Race and Reconciliation
with Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson of the Conference of National Black Churches
Racially motivated attacks like the 2015 Charleston, S.C., church shooting continue to receive widespread public attention.
Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson of the Conference of National Black Churches discusses efforts to address racism and build bridges of reconciliation within communities.
March 31, 2020
Anderson: On June 17, 2015, nine African-Americans were killed during Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the oldest Black churches in the United States. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. In the five years since the Charleston attack, there have been other mass shootings at places of worship, really raising questions about how to address the underlying problems of racial violence. The Reverend Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson believes that to find the answers, you need to have conversations. Chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches, Dr. Richardson, is here to explain. Welcome to you, sir.
Richardson: Delighted to be with you.
Anderson: So, the organization started in 1992. Can you give us a little bit of a back story, the origin story here?
Richardson: Yeah. Well, it was founded by Bishop John Hurst Adams, who was a senior bishop of the AME church, along with representatives of nine denominations, and the goal was to have the African-American church leadership talk to each other so that they would be able to work together on things that were empowering for the African-American community. And consequently, it evolved into a program that the Lilly Endowment underwrote for many years. And it's evolved to be very critical, because without it, the leaders of African-American denominations would not know each other.
Anderson: So, you talk about evolution, and at this point, your big focus is race and reconciliation.
Anderson: Was there a sort of pivot point that led you to...
Richardson: Most definitely. When the nine were killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, it sent shock waves through the African-American church. It was as though all of our congregations were in the room. And consequently, it became imperative that we, as the historically black denominations, begin to do something to address the plight and the atmosphere that created that in this country. Consequently, we initiated a new profile, which was to have dialog among ourselves and with other white denominations about how do we get to reconciliation, how do we get to healing, how do we repair the damage, how do we honestly talk to each other and try to understand each other? And that began our new journey for the last five years, which has just been continuous as a challenge.
Anderson: And that dialog begins with what you call face-to-face truth telling. Why is that so crucial?
Richardson: Well, what we discovered is, when denominational leaders own their own engagement in racism, when they own their own experiences and they came open, we saw their authenticity and they felt our authenticity of hurt. Consequently, we recognize that race reconciliation is only possible as there is commitment to repair. So, that the Conference doesn't just have truth-telling. It talks about health care. It talks about incarceration, all the things -- lack of education in black communities, under opportunities, employment opportunities. So, that the conversation constantly begins with that discussion of reconciliation. But what are the solutions? And the solutions are more than just talking. The solutions are actions and reformation and changing. And if you can get leaders and the religious leaders to understand that, they can help to change the atmosphere and the climate. And also, African-Americans grow because we understand how many times racism is a subconscious activity passed on from generation to generation of white people.
Anderson: So all this really requires a coalition of the willing bringing everyone to the table, but are there barriers in getting to do that? And how do you deal with that?
Richardson: Well, there are barriers. There are people who are entrenched in their particular position. They're not open to new ideas. They're invested in the status quo. They're committed to receive the privilege that they have by not participating. Yet there are people who are willing to explore and be open because they are compelled by their own spirituality, by their own values, to know the truth. And when people have an appetite for the truth, it is a window, a door, by which, we can begin to have conversation about reconciliation.
Anderson: And you're able to step right through. Dr. Richardson, thank you for joining us.
Richardson: Thank you.
Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com I'm Tetiana Anderson.