Disciple: A Community-shaping Collaboration
How a group of six ecumenical churches started a county-wide commitment to racial equity training
By Summerlee Walter
In 2017, if someone living in Concord, North Carolina, wanted to take a Racial Equity Institute (REI) training, it required finding a scarce available spot in one of the Charlotte trainings hosted by Race Matters for Juvenile Justice, then braving traffic on I-85 while praying to avoid both the morning and evening rush hours. At least, that is what one would do until Race Matters for Juvenile Justice stopped accepting non-members in the REI trainings it sponsors.
Fortunately for the people of Cabarrus County, where both Concord and neighboring Kannapolis are located, the Rev. Nancy Cox had taken staff members from All Saints’, Concord, to Charlotte-based REI trainings before registration was suspended, and she believed in the program’s value enough to start inquiring how All Saints’ might bring trainings to Cabarrus County. She was aided in her mission to bring REI trainings to the county by Chuck Collier, a parishioner and member of the diocesan Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee, and a collaboration of six ecumenical area churches gathered under the banner of Racial Equity Cabarrus.
More than $75,000 in grant funding and multiple workshops later, leaders in local municipal and county government, school districts, police forces and hospital systems have participated in REI training.
“Last year, we had no workshops, and this year, we’ll finish having nine in Cabarrus County,” Collier explained.
The groundswell of support throughout Cabarrus County’s religious communities, school districts, and city and county governments did not materialize overnight. The seeds of the effort were planted two years ago as a relationship blossomed between two churches with different demographics.
As a result of the church’s engagement with REI training, the people of All Saints’ were ready to talk about race, white privilege and the ways in which the two influence both public institutions and private interactions in modern America. They just needed someone to talk to.
The Rev. Donald Anthony of Grace Lutheran Church, a Historically Black Church in Concord, is a well-known community leader, and he agreed to meet Cox and Collier for lunch one day in early 2017. They agreed to a six-week lenten Bible study, hosted by All Saints’, called Race and Faith. The relationships between the churches blossomed into a monthly dinner and program the churches alternate hosting. The congregations also came together this summer to study Jim Wallis’s America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, inviting First Presbyterian Church Concord and Central United Methodist Church to join them.
Eventually the informal group of churches committed to racial equity expanded to include First Baptist Church and Trinity United Methodist Church, both located in nearby Kannapolis. Expanding to Kannapolis was important to the group, which calls itself Racial Equity Cabarrus, because a history of racism and economic injustice was built into the city’s founding. Kannapolis was built in 1906 as a mill town for Cannon Mills Corporation laborers, while the executives lived nearby in the wealthier, better-resourced Concord. The consequences of that early segregation are still felt today.
Racial Equity Cabarrus is run by a steering group, composed of six clergy and two lay people with a balance of leaders who are people of color and white. The group’s mission is “providing racial awareness training to the churches and the leaders in Cabarrus County to gain an understanding of the structural racism that exists in our nation and in our community. With that new understanding, we will take action to transform the systems and structures to provide racial equity.” The group knew REI training would be a powerful tool in achieving that goal. They also knew the price tag—$275 per person—might offer a financial excuse for institutions and individuals who lacked the motivation to engage in such training. To remove that potential barrier, Racial Equity Cabarrus decided to subsidize the training at $150 per attendee, making it more accessible to everyone.
Providing subsidies for the number of participants they hoped to attract, however, was an expensive prospect. To fund their dream, Racial Equity Cabarrus applied for grants. The group received a $25,000 Mission Endowment Grant during the fall of 2017 to fund their initial REI offerings. All Saints’, Concord, contributed $5,000 and the local United Methodist district also provided funding. In August 2018, they were awarded a $31,681 United Thank Offering (UTO) grant on behalf of the Diocese for which Barbara Longmire, a parishioner at St. Luke’s, Durham, helped them apply. The UTO grant allowed Racial Equity Cabarrus to conduct six RISE! and REI workshops, as well as a Groundwater training and monthly two-hour affinity groups to continue the conversations and practice the common language learned throughout the workshops. (Groundwater training is a three-hour introduction to racial equity put on by REI, and RISE! workshops, modelled after REI training, focus on race and in-depth spiritual examination.)
A GROWING MOVEMENT
With funding in place, Racial Equity Cabarrus was able to start engaging with local leaders and institutions to recruit people for the trainings. By leveraging the relationships members already had with people in municipal and county government, local school districts and police forces, Racial Equity Cabarrus secured meetings with Concord’s city manager, mayor and police chief, the mayor and city manager of Kannapolis, the superintendents of Cabarrus County Schools and Kannapolis City Schools, and superior court judges. They offered each agency two scholarships to send representatives to a training in March 2018.
Here’s the amazing part of this story: Every agency Racial Equity Cabarrus approached showed up to the training. And they paid the full price to send additional team members. And then some of the institutions sponsored their own trainings—at $11,000 per 40-seat workshop—so more of their institutional leaders and employees could learn about the history and present reality of institutional racism in this country.
The chief of the Concord Police Department used the subsidized seats to send two command team officers and purchased five additional seats for himself, the deputy police chief and other department leaders. The superintendent of Cabarrus County Schools attended and brought the two deputy superintendents. Cabarrus County Schools and Kannapolis City Schools decided to host five additional REI workshops this summer so their principals, board members and school resource officers could attend.
At Collier’s suggestion that trainings in which only school personnel were in the room would not be very diverse, he and the Cabarrus County Schools superintendent invited the superintendent of Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast Medical Center to join the trainings. The superintendent declined the subsidized seats so they could go to community leaders of color and instead paid for six members of her team and two leaders from Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte to attend. With that, the two largest employers in Cabarrus County—the school district and the hospital—were entering racial equity work.
The effects of engaging key government and community leaders in racial equity work are rippling outward. The superintendent of Kannapolis City Schools started the school year by asking principals what they planned to do differently with regards to racial equity. The mayor of Concord, Bill Dusch, is a vocal proponent of REI training and racial equity work.
“This has changed my life,” Dusch said. “I now look at my community differently. It’s the first time in my life I was able to sit down in a room with white people, African-Americans and Latinos and actually have a real conversation and break down the barriers.” His goal now is to send through the training all of the City Council and members of the city’s management team, then branch out from there.
“Getting all the council and Kannapolis involved, that’s when you’ll start seeing the difference,” Dusch said.
THE NEXT STEPS
While more and more local leaders engage in racial equity training and look for ways to apply what they learned to their institutions, the work of relationship building and learning continues among the six churches that brought REI trainings to Cabarrus County. Beginning in October, the first Monday of each month will feature a Catalyzing Change conversation, during which a facilitator will help participants continue the conversation around race and analyze racism in their county. The pastors of the churches meet regularly to discuss race and racism, and the steering committee of Racial Equity Cabarrus is in the midst of strategic planning around racial equity.
Collier recently led an hour-long workshop with teachers and staff at Cannon School, a private pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school. He knows the first step in achieving racial equity is teaching everyone a common language around and understanding of race and racism so they can analyze the impact on local institutions. While he credits his rector, Cox, for her leadership and helping him develop as an advocate for racial equity, Collier knows the life- and institution-changing work of racial equity is beyond their power to achieve.
“God brought this together for good because that’s what God does.”
Summerlee Walter is the communications coordinator for the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: Racial Reconciliation & Social Justice / North Carolina Disciple