This story by John Freml first appeared in the winter 2018 issue of Just Words.
“Just because there are more people at the table, it doesn’t mean they all feel safe.”
“One anti-bias training can’t undo a lifetime of bias training.”
“If you’ve never seen anti-racism before, how do you know what it looks like?”
These were just a few of the poignant comments heard during a gathering of anti-racism activists, thinkers, and leaders at Sacred Heart Convent in Springfield, Ill. on September 15, who were asked to discuss the question, “What will an anti-racist Springfield look like?” The meeting was the result of over a year of planning and collaboration between leaders of the Springfield Dominican Anti-Racism Team (SDART), the Springfield Coalition on Dismantling Racism (SCoDR), and the Race Unity Committee.
“We see the purpose of this first gathering to know who is who and what efforts groups are involved in,” said Sister Marcelline Koch, the justice promoter for the Dominican Sisters and co-chair of the SDART Steering Committee. “Hopefully there will be follow-up meetings to pursue collaborative work.”
Thirty-five representatives from 18 organizations, including the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, the University of Illinois at Springfield, Lincoln Land Community College, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Springfield Public School District 186, and several area churches, among others, were able to network and share their ideas about how to dismantle racism within their own spheres of influence.
Organizers of the event were careful to ensure that participants worked with the same definition of racism: Racism = Race prejudice + misuse of power of systems and institutions. In other words, the meeting convened with a common understanding that while individuals can certainly exhibit racial prejudice as a result of various cultural influences, racism is a force that has infiltrated institutions in our society in deeply insidious, sometimes invisible, ways. The work of anti-racism necessarily involves transformation of institutions; it is insufficient and incomplete if one stops at the personal level.
Already, those who attended the event are planning next steps. An email group list was created to ensure that attendees can keep each other apprised of future anti-racism efforts in Springfield, and SDART leaders are now strategizing on how best to support the work of other anti-racist groups in the community.
As the meeting ended, discussion continued on what an anti-racist Springfield would look like. “Like utopia?” speculated one. “Like the kingdom of God?” asked another. “No,” said a third. “Like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”
John Freml is a Springfield Dominican Associate and member of SDART and the JUST Words editorial board. He lives in Springfield.