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Every year, Gwynedd Mercy University offers Campus Conversations, a series of lectures, panel discussions, and presentations whose purpose is three-fold: to generate conversation as part of our commitment to intellectual inquiry and lifelong learning; to address relevant, timely, and meaningful topics that speak to our mission and core values; to highlight the expertise of our faculty and other scholars in relevant disciplines. This year’s theme is Systemic Racism.
The final event of the series, “Civil Rights: The Evolution of Equality,” focused on the notion of civil rights, the existence of structural racism, and how that racism can be minimized through consistent movement towards a common goal.
Kathryn Reinhard, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at GMercyU, served as the moderator and introduced the two presenters: Rahiel Tesfamariam, founder and publisher of UrbanCusp; and Reverend Michael Kinman, a rector form All Saints Church in Pasadena, Ca.
Dr. Reinhard began the discussion explaining that the evening will focus on “the dual role that religion and protests have played in the evolving civil rights movement,” and encouraging each panelist to share their religious identity and talk about their role in their communities.
“I have a very personal relationship with Christ,” said Tesfamariam, after she mentioned that she didn’t grow up identifying as Christian. ”It was not a faith that I evolved into by parenting, but one I came to know undoubtedly for myself. A lot of my love for Jesus is deeply tied to justice. Everything that I am committed to in the realm of Jesus and justice are so deeply intertwined that I don’t know how to separate the two.”
Rev. Kinman echoed the sentiment that Jesus and justice are closely connected.
“I learned from an early age that following Jesus was standing up for justice,” explained Rev. Kinman. “When I think about, other than my local faith community, what my community of faith is, it’s other people that I’ve been privileged to stand with and learn from in these movements. Because we showed up for each other. They were the ones who taught me that I couldn’t, in good conscience, call myself a follower of Jesus unless I showed up, too.”
Both panelists were very active surrounding the Ferguson protests and Michael Brown’s murder, and they shared their personal experiences of how they got involved and reflected on whether their work in activism has changed their faith. The panelists also expanded on being faithful while also holding the church accountable for perpetuating injustice and inequity.
“The church has not always appealed to me, because I saw the church engaged in so much charity, and not enough justice,” said Tesfamariam. “I can’t say that the church has been the best model for me for activism. In many ways I feel that I have used my platform to critique and hold the church accountable, but at the same time serving as a voice of faith for young people who are disgusted by the church.”
As the presentation came to a close, Dr. Reinhard opened the floor for participants to engage in the discussion and ask the panelists their own questions.
To view the entire recording of this Campus Conversation, visit GMercyU’s YouTube Channel.