Greensboro church focusing attention on racial inequality

In Black and White

GREENSBORO, N.C. — For a lot of families in the Piedmont Triad, their place of worship is not only a sanctuary for them, but a place where they are challenged to be better and think higher. One of the largest churches in the city of Greensboro is taking its members on what is an uncomfortable journey for some.

“It’s important for us to understand the struggle and the pain that people have been brave enough to endure,” said Margaret Arbuckle, a member of the Race Equity Task Force at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro.

“One of our Sunday School classes, in particular, started focusing in on it. Just in conversation there we said you know what, our whole congregation ought to be having this opportunity,” Arbuckle said.

And then this summer of unrest happened.

“We decided after what’s been happening in the past couple of months in our community, in our state, and in our nation that we needed to go deeper. So we have created what we are calling a 30-day journey,” she said.

“We will all begin this journey from exactly where we are today,” said Tim Cook, when announcing the endeavor to the congregation. “Taking the first step of a long trek can be the most difficult, but we can all move forward together following the example Jesus set for us to bring justice to the oppressed.”

People who signed up for the journey will read books and articles, listen to podcasts and music, and watch videos and movies about race and the history thereof.

“What led us to the journey and being a part of the creation of it was feeling that this was our opportunity to contribute to what we thought was important for our kids to experience in terms of showing them this is how you do the work and this is how you show up and become a part of something that you believe in,” his wife Lisa said.

The Cooks helped pull all the resources together.

“Both of us are in education and felt that it was important to help be a voice to the numerous students that we have taught and always believed that we’re here to hear each other and listen to each other’s stories. And when we have an opportunity to give voices to stories that need to be heard, then we need to step up and do that.”

More than 100 people are taking part. But Lisa Cook says, naturally, there’s some resistance to confronting the church’s and the nation’s past.

“I know that as a church we’ve had to face some push back of ‘these are things that happened a long time ago.’ And I would like to see more people take ownership of when you’re part of a race, you’re part of a culture, you’re part of a congregation you have to take ownership of the whole history. We don’t get to choose what we take ownership of. If we’re proud of some things, we have to be disappointed in ourselves for some things. And that’s where we have to put in the work,” she said.

“It’s hard,” Arbuckle said. “White people love their privilege. I love the fact that I can go anywhere and not be followed around. I love the fact that the occasional time when I’ve been pulled by the police that they’ll say ‘yes ma’am’ to me. What a privilege I have. And many people are just totally oblivious to that. And they think that’s just the way it is. Of course, they should be treating me that way and don’t realize that others are treated differently.”

Both women say they hope this 30-day journey will help make the Triad a better place for everyone.

“People come to church a very small number of hours of their week. So what we’re hoping is that their hearts and minds are opened in ways in which they take the messages out into their real world, into their other lives,” Arbuckle said.

“I think the more we listen to each other, the more that we remember that it’s a human want and need to be seen and for our experiences to be acknowledged, I don’t think any bad can come from that,” Lisa Cook said.

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