Celebrating our Racial Justice Champions

The tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA, in May 2020, set off a seismic response to racism across the globe. In Britain and Ireland, it became a ‘kairos’ moment for the churches to explore equality issues and address the racism that existed in their structures. While this new commitment to effecting change was most welcomed, it did appear to suggest that the churches were not previously cognisant of this problem. Such an implication fails to take into account the efforts of brave Black, White, Asian, and minority ethnic Christian women and men who, over the last several decades, have championed racial justice in churches across our lands.

The aforementioned murder of George Floyd has seen ‘race’ come on to the agenda, with the church and society being willing to explore the matter like never before. It appears to be the case that ‘racial justice is an idea whose time has come’. However, there was a time, not so long ago, when those who brought issues of equality and inclusion to the churches’ attention were regarded as ‘do gooders’ at best and ‘troublemakers’ at worst. Racial Justice Champions: Volume 1 is dedicated to those heroic individuals, who created the ‘right type of trouble’ at what was deemed the wrong time for churches and Christian organisations. The truth is, there is never a ‘wrong’ time for justice, and this publication is an opportunity to celebrate the invaluable contributions of these often-unsung individuals, who spoke about racial justice when it was unfashionable to do so.

While this resource was launched to celebrate Black History Month in 2021, it was initially conceived to mark the 25th anniversary of Racial Justice Sunday (RJS) in Britain and Ireland in 2020. Various racial justice and equality officers in British churches and para-church organisations thought it would be apposite to mark this milestone with a resource that included some of the prime movers for racial justice over the last several decades. Those with a keen eye will note that certain individuals listed in this resource do not necessarily fall within the 25-year RJS anniversary timeframe (1995-2020), but all undoubtedly pioneered this issue long when it was off the churches’ agenda.

While some of the individuals selected are not clergy, they are people who have been inextricably linked to the Church; it has either been their main working role, or they have fundamentally been involved in church work or activity, in some capacity. Another part of the inclusion criteria was that all the contributors must have displayed a clear and consistent commitment to racial justice work (in Britain and Ireland) throughout their lives, and have taken a proactive stance on racial justice. It was not enough (for inclusion) that they were Black, Asian or minority ethnic people in leadership roles in the British and Irish churches, or have been very vocal on racial justice issues since the murder of George Floyd. 

Although there was a set criterion, it was not an easy undertaking to assemble a resource that adequately captures what has taken place on racial justice over the last two decades.

In the first instance, a long list was drawn up and subsequently sent to a number of key individuals who have taken a keen interest in racial justice in Britain. Those folks sifted through that list, adding to it where there were obvious omissions.

As a result, this publication features 25 women and 25 men. Many are thankfully still with us and continue to ‘fight the good fight’, while others have been ‘promoted to glory’ – as they say – but are not forgotten. Indeed, this publication aims to ensure that no one who has played a pivotal role in racial justice work will be forgotten! And in hearing their stories, let us be educated and encouraged, but most of all inspired to do likewise. As we all (should) know, this work is not over; indeed, in many instances, the journey has just begun. Those featured in this resource are trailblazers, whose efforts must be continued by a new generation of racial justice champions. I very much look forward to reading the next edition of Racial Justice Champions, hopeful in the knowledge that that generation can finish off what was started by those featured in this resource.

If you would like to find out more, visit https://ctbi.org.uk/racial-justice-champions/ 

Written by: Richard Reddie

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