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More US Churches are Committing to Racism-Linked Reparations

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Supporters of President Donald Trump who are wearing attire associated with the Proud Boys attend a rally at Freedom Plaza, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Episcopal Diocese of Texas acknowledges that its first bishop in 1859 was a slaveholder. An Episcopal church in New York City erects a plaque noting the building’s creation in 1810 was made possible by wealth resulting from slavery.

And the Minnesota Council of Churches cites a host of injustices — from mid-19th century atrocities against Native Americans to police killings of Black people — in launching a first-of-its kind “truth and reparations” initiative engaging its 25 member denominations.

These efforts reflect a widespread surge of interest among many U.S. religious groups in the area of reparations, particularly among long-established Protestant churches that were active in the era of slavery. Many are initiating or considering how to make amends through financial investments and long-term programs benefiting African Americans.

Some major denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, have not embraced reparations as official policy. The Episcopal Church has been the most active major denomination thus far, and others, including the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, are urging congregations to consider similar steps.

The Minnesota Council of Churches initiative was announced in October.

“Minnesota has some of the highest racial disparities in the country — in health, wealth, housing, how police treat folks,” said the council’s CEO, the Rev. Curtiss DeYoung. “Those disparities all come from a deep history of racism.”

The initiative, envisioned as a 10-year undertaking, is distinctive in several ways. It engages a diverse collection of Christian denominations, including some that are predominantly Black; it will model some of its efforts on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that operated in South Africa after the end of apartheid; and it is based in Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd in May sparked global protests over racial injustice.

“This particular event, because it was right here where we live, was a call to action,” DeYoung said. “The first thing that we did, of course, like everyone else, was get into the streets and march … but there are deep, historic issues that require more than marching.”

Another notable aspect of the Minnesota initiative is that it seeks to address social justice concerns of African Americans and Native Americans in a unified way,

“For so long these have been two separate camps — Indigenous people and African Americans felt they are competing against each other for the same limited resources,” said the Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, a Native American who is the church council’s director of racial justice.

“By bringing these two communities together, it removes that mindset of, ‘We have to get ours, and that might mean you don’t get yours,’” he said.

Jacobs belongs to a Wisconsin-based Mohican tribe but was born in Minnesota and is well-versed in the grim chapters of the latter’s history regarding Native Americans. He cited the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which ended with the internment of hundreds of Dakota people and the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato — the largest mass execution in U.S. history. After the war, many of the Dakota were expelled from the state.

Jacobs hopes to see churches commit to ongoing financial support for Native Americans to reclaim their culture and languages.

“I want it to be a line in their budget, like they do for building maintenance,” he said. “If all the churches do is take up a special offering, there’s no shift in the power dynamics that created these problems in the first place.”

The Rev. Stacey Smith, presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Minnesota and a member of the Council of Churches board, said the reparations initiative places the state “at the epicenter of being transformed with racial justice.”

“Truth-telling in our stories is so important,” she said as the project was announced. “There has been such a vacuum of missing stories, not only from Black and brown people but our Indigenous people and others as well.”

In the Episcopal Church, several dioceses — including Maryland, Texas, Long Island and New York — launched reparations programs in the past 13 months, while others are preparing to do so. The Diocese of Georgia is committing 3% of its unrestricted endowment to help create a center for racial reconciliation.

“Each diocese will make its own decisions how to do this work,” said New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche. “What is common across the whole church is the recognition that it’s time to address and reckon with the wrongs and evils of our past.”

The largest pledge thus far came from the Diocese of Texas, which announced in February that it would allocate $13 million to long-term programs benefiting African Americans. This will include scholarships for students attending seminaries or historically Black colleges and assistance for historic Black churches.

The Texas Diocese bishop, C. Andrew Doyle, noted that slavery played a key role in the diocese’s origins. Its first bishop, Alexander Gregg, was a slaveholder, and its first church, in the town of Matagorda, was built with slave labor.

The Diocese of New York, which serves part of New York City and seven counties to the north, was similarly blunt about its history while unveiling its $1.1 million reparations initiative in November 2019.

Dietsche said the diocese played a “significant, and genuinely evil, part in American slavery” — including some churches’ use of slaves as parish servants. He noted that in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, delegates at the diocese’s convention refused to approve a resolution condemning slavery.

