This year has been a busy one for our Covenant of Action partners throughout the United States as they came together to work for racial justice and reconciliation in their communities. Some began working through painful histories, while others came together to work on shared concerns where they live. Here are some of the highlights.
The Kalamazoo, Mich., partnership kicked off their efforts with a ‘Demonstration of Diversity Day’ at Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park. Members of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church and 12th Street Baptist Church hosted the event which included a health fair, fun activities for the kids, and times of worship with a combined choir of Galilee and 12th Street members. Pastor Michael Scott of Galilee Baptist Church, and Pastor Thaddeus Stout of 12th Street Baptist Church co-preached a short sermon from Revelation 5:9, titled, “The Family of God.”
The Charlottesville, Va., partnership — New Beginnings Christian Community Church and Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church — co-hosted a Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration with the 50-member Charlottesville Clergy Collective. Former president and CEO of the NAACP Cornell Brooks was the keynote speaker for the event. Centered around the theme “Women in the Movement,” the committee presented the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Award to Charlottesville-area resident Theresa Price. The award is given to a person who has demonstrated Dr. King’s commitment to civil rights and to improving understanding between peoples of different races and ethnic backgrounds.
The Washington, D.C., partners continued to confront their history of racism. On a frigid Saturday morning in February, around 50 women, men and children from First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., led by pastor Rev. Julie Pennington Russell, and Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, led by the Rev. Dr. Darryl Roberts, came together at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The two congregations share more than 200 years of history in our nation’s capital, much of it marked by racial injustice and separation.
The Covenant of Action partnership between Grace and Race Ministries, Inc., Kingdom Mission Society and Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., came together to form MLK 50 Bridges, an organization that with NBC’s help are building bridges of racial understanding between people of faith in their community. As part of that effort, Rev. Dr. Maurice Watson, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, hosted a dinner and dialogue with the theme “Race Matters.” Participants for the dialogue were chosen intentionally to reflect, race, gender, intergenerational and religious diversity.
Covenant of Action partners First Baptist Church and NextGen Church of Trenton, N.J., are working together to lead an after school program at a local school in on of the lowest performing districts in the state of New Jersey. Their aim is to raise academic performance and provide enriching experiences in the arts. With funds used from a grant provided by New Baptist Covenant, the partners have embarked on two specific projects related to the arts. One was to expose students to the arts by taking them to musical performances at a nearby community college, and another in which they hired a local music producer to work with students in eight sessions to create their own music and learn how to perform it.
Just months after a shooter took the lives of nine individuals at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., Rev. Anne Scalfaro, lead pastor of Calvary Baptist, and Rev. Dr. Eugene Downing Jr., lead pastor of New Hope Baptist, both in Denver, Colo., met at a regional conference. They were so moved by calls for unity and reconciliation following that tragic event that following a suggestion from church leaders, the two ministers began to get to know one another personally, professionally and theologically, with the end goal of doing something to bring their communities together. After several months of casual meetings, the two pastors brought their congregations together to see if their congregations could benefit from open, nonjudgmental conversations around community challenges and hopes. The partnership decided to focus their efforts on education and approached the Denver Public Schools to discuss opportunities for the congregations to do something together to support the schools. After numerous shared conversations, cultural and worship experiences, Calvary and New Hope have committed to work together with nearby Stedman Elementary School — staffing their POWER LUNCH literacy program, hosting Parent Teacher Home Visits, and providing volunteers for joint group projects at the school.
The national office of American Baptist Women’s Ministries is leveraging its expertise and resources — including a Covenant of Action grant from New Baptist Covenant — to facilitate partnerships between diverse groups of Baptist women in three different regions of the country. The group in Philadelphia from Grace Baptist Church is partnering with the Philadelphia Burmese Baptist church to help the women and girls in their community to acquire tools and resources that will help them flourish in a rapidly changing society. The team in Rhode Island is partnering with Iglesia Bautista Hispana El Cavalrio to provide opportunities for them to learn each other’s languages. and the Buffalo, N.Y., team partnered with Pakistani immigrants from First Baptist Church of Niagara.
Our partners in Elaine, Ark. — Divine Deliverance Christian Ministries and Rolling Hills Baptist Church of Fayetteville — are working with the youth in this small community. Co-Executive Directors Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins and Hannah McMahan King journeyed to Elaine to attend the dedication of their new youth center and commemoration of the race massacre that took place there 100 years ago. The community of Elaine still struggles with the wounds of that event and the town remains largely racially divided. NBC covenant partners have come together to acknowledge the history of their town and to create a new future for their children. In the middle of town, our covenant partners built a park — a place for the kids to come and learn about the heroes who stood up for justice 100 years ago. The park is also outfitted with musical instruments and other activities to spark the imagination and to give an outlet for expression. The children who gather at the park and community center also have been making and painting birdhouses.
The year culminated with NBC’s first-ever Regional Forum hosted by our Macon, Ga., partners — First Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Christ. Dr. David Anderson Hooker, Associate Professor of the Practice of Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, was the keynote speaker for the two-day event. Participants gathered for worship and fellowship and spent time in small groups to further explore the passage from the morning sermon found in the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel. As they were encouraged to reflect on the story of the man healed at the pool of Bethesda, they were assigned one of the categories of the afflicted and asked to relate it to how that can hinder the work of racial reconciliation.