Local Religious Leaders Discuss Fighting Racism During Civic Love

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Daily File Photo by Joanne Haner

Local religious leaders spoke at an event on Tuesday about increased “transparency” in Evanston on issues related to race, in addition to faith-based efforts to fight social injustices.

Rabbi Rachel Weiss of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation recalled her time on Evanston’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lab Experimental School at a Tuesday event hosted by Northwestern Leadership Development and Community Engagement and Religious and Spiritual Life.

The school is designed to integrate primary education in Evanston. But Weiss said there were almost no black people in the parent-teacher association during her time there. She also said the new institution was destroying opportunities for neighborhood schools in non-white areas of Evanston.

“What happened to that school really symbolizes all the things that happened in America,” Weiss said.

Panelists discussed Evanston’s history of racism and current faith-based efforts to fight injustice at the “Civic Love: Spirituality + Social Action” event. The speakers spoke about greater transparency in Evanston on racial issues and social injustices.

“We know there is a history of problems (in Evanston) as there are problems all over the country and around the world when it comes to racial relations, especially now with the rise of white nationalism,” Second Baptist Church Senior Pastor and panelist Michael Nabors said.

Nabors, who also chairs the Evanston-North Shore Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said it is historically significant that Evanston is the first municipality in the US to establish a recovery program.

However, he says he finds it surprising that NU as an institution has not become involved in the recovery program. He also mentioned Harvard University’s recent efforts to restore its ties to slavery through a $100 million pledge fund.

Nabors also highlighted his municipality’s efforts to discuss race and strategies to tackle racism through solidarity circles. He said each solidarity circle includes five white and five black members.

The Rev. Kathryn Banakis of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church said that in 2020 her church has dug into its own records to understand its role, or lack thereof, in civil rights efforts.

“To be able to tell that history and recognize what had happened and use terms like ‘historic white church’, ‘colonizer church’ and ‘colonial Christianity’ has been a useful way of changing dialogues so that we can appear in elements of social justice when opportunities arise,” Banakis said.

She also said it’s important to create an atmosphere within her church where people can ask “dumb questions” and still feel loved.

Weiss said that in faith-based efforts to combat social injustice, it is important to combine religious worship with activism. She said fighting racism should be an active community effort, rather than a burden on a few.

The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation also has an anti-racist task force, which investigates all elements of the congregation, ranging from renting to the color of the baby dolls present in the Early Childhood Center.

However, Weiss said that education about social issues is also important in the fight against racism, in addition to reparations and penance.

“This is the responsibility of the white community to educate and motivate us and engage us to do this,” Weiss said.

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