“We have a great deal to answer for,” Dietsche said. “We are complicit.”

Over the past year, a multiracial committee has been studying possible uses for those reparation funds. At one point it convened an online “apology retreat” featuring prayer, meditation and discussions about combating racism; Dietsche said participation was capped at 1,000 and organizers had to turn some people away.

Specific recommendations for spending the $1.1 million will come later in 2021. But Dietsche expects some funds will help congregations launch their own reparations initiatives, particularly if their churches had historical involvement in slavery.

St. James’ Episcopal Church, in a posh neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, dedicated a plaque a year ago with the inscription, “In solemn remembrance of the enslaved persons whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of St. James’ Church” in 1810.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland voted in September to create a $1 million reparations fund, likely to finance programs supporting Black students, nursing home residents, small-business owners and others. The vote at the diocese’s annual convention was 189-31, an outcome preceded by years of research into how it had benefited from slavery and racial inequality.

While Dietsche and Doyle are white, the bishop of Maryland, Eugene Sutton, is the first Black cleric to hold that post. He periodically converses with white people who oppose reparations on the grounds that they are not personally guilty of slaveholding or racism, and should not be asked to pay for those wrongs.

“That is a false conception,” Sutton said. “Reparations is simply, ‘What will this generation do to repair the damage caused by previous generations?’ … We may not all be guilty, but we all have a responsibility.”

Sutton said the $1 million allocation, envisioned as an initial investment in a long-term program, represents about 20% of the diocese’s operating budget.

“We wanted something that would actually not just be a drop in the bucket — it’s going to cost us,” he said. “We’ve done that in recognition of the fact that this church, as well as many other churches and institutions, benefited from theft. We stole from the impoverished, from the African American community.”

Many of the United Methodist Church’s regional conferences are moving in a direction similar to the Episcopalians, considering various steps to benefit people of color. The bishop of the UMC’s Florida Conference, Kenneth Carter, has formed an anti-racism task force and says commitments to financial reparations are likely to follow.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not embraced the term “reparations” in its official policies. The word never appears in a 2018 pastoral letter condemning “the ugly cancer” of racism, though the document encourages support for programs “that help repair the damages caused by racial discrimination.”

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Black archbishop of Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press in October that initiatives involving financial reparations should be made by individual institutions, not by the U.S. church as a whole. He cited the example of Catholic-affiliated Georgetown University, which last year committed funds to benefit descendants of enslaved people sold in 1838 to pay off debt.

However, there have been calls by some Black Catholics for substantive reparations by the church nationwide, due to its past involvement in slavery and segregation.

Shannen Dee Williams, a Black historian at Villanova University, has proposed several steps the church could take, including issuing formal apologies, investing in Catholic schools serving Black communities and requiring that the history of Black Catholics be taught in church schools.

“Black Catholic history reminds us that the Church was never an innocent bystander in the histories of colonialism, slavery or segregation,” Williams wrote in an email.

Black Lives

Florida House Democratic Leader-Designate Fentrice Driskell Announces Leadership Team

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida House Democratic Leader-Designate Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) today announced the appointment of the following Democratic Representatives to serve on the House Democratic Caucus leadership team for the 2022-24 legislative term:

  • Leader Pro Tempore: Representative Dotie Joseph (D-Miami);
  • Policy Chair: Representative Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton);
  • Floor Leader: Representative Michael “Mike” Gottlieb (D-Davie); and
  • Whip: Representative Christine Hunschofsky (D-Parkland).

“The House Democratic Caucus is made up of some of the strongest, most fierce champions of the people in the entire state,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “It is an honor and great pleasure to work with these individuals in this new capacity, and all of them are prepared to lead the Caucus in the face of the challenges that lie ahead of us.”

As Leader Pro Tempore, Representative Joseph will assist the Democratic Leader in carrying out designated responsibilities and perform such Leadership responsibilities as are assigned, including stepping in for the Leader as needed.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of knowing Representative Joseph for over 20 years. From the time we were at Georgetown Law to now, she has always been a consistent champion for justice. The issues she advocates for on behalf of all Floridians makes Representative Joseph an invaluable asset in defending Floridians against extremist Republican policies,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “I look forward to Representative Joseph’s leadership as a key member of my team over the next two years.”

