Melissa Stek is the Justice Mobilization Specialist for the Christian Reformed Church of North America. A part of this work is work to network and encourage justice seekers as they take next steps on their justice journeys. Melissa was a former Legislative Assistant to Representative Luis Gutierrez where she wrote sign-on letters, internal memoranda, and various materials for the Congressman’s work in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She has a Bachelor of Social Work from Calvin College and a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan.
In today’s conversation, Melissa talks with me about the importance of continued citizen advocacy as we come up on the one-year anniversary of the law known as the historically-unprecedented “Remain in Mexico” policy for people seeking asylum in the United States. We discuss the history of racism in American immigration policy from pre-colonial times until the present day, and close with some specific advocacy measures we can do to encourage American lawmakers to eliminate the racial disparities in immigration law.
The Great Awakening of the mid 1700’s brought crowds of white and black Americans to revivals, where many people turned their lives over to following Jesus. For many white people, their eyes were opened to their individual sinfulness. Yet, this awakening did not awaken the white population to the sinfulness of institutional slavery, white supremacy, or racial discrimination. Even the religious celebrities of the day were not immune. George Whitefield supported his orphanage with slave labor. Jonathan Edwards, known as “America’s Greatest Theologian” also owned slaves. Segregated seating was the norm in houses of worship where free blacks and whites worshiped together. Two of the founding fathers of the black church, Rev. Richard Allen and Rev. Absalom Jones were forced out of a church for praying in the white section of the building. These two men went on to found Bethel African Church, the first predominantly black denomination in the United States. These historical events became a springboard for the conversation with the Antioch Team this week.
It is an undisputable fact that many of the founding fathers of the United States owned slaves. But before they agreed to commit lives and resources to revolt against Great Britain, they wanted assurances that any future government would permit them to continue to amass personal fortunes off these privately-held unpaid labor forces. To accomplish this, Thomas Jefferson, who was himself a slave-owner, became the person tasked with crafting the initial draft of the document now known as the Declaration of Independence.
But Thomas Jefferson was a complex and even contradictory man. In this episode of the Antioch Podcast, we discuss the person, philosophy, theology of Thomas Jefferson, and how his views continue to affect race relations in the United States even today.
The date was 1609. Jamestown Colony was established in what some day would be known as the state of Virginia on the Atlantic Coast of North America. Wihin a few years of the colony’s founding, tobacco was introduced to the colony, and indentured servants from England supplied most of the field labor as a way to pay off their debts. In 1619, 20-30 enslaved Africans were traded to the Jamestown colonists in return for supplies . Records are unclear as to whether all these kidnapped Africans were treated as the other indentured servants or if they were kept as slaves. But this moment 400 years ago was the beginning of slavery in North America.
At first, the distinctions between who was and was not a slave was unclear. But in time, the various colonies, each with their own laws, developed “slave codes” to determine who could be a slave, and legal statutes were created to define what rights slaves and slave owners had. During the decades and generations while these laws were being created, the colonies began to have some commonalities between their slave codes. One was that slavery was lifelong in nature, and that children of slave mothers were also slaves themselves. This was known as chattel slavery, meaning essentially “property slavery”. These slaves were the property of the slave owner, who could do with them what he (or she) wished. The second characteristic of North American slavery was that it was based on a new idea: race (as distinguished by skin color). But this idea had to be invented, and once it was established, it came to shape the experience of every person who lived in America until the present day.
In this Episode, Dr. Reggie Smith is joined by special guest Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige, who also is the assistant Pastor at Angel Community Church in Muskegon, Michigan.
God has called all Christians, regardless of race, to engage in the work of anti-racism. At a minimum, we all must continually engage in self-examination, rooting out our biases about ourselves and others, scrutinizing them for the common sin-patterns that beset all of humanity. We need to see how these sin-patterns manifest themselves collectively in our laws and institutional policies, and address inequities that affect our brothers and sisters. We do this, because we value and cherish our brothers and sisters, made in the image of God, as our co-equals who steward this world. We do this, because this is what God has called all Christians to do.
