Students explore peace with justice

The "Upstanders Mural" depicts citizens of Memphis, TN who spoke out for a more inclusive, just and compassionate city. The mural faces the Lorraine Motel, site of the Civil Rights museum and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peace with Justice Offering funds an anti-racism initiative of the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo.

 

SARAH DEHAAN
United Methodist Communications

Kalamazoo, Mich.– In 2017, the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo received a $2,500 Peace with Justice Grant that funded the Sankofa Initiative. Over the past year, the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo has been working towards becoming an anti-racist, fully inclusive organization through various educational events, collaboration, trips, and workshops.

Thanks to the grant, 2017 was the debut year for the now annual Sankofa trip. “Sankofa” is a word derived from a language in Ghana which has been translated, “Go back and get what you have lost or forgotten, so that you can move forward.” The symbol of the Sankofa trip is of a bird walking forward, while looking back, while carrying an egg.  

Before going on the road for the week-long training, participants prepared for the trip. A 2.5-day anti-racism and anti-oppression analysis was followed by a one-day Trans Ally workshop. Later, at the historic sites of oppression and resistance participants engaged in facilitation, caucus, and dialog. As they dug deeper into their experiences, they were able to go back and get what they had lost, which, according to Kalamazoo Wesley Director and Campus Pastor Lisa Batten, is their anti-racist and anti-oppressive identities. Gaining that lost identity allowed them to grow forward with new understanding.  

“The Peace with Justice is coming out of the General Board of Church and Society,” Batten said. “Recipients are not necessarily local congregations, although they can be. Usually affiliates or partners of local congregations or extension ministries are those engaged inpeace and justice work.” 

Batten added, “The Sankofa Project is not just an experience. It trains up the participants to do peace and justice work.”  

The Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo, a United Methodist Campus Ministry, has been creating partnerships with local congregations, as well as collaborating with Eliminating Racism And Claiming/Celebrating Equality (ERACCE) around anti-racism. So applying for the Peace with Justice Grant back in January of 2017 was a no brainer for the organization.  

“All of that Anti-Oppression training leads to peace within, so that we can do peace and justice work in our families and communities,”  Batten explained.

The Sankofa experience brought a diverse group of people together through their own unique personal stories, which helped the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo grow even further into its anti-racist and anti-oppressive identity. Setting foot in these historic sites of oppression and resistance was also a big factor for growth of Kalamazoo Wesley and individuals involved 

“There’s only so much that people can really understand. We can understand things in our heads through book knowledge, workshops, and trainings, but I think there’s only so much we can really understand in our hearts about particular experiences or particular historical events,” Batten said. “There’s something about when you stand in the place, like the physical location where something has happened, and then you have the facilitation, the dialog, the caucus, whatever that ends up looking like; there’s something very tangible that happens. In the words of [ERACCE Facilitator] Fernando Ospina, ‘Reality becomes more real.’”  

Sankofa participants visited the Cahokia Mounds and Ferguson, near St. Louis, Missouri, the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Whitney Plantation outside New Orleans, Louisiana, a site that focuses on the slaves’ experiences. 

 

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