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YAMM workshop addresses racism, power dynamics

YAMM workshop addresses racism, power dynamics

Missions and Outreach

If you can’t talk about racism, you can’t fix it, say the leaders of Crossroads Antiracism Organizing & Training. It’s the driving point behind their many workshops offered to help people clear discrimination from their institutions.

About 50 people, missionaries and staffers of the Young Adult Missional Movement of the Florida Conference, were able to dig into the timely and difficult topic recently during a day-long workshop led by Crossroads at Warren Willis Camp.

Nearly 50 missionaries and staff members from the Young Adult Missional Movement (YAMM) participated in a workshop that addressed institutional racism. It was described as an opportunity to listen and learn and seek mutual understanding.

Young Adult Missional Movement Director Heidi Aspinwall organized the seminar, which was held in October, for both the staff and the young adult missionaries that she manages. She raised funds to help pay for it with grants from the Forum for Theological Exploration and the Young Clergy Initiative

“We need to have a framework for understanding and a common vocabulary,” Aspinwall said. “We have so many dynamics in terms of power. We have so many cross-cultural placements.”

Aspinwall, 50, a Caucasian, has been the director of the Young Adult Missional Movement since 2014, but fighting racism has been her life’s passion. Through the movement, she leads young adults, 18 to 30 years old, who sign up for year-long commitments to live and work in cross-cultural communities.

This year’s class of missionaries are a diverse group of young adults of different genders and nationalities, Aspinwall said.

“We need to learn how to listen to one another,” Aspinwall said in a recent interview after the workshop. “We think we know. We are not taking the time to listen to other people’s experiences. We need to bring back the very Methodist way of listening to other people’s testimony. We can learn a lot.”

Seminars such as this one help “chip away” at the innate biases in all of us, Aspinwall said.

Each person who attended the seminar brought his or her own unique experiences that were then shared through the day-long program. Crossroads attempts to help participants see racism in institutions and power dynamics and talk about them in a way that leads to mutual understanding.

Trey Selenga, a 26-year-old missionary originally from the Congo in central Africa, attended the seminar and was glad that he did. Racism, he said, is new to him, and he valued the information about how and why it exists in his new adopted country.

“It was a real shock for me when I got here,” said Selenga, who is black. “I had never experienced it before, not like here in America.”

Cristal Winu, 27, also from the African nation, and also black, was taken aback by the racism in America. She is currently stationed at Murray Hill United Methodist Church in Jacksonville helping to grow the children and youth ministries that have been in steady decline.

“Where I come from, we don’t really have it,” she said.

Learning about a culture where racism flourishes was helpful for the two and helped them understand how it began, who it affects and the experiences of others here in this country. Winu said that when she first came here, she found racism very frustrating. The seminar has helped her understand the problem and “where it is rooted.”

“I have sensed those oppressions,” she said. “Yeah, now I am able to understand it.”

Both Winu and Selenga say that they believe the way to end the social injustice is through prayer and love.

“First, as a Christian, we should not give up on praying,” Winu said. “Racism is evil, and God stands against it. I feel that as Christians, we should be praying so hard and overcome this with love. We should not retaliate against oppression.”

Selenga is stationed in St. Petersburg and attends Ottawa University. He recently was awarded a green card and plans to go to seminary here in the United States, he said.

He said he is hopeful that one day racism will end in America.

“The hope is that people can have love,” he said. “When we do have love for each other, we are going to be great. If we don’t, it’s going to be tough.”

Aspinwall said she plans to host the workshop again.

For more information about the program, you can visit the Crossroads website by clicking here.

--Julie Cole is a freelance writer based in Gainesville.

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