White people have a role in this work. In the history of the United States, the creation of the legal category of “whiteness” itself, as we will see in Episode 67, was a unique manifestation of human sinfulness in the United States. Essentially, using skin color as a signifier of superiority, European colonists over time created a new way to divide humanity that went beyond ethnicity, class and gender by creating a new idea: race. If you live in the United States, like I do, we are the inheritors of this system of thinking, and we daily live lives which are heavily impacted by the numerous assumptions, biases, policies and laws built on these ideas during the past 400+ years. In most every case, whiteness and the cultural values held by its members, are systemically advantaged. While to some this is a controversial statement, we will not get into the details of the many studies pointing to the validity of this conclusion.
White people have a role in the work of addressing these inequities, both individually and systemically. But this is messy work. Because to be white, as I am, means that we have difficulty perceiving how our whiteness is advantageous. To be white, as I am, means that we don’t know many of the things we need to know to address these inequities. To be white, as I am, means that by necessity, we need to be guided in this work by people more knowledgeable about the problem than we are.
In this episode, regular Antioch contributor Libby Huizenga and I talk 1:1 about our approaches to trying to live anti-racist lives. These are the kinds of conversations we have in caucus groups, the kinds of caucus groups discussed in Episode 63. Usually these are messy, imperfect, and vulnerable conversations – and typically we would NOT have microphones running. But the whole point of this podcast is to model the kinds of conversations we believe Christians need to have to learn how to understand and submit out of love to one another so that we can worship well together. A part of this work, therefore, is for white people to learn how to talk with other white people, about whiteness.
Very likely this recorded conversation will reveal our own limited thinking, incomplete or inaccurate conclusions, or even simply wrong ideas in places. We aren’t holding ourselves up as examples of people who have correct thinking. In fact, likely we have problematic, messy thinking because we are in the process of learning and are continuing to grow. But we do want to offer ourselves up merely as examples of people willing to have the conversation out loud, and encourage all of us – especially our white listeners, to find people with whom you can have these kinds of conversations as well, as we daily work to become more and more Christlike in thought, word, and deed.
Today is the second episode in what will be a chapter-by-chapter book study by the Antioch team of Jemar Tisby’s must-read history of the American church The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. These recorded conversations of our book study are examples of the kinds of dialogue we hope happen more and more often in today’s multiethnic world, the kinds of conversations which must be at the foundation of our relationships so we can in time truly worship diversely together.
In this episode, we discuss the first parts of Chapter 2: Making Race in the Colonial Era, looking at the history, theology and the roots of what would become American racism in the early American colonies. In Episode 66, we will continue with this discussion with an in-depth examination of how the idea of race was codified in the American colonies.
Today is the first episode in what will be a chapter-by-chapter book study by the Antioch team of Jemar Tisby’s must-read history of the American church The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. Every episode, the multi-racial Antioch team gathers around a table, turns on the mics, and talk about the topics in each chapter. All the members of the Antioch team are devout Christians and committed anti-racists, approaching faith and justice from each of our unique perspectives – shaped by our intersectional identities, personal histories, and professional backgrounds and education. We believe that the New Testament church, starting at the church in Antioch, learned to have these kinds of conversations as Christianity transformed from a monoethnic community to a multiethnic one. These recorded conversations are examples of the kinds of dialogue we hope happen more and more often in today’s multiethnic world, the kinds of conversations which must be at the foundation of our relationships so we can in time truly worship diversely together.
From time to time, those of us on the Antioch Podcast may share something from our individual professional lives: perhaps a speech, an article, or a story that has relevance to Biblical Anti-Racism. Today, is one of those episodes where this time I am going to share something. This is an article I’ve been writing called “What Does It Mean to Do the Work of Anti-Racism.” It describes Anti-Racism caucusing, a tool that has been very helpful for me as a staff member at a multi-ethnic church. Take a listen!
