“We don’t have racialized communities by accident. We are structured out of relationship to each other.”
With these words, Rev. Jim Wallis called on Chicagoans to reckon candidly with our nation’s abiding legacy of racism, in order that we can collectively build a more equitable community for the future.
Wallis—the president and founder of Sojourners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to faith in action for social justice—was the keynote speaker at a community conversation produced by The Chicago Community Trust, Chicago Public Library and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. His address drew from his new book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, analyzing the systemic and underlying issues of the country’s racial divisions.
Rev. Jim Wallis spoke at the Harold Washington Library, drawing on his new book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America to explore themes of faith, justice and coming to terms with the roots of our national history.
“We need multiracial truth telling about race and multiracial action to build a bridge to a new America,” Wallis said.
Following Wallis’ keynote was a panel discussion of civic and faith leaders, moderated by Manya Brachear Pashman, religion reporter for the Chicago Tribune.
Wallis joined Dr. Byron Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God; Martin R. Castro, former Trust Executive Committee member and chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Tim Jones, millennial lead at Willow Chicago; Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue; and Dr. Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Each shared how they are working to address racial injustice and inequality—in the words of Dr. Brazier, to “move the needle of power.”
Rabbi London shared her story of leading a student bus tour to historic civil rights sites in Atlanta, Selma and Birmingham. For the trip, each teenager was partnered with a student of another race so that they not only experienced the history through one another’s eyes, but built a connection from spending their days together and finding things in common. London explained how “transformative change” resulted, as the friendships persisted after the students returned to school.
For Rabbi London, the lesson was clear: “We have to know each other.”
Wallis’ talk was followed by a panel discussion with local faith and civic leaders. Rev. Byron Brazier, Martin Castro and Rabbi Andrea London shared their reflections on building justice and equity in the Chicago region.
For Rami Nashashibi, the path to a more equitable society depends on helping everyone locate their self-interest in the outcomes of others around us. Because of the boundaries and divisions we have created between communities, we have disconnected ourselves from a common fate, insulated ourselves from feeling the pain when other communities suffer.
Only by helping everyone to understanding their personal responsibility and their collective stake in eliminating racism, the panel encouraged, can communities unite to work with institutional stakeholders like government agencies to reframe the policy agenda and create truly systemic change.
Drawing on their diverse experience, the panelists articulated the need to build understanding between individuals, which can then lead to united communities with the power to enact systemic change. As Rev. Wallis explained, “We need multiracial truth telling about race and multiracial action to build a bridge to a new America.”
“The whole community must engage,” Dr. Brazier said. “When you get people of like minds engaging, it will change the politics of the city in which you live and the social norms.”
To experience the event, view the complete video.