight, that the racism and resistance he encountered in Chicago was worse than what he encountered in the South. During that time, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had offices at the First Church of the Brethren in Chicago and King preached from our pulpit. (Pictured above) Before the end of the decade, he would be assassinated in Memphis and the work he began continued…In many ways, is still continuing.

The memory of Martin Luther King Jr is held in many places by streets, libraries, and schools named in his honor, as well as plaques and statues. As we continue to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy and commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death, join Intercultural Ministries for a conversation reflecting on his local presence and what could have been. Before joining this call, please read the articles in the National Geographic (April 2018: Special Issue on Race) that explore these questions:

This will call will be Thursday, May 3, 2018 – at 1:00 EST.

To join by video call: https://redbooth.com/vc/2e89810ba4dd1acc

To join by phone: Dial 415-762-9988. Meeting ID is 833919968 (No participant ID)

Gimbiya Kettering, Director, Intercultural Ministries
Church of the Brethren

Would You go to the Wakanda Workcamp?

This is what happened when the Church of the Brethren talked about the Black Panther

Word cloud of good movie subjects

Whose story would make a great movie?

Last week over 25 people gathered to talk about our experiences of watching Black Panther – the ways it was inspiring, troubling, entertaining and thought-provoking. There was a lot of diversity on the call: We called in from across the country and represented many different communities in our denomination. We were college students and District Executives. Some of us are life-long fans of superheroes and for others this was the first time they were watching a Marvel movie. It was a multiracial call –even more diverse if you counted the racial diversity of the families we represent.

I want to thank everyone who participated for the open, thoughtful, and respectful conversation. The reflections and questions were profound and often surprising. The conversation returned frequently to the portrayal of violence – the amount of it, the graphic nature of it, who were the perpetrators, how it worked as an allegory, and how it reflects the reality of violence. In many ways, I was reminded that I was having a conversation within a community that self identifies as pacifist. (Though when asked to list our favorite movies, most of them could also be described as violent.) The call ended with reflections on the ways we work to create multiracial communities.

Based on the survey before the call, we are twice as likely to watch a Will Smith action movie than one that reflects on race. Below are additional reflections based on the survey.

Question 1: How Often Do You Watch Movies? (please include home viewing)How often do you watch movies?

Question 2: Which of the following movies have you seen?

The original survey listed over 40 titles. They were generally grouped by era (i.e., Slavery, Civil Rights, Jim Crow, Contemporary, etc.) and genre (documentaries, inspired by true stories, romance, comedy, etc). In the end, looking at the data, I noticed a few trends:

  • We Watch About History:
    • 237 responses identified watching historical set movies (Civil Rights Movement or earlier) to current (defined as 1980s to now).
    • The top four categories coming in at over 40 each were related to Slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, Classic Novels, and Women biographies.
  • When we watch Current Events – We want to be entertained
    • The 5th most common response was action movies starring Will Smith at 31 responses
    • Contemporary Romances came in next with 29 responses
    • Comedy, Horror, Blaxploitation brought a combined: 51
    • At total 111 responses – this is still less than half of the times we identified watching historically inspired and/or set movies
  • We do NOT watch commentary. Maybe not many are made or maybe not many have nationwide release. Maybe we mean to watch, but put it off because we are afraid of how it will make us feel. Or maybe the way I listed the questions created bias…BUT…
    • 17 Responses for documentaries based on social commentary
    • 14 for movies with a satirical take on race
    • 13 for documentaries about current events
    • And ONLY 7 responses for PBS based series focused on the African American experience in history

Question 3:   Which African American historical figure, book, story, and/or character would you like to see made as a movie?  See word cloud above. The larger the text, the more people listed it as a movie they would be interested in seeing made.

Question 4:   Out of ALL (not just the ones above) the movies you have ever seen, which 2-5 are your favorites? In the interest of space, I would like to say these movies were many and more diverse than I expected. A number of people referenced: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings. Princess Bride and Selma tied at 5 mentions each. The Butler got 4. Most unexpected to me was Gone with the Wind –three times. Eight people identified Black Panther!Pie chart showing percentage of White (majority), Asian (smallest number), Black (next in number), and Multiracial (largest number other than White) respondents..

Question 5:   Please describe your race/ethnicity.
Note: Based on self-identification, it was necessary that some counted more than once.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Based on the information from the survey, I would recommend we stretch ourselves by watching movies that challenge us to listen to how race impacts the experience of brothers and sisters:

Intercultural Ministries will host a conversation about the National Geographic Issue about Race (April 2018)
–Thursday, April 26 at 1:00pm EST–

Access this video conference:  https://redbooth.com/vc/01f9f83893e4f7e1
By phone: Dial +1 415 762 9988. Meeting ID is 180230133 (no participant ID)
Handwritten calculations of survey responses

DISCLAIMER: This is intended to spark conversation and encourage you to think about the movies you have watched, and not watched, in new ways. Special thanks to the 66 people who took this survey! This survey has absolutely no scientific rigor or standards and there may be errors in calculations I had to make by hand. If you have passion and skill for constructing surveys, crunching data, and want to help with this and/or future surveys, please let me know! Check out my high-tech survey equipment! –→

 

 

Gimbiya Kettering, Director, Intercultural Ministries
Church of the Brethren

 

When “IT” Makes the News

By Gimbiya Kettering

I’ll admit, the news story about Jamar Clark has not been on my radar. I have been caught up in the pre-pre holiday business, local meetings, life with a toddler who now takes off her socks as I look for her gloves and her gloves while I am fastening her shoes. The news beyond my front door seems far away. In the midst of my own life, I can lull myself into thinking that the wider world has calmed down, become more reasonable, more sane, more sustainable. That something like peace has descended.

