The effort, sacrifice and time it takes to eliminate racism, to relearn the history of the United States and to improve race relations can be staggering. Black people live in this staggering reality on a daily basis.
In Evanston, there is a concerted, strategic and critical plan (with multiple moving parts) to eliminate racism, relearn our nation’s history and to improve race relations. Part of the plan is coming from many of our houses of worship.
Led by several Evanston clergy, Evanston residents recently took two field trips to learn more about social justice as it relates to Black and brown communities in Evanston and Chicago.
On Sunday, Feb. 12 nearly 90 residents met at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue to learn about the history of Blacks in Evanston. Dino Robinson of the Shorefront Legacy Center was the tour guide. The initial plan was to have one bus. However, preregistration was so strong it required two buses for the trip.
Congregations involved included those who are part of Evanston Own It and Evanston Interfaith Clergy and Leaders. Clergy who helped plan the trip were Pastor Kat Banakis of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet the Free Synagogue, Pastor Carlis Moody Jr. of Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, Pastor Eileen Wiviott of the Unitarian Church of Evanston and Pastor Kenneth Cherry of Christ Temple Missionary Baptist Church.
Others included Pastor Deborah Scott of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church; Rabbi Rachel Weiss of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation; the Rev. Tim Stevens, former Northwestern University chaplain; George Davis of the Baha’i Temple, and Pastor Martha Holmes of Bethany Baptist Church of Christ.
The Evanston experience included visits down Dempster Street near the lake, where several Black families lived in the 1880s; tours of Ebenezer AME Church and Second Baptist Church, the oldest African American congregations in Evanston; a look at the former Foster Street School and more.
The group also visited Shorefront Legacy and enjoyed learning about the history of the organization and its important work. After two hours, the group reassembled at Beth Emet for dinner and small group discussions led by Black and white clergy members.
On March 12, Evanston Own It and Evanston Interfaith Clergy and Leaders sponsored a second field trip, to Chicago. Once again, two buses were needed because of the number of people who preregistered.
The buses left from Beth Emet and visited the apartment complex where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King lived in 1966. The participants went to a food market in Englewood and heard from residents.
They went to the Lawndale Community Church where they were greeted by Pastor Jonathan Brooks and heard a lecture by Natalie Moore, author of The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.
They also visited Marquette Park, where Rami Nashashibi of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network addressed the group.
The group also visited Beth Shalom Bnai Zaken, an Ethiopian Hebrew Synagogue, where they were warmly received by Rabbi Capers Funnye. The synagogue hosted dinner for the visitors, who broke into small groups for discussions led by Black and white clergy members. After nearly six hours of learning together, the group returned to Evanston.
Racism was not eliminated, false history about slavery and racism is still being taught in many areas of the nation. But slowly and steadily, there is a movement toward improving race relations. While the attendees were mostly white, Black religious leaders and some Black participants are learning the importance of building relationships and friendships with one another.
At a time when so many in faith communities are spewing divisiveness, it is good to see an interfaith community sewing seeds of unity. Perhaps Evanston really is the incubator toward a national rebirth that includes reparations, repair, renewal and improvement in race relations. This movement is growing.