Miss the Annual Gathering?
It’s now on YouTube!
Click below to watch any of the large group sessions from our time at Oakhurst Baptist Church. Reverend Lisa Dunson, Alliance Board President, shared her thoughts on the Annual Gathering on our blog. You can read her reflection here.
Don’t forget to complete your evaluation by May 8 for a chance to win Alliance gear! Click here.
Derecka Purnell, J.D. (she/her) is a human rights lawyer, researcher, and author of Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom. She works to end police and prison violence by providing legal assistance, research, and training in community based organizations through an abolitionist framework.
As a Skadden Fellow, she helped to build the Justice Project at Advancement Project’s National Office, which focused on consent decrees, police and prosecutor accountability, and jail closures. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Purnell co-created the COVID19 Policing Project at the Community Resource Hub for Safety Accountability. The project tracks police arrests, harassment, citations and other enforcement through public health orders related to the pandemic.
Purnell received her JD from Harvard Law School, her BA from the University of Missouri- Kansas City, and studied public policy and economics at the University of California- Berkeley as a Public Policy and International Affairs Law Fellow. Her writing has been published widely, including in The Oxford Handbook of Race and Law in the United States (forthcoming), The Harvard Journal of African American Policy, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New York Magazine, Boston Review, Teen Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. Purnell has lectured, studied, and strategized around social movements across the United States, The Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
She is currently a columnist at The Guardian and a Scholar-in-Residence at Columbia Law School.
Presenters and Preachers
The Reverend Dr. Benjamin Boswell (he/him), senior pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church, serves at the intersection of strategic leadership, spiritual formation, and social justice. In his professional capacity, Ben is a preacher, pastor, author, civil rights leader, and sought-after public speaker. Ben is also a former infantry officer in the U.S. Army National Guard, a graduate of Marion Military Institute (AA), Campbell University (BA), Duke Divinity School (MDIV), and Saint Paul’s School of Theology (DMIN) where his doctoral thesis was “Identifying Whiteness: Discerning Race through Spiritual Practice in the White Dominant Church.” During his doctoral studies, Ben also completed the two-year Academy for Spiritual Formation through the Upper Room. Ben has received numerous awards and honors for his work as a pastor and civil rights leader. In 2021 he was selected to be one of the Freedom Fete speakers at Trinity Episcopal School, and was awarded the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Medallion. The award is the city’s highest honor, given to a person who promotes racial equality, social justice, and community service. He is the author of For the Facing of this Hour: Preaching that Resists White Christian Nationalism and Confronting Whiteness: A Spiritual Journey of Reflection, Conversation, and Transformation.
Wendi Cooper (she/her) is a transgender woman of color who is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. She has been a healthcare provider and mental health professional for over a decade. Wendi earned a B.S. in biology at Southern University at New Orleans in 2011. Additionally, she has an Executive Masters of Criminal Justice with a concentration in juvenile justice from Southern University. Because of her connections with the transgender community, Wendi was proclaimed by council member Latoya Cantrell before being appointed to Mayor Cantrell’s transition team. She was a community organizer for the NO Justice Project in New Orleans, LA where she provided key testimony in the federal lawsuit that successfully challenged Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law, securing the removal of more than 700 women from the sex offender registry. Wendi has been featured in an MSNBC News documentary on transgender women’s advocacy in Louisiana, in Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six by Jordan Flaherty, and in a Human Rights Campaign on Crime Against Nature by Solicitation feature story. Wendi’s goal is to help all women, particularly transgender women, overcome their fears.
The Reverend Caroline Durham, J.D. (she/her) brings thirty-plus years of justice advocacy to her role as Executive Director for the St Charles Center for Faith + Action. She comes to the Center from her role as Georgia Appleseed’s Legal and Policy Director. In addition to serving as a public defender in state and federal courts, she has extensive experience training advocates on how to effectively navigate criminal courts, provide client-centered services, and bring about systemic change through case-by-case work. A graduate of Tulane Law School, Caroline is committed to strengthening communities in the South. Beyond her legal practice, Caroline has served as a member of several boards, including the Veterans Defense Project, YouthLink, African American Family Services, as well as volunteering with many community organizations. Caroline and her partner, Barbara “Bobbie” Dyce, are grateful to call New Orleans home.
The Reverend Dr. nyle fort (he/him) is a minister, activist, and scholar. He studies how people resist oppression, build beloved community, and struggle to transform the world. He is currently writing a book about the ethics of love in contemporary freedom movements. nyle’s writing is featured in The Guardian, The Boston Globe, The New York Magazine, Socialism and Democracy, Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy, and There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis. His scholarship has been funded by the Ford Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania, the Forum for Theological Exploration, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Atlantic Fellowship for Racial Equity. nyle earned his B.A. from Morehouse College; Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary; and Ph.D. in Religion and Interdisciplinary Humanities from Princeton University.
Robyn K Hasan (she/her) started as a contractor in June 2020 with Women on the Rise and rose quickly in the organization by becoming the Executive Director in January 2022. Since coming home in 2020, after serving 10 years in prison, she has been fighting to reform the criminal legal system through the campaign of closing the Atlanta City Detention Center, which has gained national attention. While inside, she created a newsletter to help uplift women in her situation. Since coming home, she continued the newsletter through Women on the Rise and Reverse the Cycle of Incarceration. She is a fellow with Just Leadership, Women Transcending Collective Leadership, and Women Organizing for Justice & Opportunity Leadership.
