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NewsRacism webinar touches on religion, faith

Racism webinar touches on religion, faith

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STAMFORD — Fittingly, Stamford Stands Against Racism’s first discussion on racism and faith opened with a prayer.

“We come together today in a spirit of listening and learning — to engage with one another around the topic and the plague that is often taboo to discuss in our culture: racism,” said the Rev. Shelley Donaldon of First Presbyterian Church.

“It is racism that plagues us all regardless of who we are, or where we come from, or what race we identify as,” she continued. “May these conversations help guide each of us in our lives. May it be so.”

Donaldson closed with an “amen,” before turning back to the group.

The meeting, moderated by diversity consultant and longtime member of St. Mark’s Church in New Canaan Lise Leist, brought together faith leaders from across lower Fairfield County to talk about how race impacts their lives, faiths and collective work.

A second discussion on the topic is set for Jan. 26.

“Justice. Justice you shall pursue, the Torah tells us,” said Cantor Jill Abramson of Congregation Shir Ami in Greenwich. “And we cannot pursue justice, right now, without addressing racism.”

Leist navigated a conversation between Abramson, the Rev. Dr. Michael Christie of Stamford’s Union Bapist Church and Maher Hussein, President of the Islamic Center of N.Y., also in Stamford.

While Abramson maintained that the work of faith is synonymous with the work of anti-racism, Christie reminded the audience that religious institutions have oftentimes upheld systemic racism in the United States.

“The church is not innocent with this. They’re probably the most guilty party,” said Christie. “The church has to really own… the historical role of the church in structural racism and white supremacy Christianity, which we’ve kind of seen played out in the evangelical movement.”

But faith can also help communities of color move through the racial traumas that they face, Christie said, particularly for Black and brown people.

“A good example: A lot of black culture, in terms of our dancing and our music, we … now are discovering through the sciences… it’s our way, in part, of intuitively … dealing with trauma,” he added. “The way we express ourselves in churches, dancing and clapping our hands, (it’s) another way of the community dealing with the trauma.”

Hussein, in contrast, spoke to the value of watching Muslims of all races worship together at the Islamic Cultural Center. In his experience, worship in Islam hasn’t been divided by race in the same way other faiths have in America.

“I see the difference between an African American and white church. But as a Muslim, we don’t have that,” said Hussein. “We all pray equal.”

The webinar was the first of two installments on the intersections of race and religion.

In partnership with Stamford Cradle to Career and Community Health Center, Stamford Stands Against Racism has held other talks that highlight the relationship between race and non-profit work, how adverse experiences impact children of color, and processing trauma.

Cradle to Career and Stamford Stands Against Racism will hold its second discussion on race and religion from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 via Zoom at https://bit.ly/2KNeRzn.

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