In her role as the Caucus Policy Chair, Representative Skidmore will be responsible for ensuring the Caucus continues to champion legislation that positively impacts all Floridians, and will lead discussions about bills before the House at Caucus meetings.

“As the previous Policy Chair for the Caucus, I know what is needed to do this job. Appointing Representative Skidmore as Policy Chair was an easy choice,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “She stood out as a prime member in understanding policy during the last legislative term. Representative Skidmore also brings with her a wealth of experience as both a former House and Senate staffer and House member. Applying her unique skillset to this new role will benefit the Caucus and all Floridians.”

In his role as Floor Leader, Representative Gottlieb will be responsible in interpreting the House Rules, ensuring the Caucus adheres to the agreed upon rules, and working with his Republican counterpart in advocating for fair amounts of time be allotted to the Caucus in debating different pieces of legislation.

“Two things I greatly appreciate about Representative Gottlieb are his refreshing candor and strong fortitude,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “As the minority party in the Legislature, we’re aware of the challenges that lie ahead of us. What we need right now is someone who is unwavering under extreme pressure to help guide our Caucus during difficult moments. Representative Gottlieb is perfectly suited for this role.”

As Whip, Representative Hunschofsky will be responsible for keeping all Democratic Caucus members apprised of Caucus policy on any bills or issues before the House.

Representative Hunschofsky has an amazing ability to get things done,” said Leader-Designate Driskell. “Not only does Representative Hunschofsky possess a wealth of knowledge due to her experience as the former mayor of Parkland, Florida, she is also a champion of many initiatives close to Floridians’ hearts, such as expanding access to quality mental health care. I know Representative Hunschofsky’s knowledge and ability will help prepare our Caucus for the challenges of the next two year.”

The Florida House Democratic Caucus will convene during Organizational Session taking place Nov. 21-22, 2022 in advance of the 2023 Legislative Session scheduled to begin on March 7, 2023.

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VIDEO: State Rep. Dianne Hart elected chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus

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ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – State Representative Dianne Hart (D-Tampa), incoming Chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, talks briefly with Florida National News on the importance of the Florida Blue Florida Classic at Camping World Stadium in Orlando Saturday. The Florida Classic is an annual college football rivalry game between Bethune–Cookman University and Florida A&M University.

Hart’s Twitter Statement:

Hart’s statement: “I’m honored to have been elected as the Chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.” “I’m grateful to my colleagues for their support and for trusting me to move this important caucus forward.”

During the 2021 and 2022 Legislative Sessions, Rep. Hart served on the following House committees, including Democratic Ranking Member of the Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, Judiciary Committee, Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight, Ways & Means Committee, Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee, State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee and Select Subcommittee on Authorized Gaming Activity.

Hart was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2018. She is also the CEO of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association.

 

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Former State Rep. Bruce Antone Ready To Rejoin Florida House

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Former State Representative Bruce Antone respond to questions by CFABJ, NAACP, and the Florida Voters League panel during a candidates forum in Orange County, Thursday, October 19, 2022. (Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News)

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Former Florida State Representative Bruce Antone served 12 years (six terms) in the Florida House of Representatives and defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Travaris McCurdy during the August primary election to represent Orange County in the newly draw District 41 House seat.

CFABJ, NAACP, and Florida Voters League held a candidates forum for candidates seeking county, state and Congressional seats in Orange County, Thursday, October 19, 2022. (Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News)

CFABJ, NAACP, and Florida Voters League held a candidates forum for candidates seeking county, state and Congressional seats in Orange County, Thursday, October 19, 2022. (Photo by J Willie David, III / Florida National News)

Antone was among eleven candidates seeking election to county, state and Congressional seats participating in a candidate forum hosted by CFABJ, NAACP and the Florida Voters League, Wednesday, October 19, 2022.

Green Party nominee Robin Denise Harris is the only potential road block in Antone’s return to Tallahassee and faces off with him in the November general election. The District 41 House seat has an overwhelmingly Democratic voter base.

During his time in the Florida House, Antone was elected by his colleagues to serve as the Chairman of the 29-member Florida Legislative Black Caucus.

The general election is Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

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