The staff at Madison Church regularly share articles with each other about diversity and the church. These articles shape conversations about how the church is run and how decisions are made. One article that church staff have continued to talk about ran in the May 2016 issue of Christianity Today entitled “Can People of Color Really Make Themselves at Home?” by Kathy Tuan-Maclean.
The central premise of the article is that there is a difference between feeling like an invited guest, and being an owner, when it comes to having the power to impact change in an organization like a church. She uses the metaphor of being invited into a house, but not always sensing that she has the power to move the furniture, to explain what it feels like to be a racial minority in a multi-ethnic (but predominantly white) Christian organization. Like many multi-ethnic churches, Madison Church also continues to wrestle with examining what roles both scripture and our cultures play in how we make decisions, conduct worship services, and live life together as the body of Christ. These conversations often take place in the context of safe friendships where individuals can speak truthfully to one another. For this episode, the members of the Antioch cast gathered around the microphone to discuss this article as friends, and invite you to listen in.
Last episode we introduced Libby Huizenga as a new member of the Antioch Roundtable, and this episode I want to introduce another new member to the table, Susie Dixon. Susie carries title of Director of Reaching In at Madison Church’s Square Campus, a church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and also is a member of Madison Church’s Anti-Racism Team. She also is a passionate justice advocate with a pastor’s heart. In this interview, Susie shares her story of what got her started on her Biblical anti-racism journey.
We are recording these episodes in the summer when it has been difficult for the entire Antioch Team to all gather at the same time, and so we are introducing the new members to the table one by one so you can associate names and voices once we begin our regular discussions this fall of Jemar Tisby’s book The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.
“UI, Mechanical, Notification, 01, FX.wav” by InspectorJ (www.jshaw.co.uk) of Freesound.org
I’ve heard it said that commitment to anti-racism is like a conversion experience. For white people, the conversion often is a lengthy process of re-examining the internalized narratives we have learned from history and society that tell us that we are superior, and a commitment to be taught by – and advocate in partnership with – people of color for a more just and equitable world. For people of color, the anti-racist conversion takes a different path. This path is often deeply internal, a process of gradually recognizing and uprooting layers of internalized lies about one’s inferiority, as well as realizing one’s agency and potential to advocate for change. For the Christian anti-racist, this journey also becomes a deeply theological one, a path that concludes with a lived practice of lovingly advocating for equity for all the members of the body of Christ.
Today’s episode is the beginning of what is to be a regular feature of the Antioch Podcast – the roundtable discussion. During the City Within a City series, Pastor Reggie and I held many 1:1 conversations about historic and contemporary racism. We now are expanding the seats at the table, and our intention is to be a table where in each episode, a number of antiracism trainers and advocates gather to have discussions about books, articles, ideas, and theology through the lens of Biblical antiracism. And when we can’t get together, we will continue to bring you interviews with Christian thought leaders in the growing Biblical Antiracism movement.
Today Pastor Reggie and I welcome a new regular member of the podcast team, Libby Huizinga, a theologian and anti-racism trainer, who is one of the new voices we hope you become very familiar with in the coming episodes.
This encore edition of the Antioch Podcast was originally recorded in 2016, though the introductory essay was updated for this 2019 release.
Sam Salguero is a children’s worship leader at a small Spanish-speaking church in the West Michigan area. In this interview, she shares about the multi-ethnic worship culture of her Hispanic congregation, sharing about coritos, a genera of Latin worship music, which she describes as her congregation’s musical “sense of home.” Later, Sam describes how the Trump administration’s heightened focus on searching for and arresting undocumented immigrants, is now affecting the children of her congregation and challenging their understanding of the sovereignty of God.
A few episoes back, episode 51 to be exact, we heard from Adam Edgerly, the pastor of Newsong LA with his sermon Third Culture People delivered at Madison Church’s North Campus. This is a follow up message, shared at Madison Church’s Square Campus, builds on the heels of this precious message, with the title of this next sermon being Third Culture Kingdom.
