Article and Photos by Grace Bennett
January 28, White Plains, NY— At the Mount Hope A.M.E. Zion Church, nearly 400 persons gathered to ‘face racism together, bear witness, and build hope.’ Leaders from ten sponsoring organizations,* spoke decisively and powerfully about racism unique to our times, and the impact of racism inside our communities. The multi faith service**—with its moving candle lighting ceremony, sermons, prayers and rousing choral music–was a call for unity and also for continued involvement with attendees also invited to ‘break bread together’ during the Church’s potluck ‘Beloved Community Dinner’ and learn more at social action tables. Those gathered, noted Clifford Wolf of the AJC Westchester/Fairfield, “are here tonight to be heard as a community of communities.” He spoke of the AJC’s history as rooted in civil rights activism citing its leadership joining Martin Luther King, Jr., in the historic 1965 march from Selma. “It is in our DNA,” he said, “We will never be silent.”
Current events–ranging from the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin to the hate-filled and deadly White Supremacist march in Charlottesville–were recalled.
But there also the everyday insults endured right here in the county, related Wolf. He shared stories gathered by the AJC from persons experiencing discrimination in housing or even during routine activities. After the mother of one young girl shopping for a dress together noted the dress was expensive, the storekeeper stated: “There is a Salvation Army store across the street.”
One sermon took on Trump—and hinted at his enablers. Dr. Stephen Pogue of the A.M.E. Zion Church, began his talk “Facing the Giant,” looking around the packed auditorium and said, “We need ABC, CBS and NBC to be here,” Then, adding (to some laughter) “I don’t know about Fox News.” He then likened the times today and its challenges to as when David faced Goliath.
“We have to be bold enough to stand together to face the giant… the giant is real…” he said, but… “Our God is bigger,” he added.
He spoke too of a future with an end to the racial divide.
“One day in White Plains, little black boys and little black girls will join hands together with little white boys and little white girls,” he preached, “and we will all be able to sing together, ‘Free at last. Free at last!’”
Rev. Kymberly McNair, Coordinator of Community Education and Engagement at My Sisters Place, described the experience of being a black woman in 2018…the ‘insidious trauma’ felt and ‘micro-agressions’ leveled at you. Comments like “Kym, you are so articulate.“ (“It is never said without a note of surprise,” she noted wryly) Or, “Where are you from? No, I mean where are you FROM, from?”
“It is all the ways we get ‘othered.’” she said.
“Every day, I stand at the intersection of racism and sexism…being both whitesplaned and mansplaned… Racism doesn’t end where the Dixie line ends either.”
Another highlight of the evening was a reading from “The N Trial,” authored by Philip Hall in Rehabilitation through the Arts,” a Katonah-based program with volunteers who work with those in prison. The passages ‘to a jury’ were performed by Clarence Maclin citing in the argument: ‘malicious and reckless speech’… “Words are like strikes and stains,” he said. “…”They have power over us mere mortals… “People have lost their lives because of words.”
One of the final sermons was by Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman of Larchmont. He quoted the Rev Dr. MLK Jr. who sat in his Birmingham jail cell in April, 1963, reflecting:
“Maybe I expected too much. I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand the deep groans of those that have been oppressed…” [and, concluding, his ultimate disappointment] “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” The narrow-mindedness of the hate-filled is unfortunate, but all-too-expected. The inability of a white, moderate majority to perceive the privilege of a whiteness engrained, and the pain of a societal prejudice that persists, is unacceptable…”
Rabbi Sirkman added many of his own words, too. “Our world today at best seems like a dream deferred,” he stated. “When one of us is in those chains of bondage, all of us are enslaved.”
One person seated in the congregation was State Assemblyman David Buchwald. “This event clearly shows that our community can come together to stand for unity, not division, for justice, not hate,” said Buchwald, later. “We must remain vigilant against those voices that spread hatred and seek to divide us.”
Grace Bennett is publisher and editor in chief of the Inside Press, and the 2017 recipient of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center’s Bernard Rosenshein ‘Courage to Care’ award.
- AJC Westchester/Fairfield
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Westchester Stake
- Hudson River Presbytery, Presbyterian Church (USA)
- Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- New York Annual Conference of the A.M.E Zion Church
- New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
- Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York
- Westchester Jewish Council
- Westchester Board of Rabbis
- Yonkers Islamic Center
A 40-strong list of sponsoring Houses of Worship and Institutions can also be found at https://global.ajc.org/westfair/racism
** The service began with an invocation by the Rev. Gregory Robeson Smith, of Mount Hope, an Islamic Reading by Hussein and Lamya Etzoghby. Additional program prayers and speakers to individuals noted in story: Rabbi Shira Milgrom, Congregation Kol Almi in White Plains; President Bradley Jeffries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Westchester Stake; Rabbi Adir Yolkut, Westchester Jewish Center, Mamaroneck; Rev. Dr. James E. Taylor, First Baptist Church, Mamaroneck; Rev. James O’Hanlon, Dean of Tappan Zee Conference of Evangelical Luteran Church in America; Rabbi Zach Sitkin, Congreatation Beth El, New Rochelle; Rev. Doris K. Dalton, Deacon, NY Annual Conference/United Methodist Church and Executive Director, MLK Institute for Non Violence; and Rev. Wil Tyrell, S.A., Director of the Duchesne Center for Religion and Social Justice, Catholic Chapllain, Manhattanville College. Attending choirs beautifully sang: Let My People Go, He Could Have Let Me Drown, Draw the Circle Wide, Lift Every Voice and Sing, I’m Gonna Lift My Brother Up, and We Shall Overcome.