Editor’s Note: We are including this column on our news page in addition to our opinion page because it includes information about upcoming community forums.
Last November, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown. Given the many strong feelings all over the country, several clergy in Oak Ridge decided to address our community. In our public statement, we called for “inspiration, perspiration, and collaboration” in our shared efforts for racial justice. We concluded, “We, the faith community, look forward to partnering in 2015 to foster holistic, long-term, and systemic solutions to the complex set of social, economic, and community challenges that plague our great society.”
In the 11 months since, painful conversations about race across our country have continued in Baltimore, Maryland; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Dallas, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; and even now, in Oak Ridge.
This summer, the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church began to display a message on its electronic Oak Ridge Turnpike sign, which reads, “Black Lives Matter.” Given the national scope of this slogan, people have taken this to mean different things. Some have responded, “All lives matter,” while others have answered with, “Police lives matter.” One thing is sure: It has stirred conversation and fostered what Martin Luther King Jr. called “a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”
As a student of American history, and especially African-American history, I observe that significant change often requires a season of raising awareness and making bold declarations. But then there must come a time to go deeper than this, a time to move from awareness to action, from declaration to dialogue, from slogans to solutions.
I recently convened a meeting of four leaders at Oak Valley Baptist Church. These leaders were Oak Ridge Police Chief James Akagi, Father J.B. Shelton from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Rev. Jake Morrill from the Unitarian Universalist Church, and me. The primary purpose for our coming together was to determine if and how we could move beyond the polarization that has developed with regard to the sign. We opened in prayer, and I am grateful to say that the conversation led to a deeper appreciation for one another and greater clarity of the need for us to collectively hear from the community we have been called to serve.
So, on behalf of the three others, I would like to issue an invitation to three upcoming town hall meetings that we are calling Community Matters. Each one will be on a Sunday afternoon from 4 to 5:30 p.m. The first will be on October 11 at St. Mary’s. The second will be on October 18 at Oak Valley Baptist Church. And the third will be on November 1 at the Unitarian Universalist Church.
The purpose of these sessions is to bring the people of this community together, across different experiences and viewpoints, to hear one another and learn from each other. We expect that difficult subjects may arise but that’s okay. We want to hear what concerns the people of our community and what challenges they face. We also want to hear what ideas people might have to foster the strongest, fairest community we can realize.
To help create the space necessary for trust-building dialogue, I asked Morrill to request of his church board to change the message to something that still conveyed their intent but did not spark fears. In light of the upcoming forums, he passed on that request to his board, and they have agreed.
In closing, I have only been in Oak Ridge for a little over a year and am eternally grateful for the way this community has embraced my family and me. One thing I’ve come to appreciate more than anything though is the spirit of unity—Oak Ridgers, even with this much diversity, demonstrate an amazing ability to work together toward common goals. As we engage in these Community Matters sessions, let us each seek to lift the “fog of misunderstanding” and ensure that “radiant stars of love and brotherhood” light the nighttime sky of this blessed community.
Rev. Derrick M. Hammond
Pastor, Oak Valley Baptist Church
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