Of course, the reality is much more complicated and the lives of brothers and sisters around the country continue to be disrupted by oppression, poverty, racism, and violence. And in the case of Jamar Clark –ended. The protestors in Minneapolis were paying attention and came out to raise the national awareness about what happened – of the disturbing patterns that continue to happen around the country. They are protesting to raise the awareness of people like me – caught up in our own lives but who would also want to know, who want to be the type of person who pays attention and cares.

Protests are a way of raising awareness, as news reports carry the information into the homes of those of us who aren’t making it through our front doors and into the communities where protests are happening. Yet, the news that someone (it is not clear yet who) has fired on the protestors is frightening. It flies in the face of our American traditions of gathering together as part of raising national awareness that encompass movements from the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and the March on Selma in 1965 –and the public witness of our church such as the On Earth Peace tradition of having a “Peace Walk” at Annual Conference and International Day of Prayer for Peace celebrated by many congregations.

That someone – regardless of who – opened fire on the group is very disturbing. Thankfully, no one has died. However, the act of violence is horrific. And it calls us to ask what is our response as a people of a faith? As a church? As a people of peace?

Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism

“Racism will not end with the passage of legislation alone; it will also require a change of heart and thinking. This is an effort which the faith community must lead, and be the conscience of the nation. We will call upon every church, temple, mosque and faith communion to make their worship service on this Sunday a time to confess and repent for the sin and evil of racism, this includes ignoring, tolerating and accepting racism and to make a commitment to end racism by the example of our lives and actions.”
-Invitation from the African Methodist Episcopal Church

More information and resources: http://www.ame-church.com/liberty-and-justice-for-all/

The shooting in Charleston, more than 500 miles away has left me in a state of shock. Coming out of it, I have turned to prayer. Pray. Pray. Pray. I keep returning to prayer because I don’t know what to do about the pervasive, racialized violence in our nation. I wish I had the vision of a community leader, but instead I am closing my eyes and clasping my hands. Pray. Pray. Pray. Fortunately, being part of a body of Christ means that I don’t always have to be the leader. Sometimes I can be another part of the body (say the elbow or littlest toe) while other people are leadership. Right now, I am grateful to the leadership of the AME Church.

As they celebrate their bicentennial anniversary, the African Methodist Episcopal Church is also still grieving the attack on the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Founded because of racism and injustice, the AME is committed to leading the nation to move the nation to face, confront, and act on the issue of race. As part of their celebrations and grief, they are asking that every church, temple, synagogue, mosque, and place of worship focus on race, while asking every pastor, rabbi, imam, and other leaders to preach on race, reminded that out of one blood, God created all of us to dwell together in unity.

I am hoping that some of our congregations will join in prayer and confession. Also, I encourage you to reach out to the AME congregation in your community with a letter of support and, if possible, join them in any planned public witness on this important issue.

As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

 

On the Road to Damascus: When the scales fall from our eyes

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated our country. It not only flooded cities, destroyed buildings, and displaced people off the Gulf region– it somehow displaced all of us. I remember being struck by a photo of an older, Black woman, suddenly homeless, wrapped in an American flag. It seemed impossible to believe that this could happen to “us” – Americans in America. The storm unfolded layers of complications and injustices that revealed people of color were disproportionately impacted by the storm – in part because their lives were tenuous before the storm began. That systematic racism and poverty had swept them away like so much debris in the force of the storm and the country’s response to it.

a small sign of hope - a mud-stained and tattered American flag stands in a pile of debris left by Hurricane Katrina in Chalmette, Louisiana

a small sign of hope – a mud-stained and tattered American flag stands in a pile of debris left by Hurricane Katrina in Chalmette, Louisiana

Ten years ago, it felt like the scales had fallen from our eyes and in the bright, new light we repented. From the robust conversation about power, privilege, and prejudice, it seemed we were on the verge of understanding something fundamentally “wrong” with ourselves and how we treat one another. That with this understanding we would be able to bring about the kind of change that would genuinely support our national vision where all people are created equal, with right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness – where no one would be abandoned on their rooftop in times of storm or calm.

Like now, in 2005 the conversation about race in our nation seemed urgent and important. Then it went silent. Not all at once, but gradually fading away. There was other news. The post-storm “normal” was not worth reporting and we became swept up in our daily lives. We forgot the urgency around race. We left the conversation mid-sentence. The underlying realities, inequalities and injustices remained and we forgot that the next storm would mean people returning to the roof.

