ANEW 2018 Review
Attendees respond with their key take-aways from several of the sessions held at the Faith for Justice mini-conference ANEW: Faith for Justice Forum for Change in October of 2018. Read reviews about Abolition, Womanist Panel, and a Healing Space for People of Color.
by Jelani Ince
I had the privilege of attending Faith For Justice’s (hereafter FFJ) mini-conference entitled “Anew: Faith For Justice Forum for Change”, held at the Ferguson Empowerment Center. It has been two weeks since the conference; since its conclusion, I have processed the sessions I attended and the conversations I had with co-participants. What I offer below is a brief reflection of Montague Simmons’ plenary from Friday night, and the impact the conference had on me.
Simmons’ Friday night plenary provided a case for the necessity of abolition and community empowerment. He specifically used the word abolition, as opposed to reform, because “some systems cannot be fixed.” One such example is the Workhouse. Simmons argued that the facility is not necessary, for reasons including how it targets those who are unable to afford bond and its inhumane conditions. We are told that institutions like this are necessary for “public safety” purposes, but Simmons warned participants to be wary of this logic because it leaves the social order unchallenged (1).
To confront evil of this magnitude requires a profound commitment to bold solutions. One solution that Simmons suggested was participatory budgeting, where the interests and voices of those who are most impacted are included in the decision-making process. If people have resources (including capital of all forms) along with the access to utilize them, then their communities can be empowered rather than controlled or destroyed. Simmons charged the audience to imagine solutions that do not include the existence of oppressive systems. For instance, what would it look like for the city to use its public safety budget to fund housing and permanently close the Workhouse? What would it be look like for community residents to care after their neighborhood without hyper-surveillance from the police state?
These are the questions that an abolitionist framework, informed by the womanist tradition, requires us to wrestle through. The events from FFJ’s conference reminded me to look at institutions with a critical eye, and to consider whom they protect and erase. However, I was also challenged to apply the same scrutiny to myself. As a Black man, I am no stranger to advocacy for justice. However, that pursuit is fruitless—and ultimately incomplete—if it reproduces current systems (both behaviors and ideologies) of domination. I undoubtedly left the conference with more questions than the answers—questions pertaining to my own participation in these systems and epistemological blind spots. These questions have compelled me towards action; more specifically, towards (re)considering what a life committed to honoring the imago-Dei in all and shifting the current authority structure(s) looks like.
Public safety takes up most of the city’s spending plan, totaling roughly $290 million, $16 million of which is designated for the Workhouse. (Sources: https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/amid-debate-over-cuts-st-louis-public-safety-director-wants/article_3eeea3e8-d2b6-5457-9ccf-6291327cb0ba.html; https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5ada6072372b96dbb234ee99/t/5bcca7e84785d3d9aac2513c/1540139716777/Close+The+Workhouse+Plan_Rev1+10112018.pdf)
by Ann Louise Schmidt
The first session of ANEW was given by Montague Simmons, on Abolition. Mr. Simmons is currently the lead organizer on the Close the Workhouse campaign and he discussed why the workhouse must be abolished, rather than reformed. The story of the Workhouse (the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis), is a story of injustice. The workhouse is a place where people are being kept in inhumane and unlivable conditions. The workhouse is a place where toilets are broken and cockroaches and snakes are common. Inmates are charged multiple dollars a minute, just to be able to make a phone call. The workhouse is full of people who have not been convicted of a crime yet, remain incarcerated, not because they have been found guilty, but rather because they cannot pay their bail. This is clear discrimination against those who cannot pay, against the poor. During the breakout session on abolition, we discussed that there is NEVER a reason why human beings should be treated like animals at the zoo.
by Pedro Valentin
You think you know, but you have no idea. This was the lingering self-critique as I entered a space that I thought I was knowledgeable in. From early childhood, I have always been in spaces with multiple examples of strong, courageous, fearless women. I was raised by a strong mother, and grew up as the only son and the middle child to two sisters. Married to an extremely strong and confident wife for over 20 years, we have the pleasure of raising 2 daughters who are on their own journey of following in the footsteps of their foremothers who have paved the way for them.
As the session dedicated to centering Womanist theology began, I quickly realized how much I did not know. Three panelists, Michelle, Venneikia, and Dawn, reminded us all that “womanist theology reminds us woman can exist holistically” and “you don’t have to leave anything behind”. It was powerfully pointed out that “because we are connected as imagine bearers of God, we cannot move forward without each other”. Our work, our faith, our very existence demands that we fully recognize and live out our inter-connectedness and honors what we ALL bring to the table.
What impact does this have on the work that we do and the spaces that we inhabit? These are some of the questions that this session forces us to answer. The panelist taught us that we ALL miss out on the reconciling work of the gospel if we don’t make space for the gifts womanist theology provides. The real gift and ministry of this session was acknowledging that we don’t have to be hindered by bad/toxic notions or bad/toxic theology. There is true power and freedom that comes from ridding yourself of them. We do this work collectively and when we limit another image-bearer, we in fact limit ourselves.
People of Color Healing Space
by Lexi Baysinger
It’s not often that people of color have spaces reserved specifically for them. Rarer even still that we have the opportunity to sit in a space that’s meant to heal our wounds, to provide options to protect us as much as we can from the wounds society afflicts on us. Faith for Justice provided this opportunity at the 2018 Anew Conference with Dawn Jones. For about an hour on October 13th, people of color had the chance to sit back and breathe. We had the chance to hear this important message: not practicing self-care is killing us.
Most of us don’t take the chance to practice self-care. A large part of that is because many of us are broke and society tells us that self-care is yoga retreats and bath bombs. But Dawn spoke to us about actual self-care practices. Methods that we can use to recharge ourselves because, as much as I don’t like to admit it, we really can’t give anyone anything when we are on empty. And, in a world that wants to take all it can get from people of color, it can be difficult to stop, disconnect, and say no. But when we don’t the world wins and we become too tired to do the work we’ve been called to do. When we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t give our best, and that is something that our communities can’t afford, something we can’t afford.
When Black women are in charge, the truth is shared. And there isn’t truth I needed to hear more in this season of life than how important it is to practice self-care. That sometimes self-care is disconnecting because I’m a young biracial woman in a world that only cares about what I can do for it. The world, and my God, needs me at my best and that means that I have to take care of myself. I don’t want to be another casualty.