The Reverend Elizabeth Mangham Lott (she/her) serves as senior pastor of St. Charles Ave. Baptist Church. In 2019 She helped launch the St. Charles Center for Faith + Action out of her deeply held belief that all people of faith and conscience are called to act for the common good. She earned an M.Div. from the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, is a native of Mobile, Alabama, and she pursued undergraduate studies in Religion at Samford University. She, her husband Nathan, and their children are proud to call New Orleans home.
Minister Alexis Tardy (she/her) currently works as an Organizing Associate for Faith Communities with Children’s Defense Fund. Before returning to Indianapolis in 2020, Alexis led as the Program Director at Faith and For the Sake of All, where she organized trainings and workshops to end racial disparities in Saint Louis. As a consultant for Urban Strategies, she also mentored youth and worked with families and community leaders in Ferguson, Missouri. Tardy earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and an MDiv from Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis. She is currently pursuing a DMin in Womanist Preaching at Memphis Theological Seminary. Her passion is for justice, youth, and the wholeness of the Black Church.
The Reverend Elijah R. Zehyoue (he/him) serves as the Co-Director of the Alliance of Baptists. In this role, he is leading them through an effort to become an anti-racist organization. As a historian, theologian, pastor, preacher, and teacher, Elijah is committed to using his many gifts to help people of all walks of life do the head, heart, and soul work required for our collective liberation. He is a graduate of Morehouse College (B.A.) and the University of Chicago (M.Div.), and he is currently a Ph.D. candidate in African History at Howard University where he is writing a dissertation on the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and the Origins of the Conflict in Liberia. Additionally, Elijah teaches African and African American Studies at Georgetown University. Prior to coming to the Alliance, Elijah served on the pastoral staff at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Elijah is originally from Liberia, West Africa and grew up in Baton Rouge, La.
“…To Set The Captives Free…”
Luke 4:18: A Theological Examination of the Criminal Legal System and an Introduction to the Vision of Modern Abolitionists
In the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus introduces himself and his ministry by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. As he stands before his community he proclaims that the spirit of God is upon him and has anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to set the captives free, give sight to the blind, and proclaim freedom for all oppressed people. The world that Jesus speaks of is one where all those who suffer will find relief and where all those who are oppressed can find their liberation. It is a radical vision of beloved community. It is a call for the world to be transformed.
For centuries, Christian communities have long wrestled with the questions of how do we get to the world that Jesus, Isaiah, and so many other prophets talked about. We, in the Alliance, are no different. In fact, in our 35-year history we have stepped forward in taking Jesus’ words seriously as we fought against sexism, homophobia, transphobia in the church, violence and conflict in the Middle East, especially as directed against Palestinians, and racialized global economic systems which exploit our siblings in Cuba, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Uganda, El Salvador, etc. It is in the DNA of the Alliance of Baptists to find those who are oppressed and work for their liberation.
This is why our theme this year focuses on mass incarceration, the criminal legal system, and the modern Abolitionist Movement. We believe that within the context of the United States, the criminal legal system represents one of our country’s most tragic and intentional legacies of enslavement and one of the most unjust systems of oppression today. This is why we want the Alliance of Baptists to deepen our understanding of and commitment to those who are trapped in the United States’ criminal legal system. In the United States nearly 2 million people are incarcerated, with 40% of those being African American. The size of the prison population is in many ways a direct result of the liberties given to police to violently interact with those they see as criminals, especially African Americans. In 2022, American police killed 1176 people. There is an integral link between mass incarceration, police violence, and white supremacy. In recent years the high profile killings of Michael Brown, Jr., Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have only highlighted this fact. Already this year, our nation has once again had to grapple with the gruesome and high profile murder of another Black person at the hands of police—29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee.
Over the last 50 years there has been a movement to address these injustices inherent in the criminal legal system—the Abolitionist Movement. Led by activists, scholars, incarcerated people, faith leaders, and faith communities, including some from our partners in the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, Abolitionists argue that racial profiling, police violence, mass incarceration and many other forms of systematic racial injustices within the criminal legal system are not deviations. Instead they are the norm, purpose, and foundation. Abolitionism is thus defined as a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and the reasons they exist by creating lasting alternatives to punishment, imprisonment, and threats to public safety. Abolitionists offer a bold new vision of what our society could be if we were more creative and courageous in our approaches to justice.
For people trapped in our criminal legal system, the Abolitionist vision brings Good News. But we also recognize that for those of us who sit outside of it, it may seem more difficult to imagine and harder to understand. Yet, it is also our belief that given the context we live in and the liberating tradition of Jesus we have always seeked to follow, the Abolitionist vision is worth engaging and learning about. As prophetic and imaginative followers of Jesus, we have always been open to doing our part in the larger fight for justice. Thus it is in this spirit and in the Alliance’s courageous commitment to struggling against white supremacy that we endeavor to engage the vision of those who seek to set the captives free. We hope that this effort will further align us with the call of Jesus and the Spirit in their work for freedom, liberation, and transformation. We invite you to join us in Atlanta, Ga. on April 21-23, 2023 as we thoughtfully, prayerfully, and courageously learn together about this exciting vision of freedom.
Peace and Blessings,
Annual Gathering Planning Team 2023