Thirteen black evangelical leaders rolled across Southern states on a speaking tour of historic black colleges and universities. On a mission to call forth the next generation of black leaders, we traversed the land where our ancestors had worked fingers to bone, drank from separate fountains, and cut loved ones down from trees like dead fruit.
But this is not what made Vera mad.
For the last hour a crowd of black leaders sat, stood, and leaned in as we shared our stories of barriers to advancement within white evangelical organizations. It wasn’t a mean-spirited conversation. It was a needed one—a healing one. Our stories were strikingly similar, even though none of us had worked in the same organization.
Within well-meaning white evangelical missions agencies, we had all been told that confirmation of our call to leadership would be discerned in part by our ability to raise money for the organization. Mind you, most of us had taken on debt to accept the low salaries offered by the white agencies. And most of us suffered economic isolation as we watched our white peers accept the same salaries but somehow take vacations and buy homes while we scrimped to pay rent.
Now, as our chartered bus eased its way through the narrow, tree-lined lanes at Dillard University in New Orleans, Vera said: “I’m mad at this conversation.”
Vera (we’ll call her that) was new to our traveling village, so I didn’t know how to read her anger. Did she feel our gripes were unjustified?
“I’m mad that this is exactly what I have been experiencing inside my own organization,” she continued. “I’ve tried to explain it to our leaders, but no one has heard me.”
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Forty-six years ago, on Aug. 28, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood and gave the "I Have a Dream" speech [full video below]. And even this sentence reveals one of the fundamental struggles that continues in our nation.