These five Black Christian leaders have been meeting for a year and a half online and they finally were able to meet and spend time building community, encouraging, and challenging, and speaking life over each other in person at a retreat in Little Rock, Arkansas. Each Fellow was awarded with a capacity building grant and were finally able to spend time together and collaborate in person. The retreat was facilitated by Konyka Dunson from The Witness Foundation.
Jemar Tisby joined the Fellows at the first day of their retreat and shared the vision and the history of the founding of and the evolving of The Witness Foundation.
Jemar Tisby shared,
“Evangelicalism segregates our identity saying I am a Christian first but our faith helps us integrate our whole selves. I am a Black Christian. This was a vision because I saw Black people of faith in the world scrimping and saving to make things happen with budget restrictions when other organizations have massive budgets and this is why we must build institutions because resources are out here- just not always in our hands.”
“The vision is “How can we support Black Christian leaders?”
On that first night of the retreat Jemar shared with The Fellows, “You are the Civil Rights leaders of this generation.” The statement fell with a weight and responsibility but also an encouragement that the work of these leaders is seen and appreciated. It was palpable in the space.
Jemar continued, “Down the road investing in you as leaders is vital because we are for you as individuals and the mentoring here goes with you as you lead. We hope this program allows you to know there are people who believe in you and investing in your work we know the more justice we will have.”
These friends are powerful leaders. Learn more about each of The Fellows and some of their stories here:
The Fellows were able to attend service together at Saint Mark Baptist and were able to worship and then pray with some of the leadership after the Sunday service.
The Fellows also had a private tour of Little Rock Central High School that was so impactful, especially as they waked the actual sidewalk that the students walked in 1957 to integrate the public school in the face of racism, intimidation, and violence. They heard stories from history that were terribly painful. Jemar Tisby’s exhortation the first night, “You are the Civil Rights leaders of this generation” became even more heavy and impactful in light of the history of the very spot they were standing. Justice work in a continuation of a story for equality and equity that as James Baldwin said, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.“
Rarely will you be in the presence of such power and humility in the same group of people. The Fellows ended their retreat with prayer and speaking words or life over one another, and some tears and laughs. They each left to continue, with more hope and resoluteness, in the calling on their lives and ministry and with a new appreciation and community built through over a year of collaboration and the important time of being present to one another. They will continue to do, as Jemar Tisby pointed out, “the modern day work of Civil Rights” from around the country.
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