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Thursday, June 12, 2014 12:01 am

Diverse faith groups talk about race

 It has long been said that 10 a.m. Sunday morning, when many worship services begin, is the most segregated hour of the week. While it is true segregation marks many a Sunday service, there is a movement afoot in Springfield that will help counter segregation, and will help build a sense of unity and appreciation for diversity among people of goodwill throughout our fair city.

For more than 17 years, the Springfield Race Unity Committee, like the city we call home, has struggled to promote unity and build interracial understanding and appreciation. Members of the committee have longed for the day, now upon us, when the Springfield Ministerial Alliance (SMA) and the Greater Springfield Interfaith Association (GSIA) would join forces to promote racial unity and the oneness of humanity.

The Race Unity Committee has been chaired in recent years by Delores Martin, who deserves much of the credit for bringing Springfield’s two faith-based coalitions together to work collectively on this important issue. Many will recall Ms. Martin as the founding director of Springfield Community Federation, or as a longtime member of the Baha’i Faith.

Rev. Silas Johnson (Calvary Baptist Church) of the Ministerial Alliance is also due abundant praise. Pastor Johnson didn’t hesitate to offer his church as a site for initial planning meetings. Kudos also to the Rev. Kevin Laughery, who heads the Catholic Quad Pastoral Unit of Sangamon and Morgan Counties, and is president of the GSIA. Both of these religious leaders quickly embraced the Race Unity Committee’s suggestion and helped solidify the vision that will see at least 10 congregations – five from each faith coalition – come together to discuss the state of race relations in our hearts and in our community.

The first interdenominational conversation has already taken place. With great success, participants from Calvary Baptist Church and the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation joined forces to recently hold the first of at least two discussions on race. These discussions, organizers hope, will pay real dividends in promoting “unity in diversity.” At minimum, they will allow participants to reach out and get to know new people across a longstanding social divide that can seem impenetrable.

Four other groups from eight different congregations will begin discussions shortly. All will use Constructive Conversations on Race materials developed by the good people at www.teachingunity.com, who seek to build a “new, holistic vision of ourselves as diverse human beings.” The materials are designed to provide fresh insights into how race and race relations are viewed today. Moreover, rules for group interaction discourage finger-pointing and promote an environment where participants can speak from the heart without fear of reprisal.

As its name suggests, the goal of this program is to foster constructive conversations on race, and to recognize and promote ways to build unity and embrace our shared humanity. It is fitting that this movement is occurring in Springfield, home to both Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, and the notorious 1908 race riots that led to the formation of the NAACP. If he were alive today, Lincoln would no doubt praise the program’s mission, and encourage widespread participation. For more information on how you might start a constructive conversation on race, visit teachingunity.com, or contact the Springfield Race Unity Committee at springfieldraceunity@gmail.com.

Mike Lang is a longtime member of the Springfield Race Unity Committee. He lives in Sherman, serves as PI Rep for the Baha’is of Springfield, and plays bass in the Lincoln Land Community College Big Band.

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