The Voices Project: Offering Perspective to Places of Power | Sojourners

The Voices Project: Offering Perspective to Places of Power

Screenshot from Voices Conference website
Screenshot from Voices Conference website

To voice is to give utterance or expression to; declare; proclaim: to voice one's discontent.

There is a question that is usually on the hearts and minds of many if not most people who are living and working in missions or active for justice when they attend events. There is an elephant in the room, a funny feeling in our stomach. The question is, where are the people of color?

"Leroy, where are the black people?" 

My heart always sinks, as I know my friends who lead these events want nothing more than to see more diversity. I have had many conversations and even disagreements about what the answers may be to how to "diversify.” A few years ago I went to New York to visit my friend Gabe Lyons who I have known for quite a few years now. I went to Gabe because he is a friend, but also because he’s a person with experience in gathering people together. I had this desire in my heart to bring people of color together, specifically black folks. Gabe and I talked for an afternoon and I left there believing perhaps it was time for me to gather black leaders together.

I have been an active participant in missions, and my work for many years has centered on issues of poverty, race, and community development. I have met many people of color working in the evangelical world, and there are some incredible people doing excellent work. A few years ago I thought it would be nice to bring a few of these leaders together for a conversation that focused on the following issues.

  • How can we be a community that brings together pastors, artists, business professionals, missionaries, political advocates, social entrepreneurs, writers, and educators to see how we can support one another as African-American people?
  • How can we stay true to our rich history as African-American leaders? Has there been a disconnect from the community of support that moved us from slavery to civil rights triumphs? How can we connect again?
  • What about our present-day community? Can we influence black communities today to lift our under-resourced brothers and sisters? Can we offer influence beyond present day expressions that seem to tap into unhealthy places, and offer hope?
  • How can we offer perspective and voice to places of power? In today’s evangelical context, we would like to express the many aspects of black voice and culture. We would like to proclaim our discontent with the status quo within many evangelical circles. This voice is not meant to separate, but to create dialogue, brotherhood, and multi-ethnicity. The conversation must change.

The Voices Project has become a natural expression of black leaders who often live and work cross culturally. We are not angry; we are not looking for a fight. We are speaking to each other, supporting our dynamic expression, and creating venues and platforms that give voice to all people.

We have been meeting twice a year for the past three years, and this year we will have a larger gathering in New York City on August 12-14 at New York Theological Seminary. Our unique style, which we name "call and response" after our rich tradition, is a great way to learn from each other and will be at the center of our time.

We call it The Voices Conference. Find out more here.


Leroy Barber is president of Mission Year, a national urban initiative introducing 18- to 29-year-olds to missional and communal living in city centers for one year of their lives. He is also the pastor of Community Fellowships Church in Atlanta, Ga., and author of New NeighborHe is also a member of Emerging Voices.

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