So if you haven’t listened to Episode 51, hit pause and go back and listen to episode 51 before listening in on this message where Pastor Adam theologizes further about the clear thread of reconciliation which is inseparably baked into the narrative of scripture.
This episode of the Antioch podcast is being released a little earlier than usual to ask you, the listener, to pray over the weekend. According to major news outlets, on Thursday, July 11th, 2019, President Donald Trump announced that this weekend he has authorized a resumption of the arrests of undocumented immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement forces. He is specifically focusing on 10 major US cities, including in Los Angeles, where Pastor Edgerly’s church is located. This announcement has brought fear to those members of the immigrant community, who are disproportionately black and brown. This announcement is being made during a week where President Trump’s efforts to include an immigration question on the upcoming US Census was struck down days earlier in the courts, which was widely seen as a victory for the immigrant community. In addition, immigrants seeking asylum in the United States continue being placed in overcrowded cages in US detention facilities, with children being forcibly removed against their will from their parents. Memories of Boarding Schools, Internment Camps, reservations and historic mistreatment of black and brown people are easily triggered by the images seen in the media pertaining to these events.
In anticipation of the expected events of the weekend, I spoke with Viviana Cornejo at the Christian Reformed Church of North America, where she is employed as an advocate at the CRC’s Office of Race Relations. As an immigrant herself from Chile in 1995, she has worked with immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, and people from the indigenous nations of the United States as part of her work with the Christian Reformed Church.
I began my time with Vivi (as she likes to be called) listening to her read the Immigrant’s Creed, a paraphrase of the Apostle’s Creed, before we talked about why the proposed events of this weekend are especially on her mind. For those who are curious, the Immigrant’s Creed was developed originally by the Presbyterian Church, and used by permission. Links to the Immigrant’s Creed are in the shownotes of this episode. Here is Viviana Cornejo, reading the Immigrant’s Creed:
This Encore episode of the Antioch Podcast goes back to our first years when we were known as the Antioch Worship Leadership Podcast. It was during this time that we came to the realization that justice and anti-racist principals are intrinsic aspects of leadership in multiethnic communities, religious or otherwise.
In this episode, Dr. John Lee returns to join the Antioch team around the table. to discuss the phrase “Institutional Reconciliation”. Our team invented the phrase “Institutional Reconciliation” to describe principals of governance and decision-making which stand in contrast to the often unexamined organizational processes which then keep Institutional Racism intact. If Socrates was right when he said “the unexamined life is not worth living”, by extension the unexamined multi-ethnic church may not be a place where people can live. Throughout the hour, the team delves into scriptural themes drawn from the prophets and the church in Antioch for ideas of how to model the Biblical, multi-ethnic “new communities” like the early churches of the New Testament. This round-table discussion is packed with humor and thoughtful discussion of what often are thorny issues that multi-ethnic churches in particular must skillfully learn to talk about.
This is a long-overdue episode of the Antioch Podcast, in memory of my recently departed friend and Historian of Chinese Christianity, Daniel H. Bays, PhD.
Dan was one of the preeminent Asia scholars in the United States, specializing in the Church in China. After he earned his BA in history from Stanford, Bays would go on to earn an MA in far Eastern studies (China) and a PhD in the history of modern China from the University of Michigan. China would become an “intellectual fascination” (as Bays would say), a research focus, as well as a place to explore the intersection of faith and culture.
Bays, a voracious learner, dedicated scholar, and professor emeritus of history at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, passed away Thursday, May 9, at age 77, following his battle with Parkinson’s disease.
This was the side of Professor Bays that many in the academic world knew: Daniel H. Bays, author and editor of six books on the history of Chinese Christianity, including his seminal work, published in 2012 – the climax of a life of learning about the Chinese church titled – A New History of Christianity in China, one of the Blackwell Guides to Global Christianity.