Now, current events related to race, are sweeping the nation like a storm and breaking the levees of the status quo. After the shootings in Charleston and the publicity about mass incarceration and the public awareness about police brutality, we are again on the road to Damascus. We are seeing with new eyes and a repentant heart that racism is a sin that destroys us all. We are vowing to make a change.

And I can only pray this is true. That, this time, we will stay the course. I pray that we will finish what we have begun, truly addressing the issues and social forces that divide us from one another. I pray that we will heed the call to care for the widow, the orphan – those most vulnerable in our society. My hope is that our hearts will remember the urgency to see the work to completion.

My fear is that we will look away, work unfinished, again.

As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

Thinking About Ferguson – Again

This is not a one year old problem –Efrem Smith

A year ago, I had never heard of Ferguson – despite having traveled to Missouri several times, and despite loving a sci-fi show set in St. Louis. Or if I heard of it, it didn’t register. Not the way it does now.

Now I cannot hear “Ferguson” without flinching.

As we approached the first “anniversary” of the shooting of Michael Brown, I found myself reflecting on what had happened in the past year. I have been completely overwhelmed and saddened by the long list of unarmed African Americans who have been killed. I have been inspired by the national conversation this awareness has sparked. I have been afraid that nothing is going to change.

I had a feeling of déjà vu when I heard there were protests in Ferguson – again. Of course, I expected something to happen but I was not prepared for more violence and another state of emergency. I was not expecting me to be looking away from the news with tears in my eyes and too discouraged to find solace in prayer.

EFREM 44 DSC_0192
Efrem Smith, a pastor at the Covenant Church who spoke at the 2014 Church Planting Conference, has written eloquently on it. He has kept his eyes on our faith, the role of Christ in all of this.

I encourage you to read: http://www.efremsmith.com/category/blog/2015/08/a-year-from-ferguson/?utm_content=buffer6a679&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford


As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Keep On, Keeping On

Almost every week, someone asks “What should I do? What should my congregation be doing?”

Thomas Dowdy

Rev. Thomas Dowdy speaks at Annual Conference 2015 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Glenn Riegel.

In light of the news about the militarization of the police force, the prison industrial complex, and social inequities it seems that we must do something…often something new. And, often we are seeking out new and different ways of doing ministry because we want to see different results.

Yet, whatever we “should be doing” needs to happen within the context of our faith. At Annual Conference, Rev. Brother Thomas Dowdy also reminded us that we have to keep doing what Jesus commanded us to do: Preach the Gospel, Equip Servant Leaders, Assist the Poor, Care for the Sick, and Educate the Next Generation.

Sometimes we have to “keep on, keeping on” – doing what we have been doing until there is enough momentum to really be a part of the change. To stay on the path because though we are early in the journey, we are travelling in the right direction. These tried but true ways are as relevant today as they were when Christ gave us the great commission and can be applied to the work ahead of us, in America, as we seek to address the disturbing current events and trends around race, ethnicity, and intercultural ministries.

What ministries will your church be continuing that could be an example of “What should we do?”

As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

After Amen

By Gimbiya Kettering

After tragedy comes prayer. What comes after prayer?

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. —Romans 8:26 (KJV)
For the past month, people have shared articles and essays and online photo albums with me on every possible social media platform about the shootings, about the shooter, about South Carolina’s flag, and about the complicated, terrible story of race in our country. I have been grateful for every day that has passed in peace—without protests turning violent and self-destructive. I have stopped mid-step to listen to the radio reports about Charleston. I have read articles and editorials and tweets but I have not known what to say.For the past month, I have been praying—or trying to pray for the grieving families of those killed, the congregation of Emanuel AME Church, for the people of Charleston, the leaders of South Carolina, for the wider African Methodist Episcopal denomination, for all of us as Americans. Often words have failed me in the rising tide of my grief, rage, and confusion. I have wanted, perhaps more than anything, to be able to push back time. But I cannot continue to pray for a return to the week before last week, before any of this happened, and to pray for something different. That is not the type of intercession God does.

I may never find the words for the prayers that I want to articulate. But, in my silence, I am also preparing for the strength and courage for the actions I need to take next week and the week after that. The actions that will make a difference.

What have you done or said in response to the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church?

How have people received your contributions?

What actions do you think we could take as individuals, as congregations, and as a denomination to be part of the healing after these shootings and other incidents of racialized violence in our community?

Please share your stories so that they can inspire me and others who are seeking a ways forward in our broken, beautiful world. You can send your stories to gkettering@brethren.org or call me at 1-80-323-8039 xt 387.

Gimbiya Kettering is the director of Intercultural Ministries — and this blog series is a way of continuing the conversation about how race, culture, ethnicity, and language impact our relationships with one another and how we do ministry. If you have a question or comment to share, please email her directly at gkettering@brethren.org. More about Intercultural Ministries at:www.brethren.org/intercultural