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What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out

Conversation about personal origins fuels anti-racism workshop

August 2, 2013

Anti-racism participants

Partidcipants in an anti-racism workshop at Big Tent reflect on their life stories. —Danny Bolin

LOUISVILLE

A Friday-morning anti-racism workshop at Big Tent turned into a Presbyterian-style meet-and-greet, then turned out to be a powerful anti-racism exercise.

Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations who co-led the workshop, started by asking participants to introduce themselves and talk about their names, origins and ancestors.

The exercise disclosed that the participants included people whose ancestors had been slaves, and some who had been slaveholders, some who grew up in big cities and others who lived in U.S. farm communities, some black and some white and some mixed, some from well-off families, others from impoverished homes, one a Presbyterian preacher’s kid and one raised a Catholic.

The stories were so powerful, in fact, that the exercise took up the entire 90 minutes.

And the message was that all are made in the image of God.

Koenig wasn’t disappointed that more anti-racism activities couldn’t be included. He said what happened must have been “what God intended for us.”

Mark Koenig

Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Mission at the United Nations, leads an anti-racism workshop at Big Tent. —Danny Bolin

“What did Jesus do, after all?” he asked, then answered his own question: “He fed people, he healed people, and he told stories.”

The workshop was part of the Racial Ethnic and Immigrants Convocation at Big Tent, a three-day celebration of Presbytterian Church (U.S.A.) mission and ministry under the theme “Putting God’s First Things First.” It’s composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of Presbyterian reunion and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here. 

Koenig’s co-leader was Nancy Benson-Nicol, associate for gender and racial justice in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It was the first of two sessions ― the other is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday. It will include an examination of the George Zimmerman acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Participants were also asked to name values they learned at home that they hope to pass along to their children and some values that they would just as well see end with them.

The values they hope to hang on to included family mealtimes, unconditional love in the family, thirst for knowledge, respect for elders and multigenerational gatherings of women.

Among those they don’t intend to pass along were judging others, keeping of secrets, hatred of skin color, valuing achievement above everything else and parent abandonment of children.

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