Revered in the United States and in Asia as one of only a handful of top scholars in his field, Dan was nonetheless a humble and unassuming man. He and his wife met my wife and I in 1999, shortly after we were married. Having just relocated to teach History at Calvin College, Dan and his wife Jan “adopted” my wife and I as their Grand Rapids family. We spent the next decade meeting multiple times every week as part of a church small group, and gathering around their dining-room table for weeknight dinners with our small children. My wife, being from Hong Kong, affectionately felt like their “Chinese Daughter.” The Bays, thoroughly familiar with Chinese culture, because like a third set of parents to us, and we spent many, many evenings together.
Dan had Parkinson’s Disease, which he continued to fight as they moved to be with their children in Missouri and Kansas after Dan retired from teaching at Calvin College. Our families stayed in touch, and as Dan’s heath continued to decline, we would make trips to St. Louis where they lived to visit often. On one of those trips, I was preparing to launch what was to become the Antioch Podcast, and had taken along some recording equipment. I asked Dan and Jan if I could practice doing an interview with them, as I had never interviewed anyone in a formal capacity before. They graciously obliged, and so one August afternoon in 2016, we sat down together in their apartment at a senior living facility where they lived, and we recorded this first interview.
This was the first time I heard my own voice on recording, and I was convinced that I was not a good interviewer. Truly, there is a lot to be desired with the sound quality and balance of the audio. I saved the recording, but did not want to listen to it again, because all I heard were the errors and imperfections.
But today I dug out this interview from my old MacBook, wanting to hear Dan’s voice again … and in retrospect I felt the interview was moving and I wanted to share it all with you.
A couple things to note. This recording was made in 2016. Dan was struggling with Parkinson’s, and it was difficult for him to sit upright and project his voice. I notice now that he was getting tired doing the interview, which I think he did because he loved me and was being kind in letting me practice interviewing with him. But as the interview wears on, it becomes more and more difficult to hear what Dan is saying. Because of this, I boosted the volume of some parts of the dialogue. You may notice a change in the volume of the background noise and recording hiss because of this.
There are also a couple of times during the interview when Dan or Jan refer to “Madison”. Madison Church is the church who sponsors this podcast, and is the church where we all met in 1999 and worshiped together for 17 years. At the time of this recording, it was two years after Michael Brown was shot in Furgeson, Missouri, a suburb near the part of St. Louis where we were recording. Like many cities, but particularly true in St. Louis, there are not many multiethnic churches for Christians to attend. Jan bemoans this fact in the interview, as she and Dan needed to attend the church service in the care facility where they were living because of Dan’s restricted mobility issues due to the symptoms of his Parkinson’s Disease.
I hope you enjoy this tribute to Dan and Jan Bays.
Today’s episode Pastor Reggie and I try to answer listener questions that some of you emailed us about the City Within a City series. But before we get to those, we have a couple of announcements to make:
First, if you haven’t rated and reviewed us on Facebook and Apple Podcasts, would you take a moment to do so now? Literally, hit pause on the podcast and write us a review. This will help people who are looking for podcasts with this kind of content, wrestling with issues of race and culture through the lens of faith.
Our second announcement is that we will be starting a second book study soon. The next book we will be going through (hopefully with a couple of new people joining us at the table) is Jemar Tisby’s recent book “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.” If you enjoyed the historical narrative of City Within a City, you will love the Color of Compromise. This book should be required reading for every Christian, as it tells the history of racism in the United States through the church. So… go get yourself a copy if you don’t already have one. We will announce our start-date for the series soon!
This episode of the Antioch Podcast is a continuation of our discussion of the book “A City Within a City: the Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan.” This episode, entitled “Where do we go from here?” contrasts the responses of three influential African Americans to the uproar over integration of the Public Schools in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The stories of Ella Sims, the continued story of Paul Phillips, and the story of Grand Rapid’s first African-American Mayor, Lyman Parks illustrate three distinct approaches each of these players took in coping with the white backlash against the Black community. All three of these individuals navigate the racial climate of the time, with each focusing on, and addressing, different aspects of the problem of racism within the city.
