The Cobbled Path Forward

HTLC’s Racial Justice Team Has Big Plans for Fall
 
Your life experience in the United States, even in Minnesota, is dependent upon the color of your skin.  

“Minnesota has one of the biggest gaps between white kids and people of color [in the school system]. The darker the skin, the worse it gets. Why are we not talking about this?” asks Melissa Horejsi, Racial Justice Team (RJT) Facilitator and Holy Trinity member. 

A teacher of the visually-impaired in the Apple Valley school district, Horejsi felt called to join the group from the beginning. “I joined because I’m white. I don’t know what I don’t know. As a teacher and someone who loves kids, and I love all kids, I have found it has been so incredibly difficult to see the level of hatred and not being comfortable with people because of how they look.”
 
Truth in Minnesota

The percentage of people of color who live below the poverty level in Minneapolis is four times higher than the rate for white people, according to the Census Bureau. And, despite our ‘Minnesota Nice,’ we have one of the worst achievement gaps in the country. 

 
After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA asked all churches to form a Racial Justice Team if they did not already have one. To support those churches, they published a guide for helping congregations to become more racially-aware. Team members Jen Sayler, Linnea Hautman, Liz Nelson, Sande Schoenecker, Meg Schoenbauer, Casey Fremstad, Wendy Mathiowetz, and Jon Bergquist now meet once a month.
 
 
Called to Serve
 
The team spent the year intentionally learning and determining their plan. “The goal of this team is to educate ourselves and our church community about racial justice,” says member Meg Schoenbauer. An upcoming sophomore in college, Shoenbauer joined the team because she felt she could no longer be silent. “I spent much of high school biting my tongue to hold back sharing my opinion, but I have found a community at Holy Trinity where I feel like I can share my beliefs and be respected and listened to.” Other members of the RJT shared their motivation for joining in the January 17 online service. (Their segment begins at 22:30.)
 
 
Defining ‘Systemic Racism’
 
The term ‘systemic racism’ can be a lot to grasp and Horejsi knows some people may not understand. “It means the system, whatever system it is, has done things historically that we do not pay attention to because we don’t have to. When you learn those things, you realize there’s a lot of work to do to figure out why people are feeling this way.” She says the way forward will be difficult. “It’s uncomfortable. I hate uncomfortable conversations, but sometimes it has to be uncomfortable.”
 
 
Plans for the Fall

Like everyone, the team’s goals were delayed by COVID, but they have a full agenda for the fall. “Oh, we are just getting started!” says Horejsi, laughing. “This past year we have been working on the team, to see how we can best grow for the church. But we are planning on activities, book studies, podcasts, teaching sessions… lots of things!.”

One book study, done last summer, was Lenny Duncan’s Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the United States. A thoughtful and honest book, the author details how difficult it is to be a person of color in the ELCA. The staff and members of council read the book and participated in a series of online discussions, facilitated by Horejsi.

Team member Shoenbauer also looks forward to the fall and hopes to include more outreach. “I would like us as a community to be able to have difficult conversations and to listen to stories that have too often gone unheard. I know that there are great people in this community who want to be a part of the solution, so I’m hoping to do more with the congregation as a whole.”

Shoenbauer has also been instrumental in creating and maintaining the Little Free Library of Anti-Racist Books, located by the Little Free Pantries near Door 2. This library functions more as a traditional library with a lending system and a faith that people will return the books. A list of these books is available on our website, along with a synopsis of every book. 
 
So, What Have You Been Doing?

The group has been deliberate about taking the year to educate themselves in order to be ready for HTLC’s reopening. “This isn’t an outside-the-church group, this is a church group. We want to make sure that what we’re doing isn’t our personal agenda, it’s what works best for HTLC at this time,” says Horejsi. 

The Racial Justice Team meets on the second Monday of every month, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Email Melissa Horejsi with questions or to join the Racial Justice Team. 
 
Written by Rose Fife, HTLC Communications Specialist

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