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Commissioners take time to have conversations about race

June 14, 2014

Just before he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington Mall, Martin Luther King had a similar vision for a crowd in Detroit.

“We will no longer sell our birthright of freedom. We are through with segregation now, henceforth and forever more,” King said on June 23, 1963, six weeks before his more famous speech. The Detroit audience gave him a prolonged ovation.

During its first plenary session Saturday, the 221st General Assembly (20140) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took time in the same place to have its own Conversation on Race, the first of two such times during plenary.

The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, recognizing that race remains a real issue facing the nation and the church, decided to take advantage of meeting in Detroit's Cobo Center, the site of King's address, to have a thoughtful discussion about race in the context of faith.

Committee Moderator Vince Thomas and Vice-Moderator Marcia Mount Shoop led the brief conversation.

Commissioners and advisory delegates broke into small groups to answer this question: What is one way Dr. King’s words speak to you?

After forming their own group, Thomas and Shoop agreed about the significance of being brought up by parents who believed that racism and segregation were morally wrong. Thomas said he’s “benefitted greatly from that, but it has brought challenges. I am always aware of being an African-American, no matter what community I am in.”

Shoop said she’s learned at least one thing about “whiteness”: “As a white person, I can opt in and opt out of race discussions if I want to. It’s not hard to find a community where race is not something we have to acknowledge, or even think about.”

Thomas, who grew up in Detroit, asked the crowd, “as we find our way in Detroit, Marcia and I and our COGA colleagues invite you to let Detroit be that mirror for you. As you visit churches (Sunday), notice who’s there and who’s missing.”

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