With this episode we are returning to the City Within A City series which chronicles the black freedom struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This episode, entitled “A Black Child’s Burden”, tells the story of how busing was implemented and resisted, in the attempt to achieve a racial balance in Grand Rapids Public Schools. Pastor Reggie and I discuss this chapter from Dr. Todd Robinson’s book, as well as look at the role theology and the church played during this period in the history of Grand Rapids, known as the city of churches.
Today’s episode of the Antioch Podcast is titled EMPIRE AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD: A Power Analysis of the Temple and the Contemporary Church, comparing the center and margins of power from the past to the present. Using a power analysis is a useful way to learn who serves and is served by systems and institutions. It also helps us analyze how to be a more just body of Christ. There is an accompanying video of this section of the podcast, which is offered as a free teaching tool. You can view this video on the Antioch Podcast’s YouTube Channel, by following this link:
To conclude this episode on centers and margins of power, I’d like to share with you an example of someone who changed his perspective as a leader, the recently sainted Catholic Archbishop, Oscar Romero. I read about his story in a recent article written by Kate Kooyman, and asked her if she would share her article with us on the Antioch Podcast.
Kate Kooyman is a minister in the Reformed Church in America, and works at the CRC’s Office of Social Justice. She is s a regular contributor to the Reformed Journal’s blog, and her writing also can be found on her website www.katekooyman.com. Kate often writes about the intersection of faith and politics.
This episode of the Antioch Podcast features Pastor Adam Edgerly, and his message “Third Culture Calling” which he gave at Madison Church’s North Campus earlier this month. Adam Edgerly is an interculturalist and the CEO of Culture Consultants, working to help senior executives achieve peak performance through executive coaching and leadership training. He also has been hired by Madison Church (who hosts the Antioch Podcast) to help us become a more effective church at our cross-cultural mission. He has led retreats and workshops on five continents for thousands of participants. He holds a Master of Arts degree in intercultural studies from Biola University and a Master of Business Administration from Emory University.
Adam also serves as lead pastor of Newsong Los Angeles Covenant Church, a multicultural community committed to reconciliation in Christ. Prior to his ministry at Newsong LA, Adam served the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination as the associate director of global evangelism and regional director of church planting and community transformation.
Adam lives in Southern California, where he enjoys spending time at the beach with his wife and daughter.
Transition Music Credits:
Psalm 104 sung in ancient Hebrew by Yamma Ensemble.
On this episode of the Antioch Podcast, we will be exploring the rise of black youth protest in Chapter 4 of A City Within A City. For those of you just joining us, we have been looking at the black freedom struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan from the first Great Migration to the present. Grand Rapids is a “second tier city”, a smaller city whose African American population addressed the racism it encountered in way which both mirrored, and diverged from, the broader struggle for civil rights in the United States. The unique signature of racism in this area, and area known for its many churches and Christian institutions, contains theological and church policy threads which which we are illuminating alongside the narrative provided in the historical narrative recorded by Todd E. Robinson in his book.
We pick up the story in the 1960’s outside South High, the formerly “elite” public High School which over time found itself on the edge of the red-lined neighborhoods in which African-Americans were forced to reside. One thing we know is true about racism: racism rarely disappears. Rather than being eradicated through the conviction of conscience and subsequent policy reforms, racism is more likely to re-invent itself to keep up with the times. American history is littered with examples of how racist policy changes in one aspect only: the use of language. Policies with racist effects began changing during this period from policies written in overt and offensive racist language, to more subtle coded language that still had the effect of legalized racial oppression. To the white person mildly aware of racial injustice, the language change may have seemed to be “progressive” or even “kind”, while maintaining the system of racial segregation intact. To African-Americans and other people of color, the change of language did nothing to address the compounded generational inequity created by the generations of racist policies of the broader white society.
