By Lisa Dunson
In August of 2022, I traveled to the countries of Morocco and Spain for a long overdue and long-delayed vacation, put off by the Covid-19 pandemic. Our guides in both countries were well versed in the history of their respective nations; and even though this was not the first time I had traveled outside of the U.S., it was the first time I really heard our story in their stories through my now ever-present lens of antiracism. I heard the stories of racism, the stories of white supremacy and the stories of oppression. I heard and understood how racism and white supremacy impacted and continues to impact their lives and their countries. And I really heard the difficulty one of our guides had when talking about the history of her country as she reckoned with her ancestors’ role in that history. At first I wondered if this was her first experience with an all-Black group of travelers because of the discomfort that manifested both in her body and gestures, as well as in her tone as she tried to “not be offensive” when talking about that history. One comment she made continues to rest with me today. As she was finishing a sentence, in obvious discomfort, she said “we don’t like to talk about that part of our history.” In that moment, I felt sadness, anger, and strength. Sadness because I was able to connect her words to how BIPOC in our country feel about and experience our nation’s history. A nation built on the backs of Black and brown folks. A nation that never fully welcomed the immigrant. A nation that has created a narrative that excludes more than it includes.
The anger I felt stemmed from the truths I had heard and learned and that now have been brought out of the darkness into the light. Truths that can no longer be denied, covered up or ignored. Truths that “we the people” will no longer allow to be redacted from the history of our people or our nation. The strength I felt was the strength of my ancestors. Ancestors who labored long and hard for little and sometimes for nothing at all. Ancestors who persevered no matter how much they were persecuted. Ancestors who stood firm on their faith, even when they had to stand on that faith in the hush harbors and in the dark of night. Ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears were the currency paid for us to be both witness to and participate in this movement on racial reckoning. Ancestors who died so that we might live.
I also could not help but think about the journey we, the Alliance of Baptists, are on as we “Excavate our Roots” to become an antiracist organization; and as I pondered what I learned in Morocco and in Spain, I found encouragement for the journey ahead of us knowing that we are not alone. We are not alone. Let that sink in for a moment. We are not alone. Racism exists in every corner of our world, and there are individuals and organizations doing the uncomfortable and necessary work to right the wrongs that have levied the hand of oppression over Black, Brown, Indigenous and People of Color, let’s just say, from the beginning since our stories start at and from different points in history.
Upon my return home, I shared with the Executive Committee and the Co-Directors that prior to my trip, I had a very myopic view of racism. But through the narration of our tour guides and conversations with both folks and folx (yes, there is a difference) in both Morocco and Spain, I realized how much our stories paralleled. I came to understand how deeply the roots of racism run throughout our world. I recognized its breadth and its reach. I saw the impact racism has had and continues to have on ‘the least of these,’ not just here in the U.S. but also on our kindred abroad.
Fast forward to November 2022: Following our Fall Gathering in Montgomery, Alabama, I served as the worship leader at my church, Covenant Baptist UCC, for our Returning Citizens Sunday service. I shared with our congregation on that morning that I am still always amazed at how divinely ordered our steps are, even when we don’t know they are being ordered. I went on to say that I had just returned the day before from Montgomery, where we heard and talked about Mass Incarceration at the Equal Justice Initiative, spent time touring the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum and how only God could have orchestrated my being worship leader on that specific Returning Citizens Sunday. Talk about Divine Intervention! My being present in Montgomery served as the prelude to my service as worship leader on that Sunday when we stood in solidarity with folx who had been previously incarcerated and were returning and doing their best to reintegrate back into the community. We learned a lot, and for many of us it exposed us to how systemic racism prevents and/or hinders the previously incarcerated from full reintegration into society…after their debt to society has been paid.
As I later meditated on what God might be trying to show and/or teach me, what came to me was that as a community of faith and as faith leaders, one of the greatest challenges we who are working to end racism face is making sure we don’t leave anyone behind. That we don’t create chasms that those who may not be where we are can’t cross. We should never expect others to enter this work where we who have been doing this work are; instead, our goal should always be to “meet the people where they are” just as Jesus did. We cannot expect nor should we place those who are just beginning the work of “excavating their roots” within themselves and the organizations and communities of practice they are a part of to enter this work at the point where those who are already engaged and immersed in the work of antiracism are. It is incumbent upon those who are further along on this journey to look back and make sure that we don’t lose ‘folks’ along the way due to our negligence to pay attention to and honor where those ‘folks’ are. Simply put, it is our responsibility to make sure all of us learn about and understand the history of racism and white supremacy so that all of us can understand and embrace what it means to be antiracist.
Some of you have heard me say that this is a defining moment for the Alliance of Baptists. We have no room for error during this “excavation of our roots.’” We must know when to raise the excavator bucket and when to lower it. We must know when to pivot and when to stand still. We must know when to step forward with what we bring to the table and when to step back and listen to the wisdom of others. In other words, it is incumbent upon us, the leaders of the Alliance of Baptists, to understand ourselves, our congregations, the Black folx, the brown folx, the People of Color folx and yes, the white folks too. It is our responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind or lost along the way. It is our responsibility to ensure that the road we map is a road that all our Alliance brothers and sisters can follow as together we lead our beloved Alliance kindred in the work of “excavating our roots.”
I have a t-shirt that says, “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream.” Alliance of Baptists, if we do this work of “excavating our roots” right, we all will be our “ancestors’ wildest dream.”
Rev. Lisa Dunson received her Master of Divinity from The Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology in Richmond, Virginia and serves on the ministerial team at Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ. She currently chairs the African American Women in Ministry (AAWIM) Global Engagement Committee, serves as the liaison to the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa’s Women at the Well Ministry and is a member of the Steering Committee for the AAWIM Potomac Association Sister Circle. Rev. Dunson has served the Alliance of Baptists as a member of the Nominating Committee, the Board of Directors Racial Justice Implementation Group and currently serves as the Vice President of the Board of Directors.