Ohio: Christianity Unites Blacks and Whites to “Fight Racism”
A GROUP OF local clergy is taking steps to tear down the walls of racial divide and build bridges of reconciliation in Kent, a city Google research data identified as the most racist in Northeast Ohio.
“It is unacceptable for Kent to be identified as the most racist community,” said the Rev. William Meyer (pictured), interim pastor at First Christian Church of Kent (Disciples of Christ). “We need to say that publicly and put our feet and persons into an action that demonstrates that we stand with our African-American brothers and sisters.”
On Sunday, Meyer and members of his congregation will be joined by clergy and lay people from other faith communities in Kent and the Akron area in a symbolic march from First Christian, at 335 W. Main St., to Spelman Chapel A.M.E. Church, at 910 Walnut St. The goal of the walk — about eight-tenths of a mile — is to provide a public witness against racism.
“This will be the first time in the history of Kent that predominantly white congregations will march to a predominantly African-American church to participate in a worship service,” said the Rev. L. Anthony Gatewood, pastor of Spelman Chapel. “This march is the first step of a growing movement in Kent to continue building bridges that already exist, to start building bridges that don’t exist and to tear down the barriers that are keeping us apart.”
The march represents the action component of a two-fold mission of a developing organization, which tentatively is being called the Kent Inter-Faith Alliance on Reconciliation and Justice. The other mission piece is creating a forum for dialogue on issues of reconciliation and social justice.
“We not only want to address issues with our voices. We want to also be doing something,” said Gatewood, convener of the group. “We are still in the formation stages and are working to bring more faith groups to the table. We want this effort to be inclusive.”
So far, the alliance includes representatives from the African Methodist Episcopal, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Roman Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ and United Methodist churches and the Muslim and Jewish communities.
The formation of the group began after Meyer reached out to Gatewood in the wake of the mass shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead. The gunman reportedly said he was there “to kill black people” before opening fire.
A week before the June 17 shooting, a Google analysis, published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, suggested that Kent ranked first on a list of most racist cities in Northeast Ohio, based on the percentages of racially charged Google searches. The analyst identified Massillon, Medina, Canton, Elyria, Lakewood, Parma, Mansfield, Brecksville, Wooster, Chardon, Akron and Cleveland as second through 13th, in order.
The report used the same research approach pioneered by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz — a data scientist, former quantitative analyst at Google and New York Times Op-Ed contributor — that uses search data to study racist attitudes. In April, a study published in PLOS ONE (and cited in the Washington Post) revealed that the most racist people live in the rural Northeast and the South.
According to the researchers, the most concentrated group of searches for the N-word took place along the base of the Appalachians, from Georgia to New York and southern Vermont. Other hot spots for racist searches were in areas of the Gulf Coast, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and a large portion of Ohio.
When Meyer saw the map, he immediately noted that it mirrored “the heartland of the Disciples of Christ Church.” That revelation, coupled with the South Carolina church shootings, moved Meyer to begin inviting other predominantly white congregations to worship and work with predominantly black congregations.
Mission of reconciliation
The effort to work toward reconciliation and social justice is also in accordance with a resolution passed during the July 18-22 general assembly of the Disciples of Christ in Columbus. The resolution, in response to the Charleston shooting, calls for members of the denomination to continue working toward racial and ethnic reconciliation.
“This march is a public witness that we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and take the good news out into the community,” Meyer said. “We’re going to march through downtown Kent and go to be with our African-American brothers and sisters. I believe it’s important that white people march, because I think the movement needs to be on our end.”
The procession, which is gaining momentum with more congregations — including Harmony Springs Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church in Green, where the morning worship service has been relocated to the march in Kent — will begin at 11 a.m. at First Christian Church of Kent, 335 W. Main St.
The group will walk east on Main, turn south onto Franklin Avenue, go west on Oak Street and turn south onto Walnut to Spelman Chapel, where they will hear a message on reconciliation. Each religious group is asked to bring a symbol of their faith, which will be brought to the front of the church to symbolize solidarity.
“We all express a faith that brings people together and talks about love and working to care for the needs of others,” said Gatewood, who has served as pastor of the church since November. “There is room at the table for everyone and we want to make sure that everyone knows they are welcome.”
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