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In the fall of 2014, Reverend Kym McNair, Associate Minister at Antioch Baptist Church in Bedford Hills, was excited to receive an invitation to attend a workshop at Fox Lane on diversity, racism and white privilege. Unfortunately, pushback from a vocal part of the community forced school superintendent, Dr. Jere Hochman to cancel the initiative. At the same time, local clergy like herself decided that engaging in the vitriol was not conducive to advancing the best possible outcome.
"You don't want to be the loudest voice in a shouting match," reasoned McNair.
Took Up the Initiative Themselves
Instead, when the Northern Westchester Interfaith Council hosted their own workshop in early May, McNair’s hope is that the necessary conversation got a beginning and won't stop there. With 40 people in attendance, the workshop put on by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond Racism—and hosted by The Northern Westchester Interfaith Council—had a broad cross-section with people. Those include black, white, christians, jews, unitarians, members from local school districts, parents, LGBTQ, upper class, middle class, working poor and service providers.
The interplay called, Undoing Racism took a long view and extrapolated the manner in which American society has settled itself around the issue of race. "They trace back to when "white" became a legal definition and connect the history to racism, said McNair. "Then they use that framework to understand how institutions function, and how we function as individuals."
Reverend Melissa Boyer of Katonah United Methodist Church welcomed the insights also and pointed out the main perquisite. "I appreciated the balance between the systemic and the individual. Learning about institutional racism—the long and complex history of structural inequality—can be overwhelming and even disempowering. But the Undoing Racism workshop presenters took care to emphasize the role that individuals play. It's up to individual people like you and me to dismantle the unjust structures and world views that we have inherited. As the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond points out, racism is something that was done. So it is also something that can—and must—be undone," instructed the Pastor.
The process also extended beyond the obligatory evaluation form. "I liked this presentation because they have a follow up conversation," said McNair. "They don't just drop it on people and walk away."
Keeps the Conversation Going
In other words, the organization absorbs the local issues and find ways to keep the conversation going. "So they can undo some of the impact that's created (by race issues)," said McNair.
She's certain that the exposition and introspection can be eye opening. "I have found the conversation to be helpful in pulling back to see how systems are operating to keep people apart," said McNair.
And she acknowledges that there are definitely many whites who understand the inherent advantage, but greater awareness is the key to really making the issue stand out. "It's a matter of recognizing how the system works to give one group an advantage over an other," said McNair.
She still welcomes whatever disagreement there may be. "We're here, come and join us," said McNair.
That said, Melissa Banta believes apathy is the only thing to lose. "The Undoing Racism workshop is a priceless growing opportunity—one that I'm grateful to have experienced. Collaborating with people from all walks of life and verbally deconstructing the raw truth of racism was cathartic. The insight and energy shared in this workshop has fortified my motivation to continue sowing the seeds of change, and empowering others to do so as well," said the local parent.
All in all, the event shows that a togetherness follows, and the same goes for a framework going forward. "Everyone feeling the energy, there was a sense of community, and I hope it's going to grow outside that room and into other areas," concluded McNair.
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