In the case of South High, the form that racism took was in a strictly enforced school-wide dress code. At South High, where 30% of the students were African-American, the dress code was more rigidly interpreted, and more zealously enforced, than at any of the other – whiter – public high schools in the district. The school dress code covered skirts, shirts, slacks, socks, shoes and short hair, but did not set standards set for facial hair – short or otherwise. It was this policy that pushed one High School Senior, Cleo Cross, to decide he was not going to be pushed around any more. This incident became known as the “Mustache Saga”. His stand would briefly land him in the national spotlight, with the racism of Grand Rapids in his shadow. It was the first time that the managerial racism endemic to Grand Rapids was ineffective at a grand scale.
We will explore how this story unfolded, as well as explore some of the thinking – especially theological thinking – which may have been present in the white community which would have fed their complicity with racism.
This episode of the Antioch Podcast is a deep dive into how the process of redlining affected people living in Grand Rapids. Redlining, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, refers to the “red lines” drawn by the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation on Residential Security Maps indicating the desirability of neighborhoods. These maps were used by the Federal Housing Authority to determine property values. Properties were given a letter grade of A through D, with each grade depicted on these maps using a corresponding four-point color code in descending order: green, blue, yellow and red. Red, the color given to “D-grade” properties, indicated neighborhoods that were “characterized by a detrimental influence in a pronounced degree, undesirable population or infiltration of it.” The letter grades, and their corresponding color assignments, were designated based on the number of people of color living in each neighborhood. Black real-estate agents were kept off the committees who designated the neighborhood grades.
The fear of declining property values drove white city residents to either refuse to sell their homes to black buyers, or to sell their homes in the city and build new homes in emerging city neighborhoods like Burton Heights and Alger Heights within Grand Rapids proper. But for some, these city neighborhoods were still too close, and suburbs seemed like safer investments. This pattern of white flight outside the city spawned the growth of the bedroom communities of Comstock Park, Wyoming, Grandville, Jenison, Rockford, Kentwood and Ada among others. The post WWII building boom was effectively fueled by members of Eastern European ethnicities, who now were starting to view themselves as “white” in differentiation to blacks. The shared racial prejudice of these white ethnics was that blacks as a group were “risky financial investments, ” categorically refusing them loans based on their race, which they could have used to either improve their homes in the city, or obtain better housing elsewhere as whites were doing. This was not the case for whites.
The most ubiquitous example of the systemic white privilege during this time was the availability of new housing loans to white veterans after WWII. The white veterans of WWII came back in large numbers, ready to start families and begin living the American dream. Because of their whiteness, they were perceived as safe loan risks, and were therefore eligible for subsidized loans through the federal GI Bill. Many of these white vets took these loans and used them to build new homes in the newly created all-white suburbs, thereby increasing their generational wealth while creating segregated suburban spaces that would last generations.
Meanwhile in the central city of Grand Rapids, African-Americans were restricted to live within the already dilapidated housing stock of the red-lined areas of the city. Only 5% of African-Americans lived outside these boundaries. This was the period of the Second Great Migration when many blacks fled the racial tyranny of the South and came North in hopes of better lives and jobs in the industrial boom taking place in larger Northern cities. But the red-lines stayed in place, and these newcomers were forced to live within this limited area, overcrowding these squalid homes beyond their intended capacities. Most white Christians were complicit with, and profited from, this racial injustice. The alarming level of overcrowding, coupled with the overcrowded public schools in these areas, set the stage for the next few chapters in this story.
This episode is an interlude between the chapters of the City Within a City series. We will return to Chapter 3 in the next episode of the Antioch Podcast. Chapter 3 tells the story of how redlining affected people in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So before we tell this story, we will hear the stories of two people (who both happen to be good friends of mine), Jackson Beelen and Natalie Wierenga, whose lives have been notably impacted by the legacy of redlining.
