The Wisdom America Needs: The Best of IFYC Racial Equity Fellows
July 1, 2021
In June 2020 after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and a host of others who have died because of police brutality and entrenched racism, IFYC articulated a public commitment to racial equity and the truth that Black Lives Matter. Concurrently, the nation was experiencing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which disproportionately impacts Black, indigenous, and LatinX communities.
Since that time, the U.S. has been in a period of social upheaval in which racial equity has, perhaps for the first time in American history, become a central focus in civic debates of how to fashion public life. Ideas that were once considered radical- such as reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans and demands to defund police departments- became normalized. The demonstrations on the streets, and the long years of organizing, have inspired wider spheres across social sectors, including organizations like IFYC, to take action to combat racism.
As a part of its commitment to racial equity, IFYC launched the inaugural Interfaith America Racial Equity Media Fellowship. The Fellowship brought together media creators and interfaith leaders who engage racial equity work within American public life and/or higher education to offer reflections and report on the intersection of civic religious pluralism and the movement for Black lives. In addition to compensation for their work, the Fellowship also created space for Fellows to engage and learn from public media experts including Jelani Cobb, Melissa Harris-Perry, Damon Young, and Janna Zinzi.
The Fellows are activists, artists, and thought leaders who created compelling media pieces that are published on Interfaith America. They include a mix of emerging and experienced media creators from different racial, ethnic, and religious/philosophical backgrounds. To celebrate and amplify their work, Interfaith America’s editorial team has chosen one piece from each Fellow to be featured here. You can find each piece from the Fellows in the racial equity section of Interfaith America.
In Tarot, A Faith that Has Room for You, Aaron opens up about how he discovered tarot and what it has meant to him as a Black gay male who was raised Christian.
Elementary schoolteacher Amina writes about her relationship with education as an immigrant, teacher, and Black woman in Teaching with Community and Liberation. She writes, “…In this journey, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the state of education, what it means to be a classroom teacher, and more importantly: what radicalized me as a teacher?…”
Anna Del Castillo
In her piece Farmworkers, The Unsung Heroes of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Anna sits with Antonio De Loera-Brust, Mexican-American farmworker advocate, to talk about the impact of COVID-19 on the farmworker community, the failure of the U.S. government to protect them, and his vision for the future of farmworker rights.
Ibrahim responds to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol in America Finds Itself at the End of its Myth. He writes, “… America turned in on itself. Sure, we’ve fought internally before – many times in fact, in the streets, on reservations, on slavery plantations and famously in an epic Civil War – but this time it’s different. This time the Capitol was breached, and elected officials were trapped inside barricaded offices afraid for their lives.”
In Bodies Out of Place: Considering Race and Religion on Campus, J.T. engages race and religion (and its intersection) as he writes about the experiences of Black people on college and university campuses, using his alma mater, Baylor University, as an example of how “white Christian supremacy inherently marks Black and Brown bodies out of place…”
Howard University Assistant Dean responds to the 2020 presidential election in Our Divided States, writing “Today we want to proclaim unity and forge ahead as a United States, when around half of us voted on opposites sides of the polls: 71.5 million of us voted for one and 76 million for another. This is my struggle. I want to believe that I am open to and accepting of diversity of belief and expression at its fullness – yet in our expression and opening of inclusive space, we have closed a door and ensured there is little to no room left for them.”
In Our Interfaith Arkansas Pilgrimage: Settler Colonialism and Strange Fruit, Kenji uses lyrics from Billie Holiday’s famous song “Strange Fruit” to tell the story of an interfaith pilgrimage he led to Arkansas where his group encountered numerous megachurches, prisons, and police stations.
In Black Americans Crave Deeper Integration of Religion and Politics, Musa writes an insightful analysis of data at the intersection of race and religion. He writes: “non-Black Americans seem to be fleeing religion because it’s become too political. Blacks seem to be leaving because it’s not political enough.”
In his piece Resurrection Someday, Pastor Stanton uses Easter/Resurrection Sunday, which fell on the anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as the occasion to reflect on the “inevitability of freedom” even when America responds to Black pain by justifying the cause.
Raja G. Bhattar
Higher education leader Raja, who hails from a long lineage of Hindu spiritual leaders, reflects on what Deepavali- the Hindu festival of lights- means to him during COVID, and the significance of traditions during the global pandemic in Queering Deepavali: Traditions in the Time of COVID. He writes, ”As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to move to cities with large queer Desi communities or other diverse religious identities. While I’m a proud practicing Hindu and Buddhist, Deepavali for me is about building an interfaith table that celebrates the diversity of our communities.”
In The Atlanta Attack and the Power of Naming, Shaunesse’ responds to the March 2021 anti-Asian attack in Atlanta to highlight how, without naming, there is no healing, reconciliation, or justice. She writes, “Naming is also a liberative act of justice. Naming oppressive acts, conditions, and systems brings to light the existing communal suffering. This naming makes the unseen seen and demands restorative responses from the majority because “the other” can no longer be ignored.”
Simran Jeet Singh
In Election is Chance to Fight Bigotry Against Muslims, Sikhs, Simran reflects on how a Biden/Harris White House presents the opportunity to address and combat religious and racial bigotry, which is in stark contrast to the Trump era.
Author and Trauma Specialist Teresa Mateus writes about the “paradoxical nature” of “actual democracy” and how courageous frontline workers have been during the COVID-19 pandemic in The Unforeseen Courage of 2020: The Existential Dilemma of Actual Democracy.