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6/22/2017 9:00:00 AM
UPCOMING TALK
Interfaith panel will discuss fighting racism
BY AMY LUKE
STAFF WRITER

"Everyone makes a question of whether it's a question," said James Owens of the Black Catholic Apostolate of the Albany Diocese, based at St. Joan of Arc parish in Menands. But racism "does exist. And it does need to be talked about."

On June 29, 7-9 p.m., Mr. Owens will be part of a panel discussion titled, "Confronting Racism: A Bold New Perspective," that addresses the issue of racism in the context of today's religious and social climate. The Muslim-Catholic Dialogue Committee of the Albany Diocese is sponsoring the event.

His fellow panelists will be the Rev. Leonard Comithier, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Albany, where the event will be held; and Imam Abdulkadir Elmi of Masjid as-Salam mosque in Albany.

All of the speakers said they have encountered either racism or discomfort between races on some level. At the St. Joan of Arc/the Black Catholic Apostolate, where the later Sunday Mass features singing from a gospel choir, "it's a subtle thing," said Mr. Owens. "It's never openly discussed" among parishioners of different races.

"We coexist under the same roof, and we interact on occasion. It's never, I think, a racist thing. It's more a 'you're different' thing," he added. "We still come to worship the same God."

In the panel discussion, Mr. Owens will draw from his experience growing up in a segregated Catholic community in Wilmington, Del., where he was not allowed to attend a local Catholic church considered "white."

To Rev. Comithier, racism is an "evil cancer."

In tiny ways, he said, racism can trickle into our lives: "Because racism is so institutionalized in this country, a lot of the subtleties of racism are easily overlooked, because people sort of accept it as the way it is. There's been kind of a coexistence of people of faith in the presence of a racist institution, whether it's the educational system or the political system."

The pastor expressed frustration at the negative response among many Americans to President Barack Obama's historic election in 2009 as the country's first black president. Rev. Comithier viewed that as a reaction that went against Divine Providence.

Imam Elmi also feels that racism is a disease. It has affected the congregation at his mosque and even his own family: "My children, who were born here, [have had ignorant people] telling them to get out of my country," he said. "That will boggle your mind. It makes you wonder what country they are talking about."

The panelists will offer proposals for how people can combat racism in their own lives.

"We have to speak to our legislators, and laws have to be passed [that are] more strict than the laws exist now," said Imam Elmi.

He hopes the dialogue will spread the word that it is possible for people of different faith backgrounds to unify and find common ground on an issue. "I hope that when they see different faith groups addressing the same issue from one single front, standing together at one position, that they take heed."

Rev. Comithier says the prophetic voice of the faith community could have lasting effects on the effort to heal racism in America.

"In order to fix the ills of the society, and particularly American culture, it has to be faith," he said. "If racism is part of the spirit of America, then there is a satanic spirit here, and that has to be addressed, to be healed."

The pastor sees the need for significant change needs in the U.S. economic system, which tends to advocate for some groups of people while suppressing others. He also feels strongly that people of different races need to attend one another's worship communities, not just offer an invitation for people to attend their own.

Mr. Owens plans to speak about recognizing and changing racist behaviors. That starts, he said, with education: "We have to teach: one, that difference is OK; two, we're all equal in the eyes of God; and three, we should be more accepting of each other for who we are, not what we look like."

(The panel discussion will be held June 29, 7- 9 p.m., at Macedonia Baptist Church, 26 Wilson Ave., Albany. For more information, call Audrey Hughes of the Muslim-Catholic Dialogue Committee at 518-399-5121.)





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