Jackson Beelen is a singer-songwriter living in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife and their son. Jackson Beelen grew up very aware of the history of redlining in his neighborhood, as both his childhood home, as well as his present home, literally reside in the very perimeter neighborhoods where the battles over redlining were fought. Being a multi-racial person in this neighborhood meant that he grew up as a living challenge to the legacy of segregation in Grand Rapids. It also meant that he was exposed to – and incorporated – musical and ideological influences which many people would not put together. This is notably expressed in his songwriting and music.
Jackson’s lyrics bear the mark of someone who grew up in a family of pastors, artfully weaving threads of poetic theology through the strands of his everyday insights and observations. While many of his songs draw their inspiration from people around him, other songs are reflections of his inner journey. This journey has taken a number of twists and turns, as Jackson is the first to admit. He is all-too familiar with the terrain of the valley of the shadow of death, and while he is no stranger to darkness, God has insured that the darkness did not overcome him.
Natalie Wierenga is a college student studying Music and Worship at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a passion for ministry in urban settings. Natalie, who is white, was raised in Rockford, Michigan, a mono-ethnic bedroom community outside of Grand Rapids. Growing up, she had few meaningful interactions with people of color. However, she both feels called to this kind of ministry, and knows that she may be underequipped for this kind of work as a white woman whose life experiences have taken place nearly exclusively in mono-ethnic suburban and rural contexts. Because this has been her experience, she has devoted herself as a college student to learning about the many ways in which her whiteness and gender have shaped her, as well as learning about the legacy of racism in the church, and in the city of Grand Rapids, where she now is studying. As part of her unlearning, she did a project at the end of her most recent semester called “Redlining Sent Me To College.” We will hear a bit about this presentation in the second-half of the podcast.
This episode we will go in-depth into chapter 2 of the book City Within a City by Dr. Todd E. Robinson, entitled Citizen’s Action: Managerial Racism and Reform Politics. This chapter covers the decades of the 1940’s and 50’s when the Republican Party, city government, and local business mixed their influences in managing the city of Grand Rapids. We will look at how African-Americans fared and responded to the challenges they faced in the city by looking at four stories: The story of Paul Phillips and the Grand Rapids Urban League, the story of Hillary Bissell and the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP, the story of Helen Claytor and the Human Relations Commission, and how all three of these individuals (and their respective organizations) joined forces to address the educational inequality and school overcrowding that was a result of the de-facto segregation of Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Racism is not, and never has been, a monolithic abstraction. It has roots, stories, and histories. Racism has a geographical signature because places shape the way racism is expressed and experienced. These signatures look different from place to place, in spite of some similar generalities. For example, racism in rural communities looked different from racism in suburban areas, which looked different from racism within cities because different types of people are attracted to all three of these kinds of living environments. The concerns of farmers are different from the concerns of people who commute to work, for example. Even today, racism is expressed in the Northern United States in ways that differ from how it is expressed in the South or the West. And the history of racism also shows a distinct difference in how racism was expressed in large from its expression in secondary cities.
The Antioch Podcast’s home base is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city known for its furniture manufacturers, its churches, and its Christian colleges and publishing houses. Because this is our home city, we are going to take a series of episodes to explore how racism has been uniquely expressed and experienced in our city, a “secondary city” using the book A City Within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan, by Dr. Todd E. Robinson. Robinson’s book does not begin with the history of how the land for this city was taken from the Council of the Three Fires by European Immigrants during the Treaty of Chicago in 1821. We want to acknowledge that this too is part of the story of this land. Grand Rapids grew from a trading post on the Grand River to the second-most populated city in the state. And this is the point where Robinson’s book begins. His book tells the story of African Americans who began coming to this city between 1910 to 1940, as a part of the First Great Migration, and how they continued to struggle to become free in this city.
Idella Winfied was unable to join us for this roundtable discussion of chapter 1, but Pastor Reggie Smith and I were able to sit down together and discuss this first chapter, entitled “Rowing, Not Drifting”.