KARA, ANTIRACISM CONSULTANT
Aaron: I guess first, I just want to know like how you got into the work and, what drew you to it?
Kara: So how did I get into it? Well, I like to say that my parents got me into it.
They were pastors of a Mennonite church in Raleigh, North Carolina. And that congregation was very focused on integration and like diversifying the congregation and racial reconciliation was the terms of the time. This is like early eighties. And so I grew up going to like workshops and books studies and supper clubs, and like having that conversation be very common.
And, that said 10 years into that work or maybe even 15, or I don't know, a long time within that, space. There was this moment, there was a white man who had been in the church for a long time. And it was Easter Sunday, one of the biggest Christian, services of the year. And we had been doing a pulpit swap. And so, there was a black pastor and his entire congregation that was there on that Sunday. And, this white man stood up, uh, from our congregation and stopped this pastor in the middle of his sermon and said, you need to stop your speaking from the devil and like, and that, you know, like, and there was, wow. So the pastor saw it for what it was, was like, okay, church, let's go and like called his congregation up and started to walk out.
My parents and several other church members were like running to the pulpit. Like you can just imagine this is a major crisis point for this congregation. And then subsequent conversations with this white man who did this act, he just would never actually admit that there was anything racially motivated about this choice. Of course, he had never done that to my father who had preached many a sermon. Right? So eventually it led to a small church split where that family was asked to leave and several people went with them and eventually there was healing and that was done with the black pastor and his church and all that stuff.
But honestly, like I was in high school at that point and I was like, what is happening? Why have, why is this happening when all these people in my life, all these adults that I respect and love have put so much time and energy and care and money into this work of racial reconciliation, like made it a very central focus within this congregational life?
And I deemed it a failure. Like I was just like, we have just failed. What, why is this happening? And it made me question is it even possible to create change in the world in this realm, like around racial equity. So that has been a very driving question for me since then, and there's been lots of things along the way, um, that have like rose up to answer that or to ask more questions and all of that, but that's sort of is still a question.
Kara: It was such a strong push to St. Louis and I had never even imagined living here. And I was like, what is this place? And part of what was so energizing was the, on the ground communities, like Forward through Ferguson and City Garden Montessori, and like Crossroads College Prep and like US Bank CDC.
Like, there was just so many different organizations that were digging in. They were like, yes, let's do it. Let's get in the work. Let's do the messiness of it. And they had been at it for many years prior to me coming, like, I'd been hearing about the organizing. and the like work here for at least eight years and up to that point. And so it felt, and it still feels like St. Louis is one of the unique spaces in the United States that has a very clear mandate from the folks of color here. The Ferguson commission, you know, the report that was created, it created a 189, clear mandates.
And then it was organized into four different sections in 49 priorities. No other place can say, well, we talked to thousands and thousands of people who are directly impacted. And they said, do these things. Like I've worked in Philly. I've worked in Allentown, I've worked in in Chicago, like these big places and small places. Like they don't have that community mandate. And so often in those spaces, you're like, go talk to your people of color, like get clear. What do you want to do? What's accountability look like? Here, we had it, we had it. We just had to like connect organizations to connect those dots, you know? And, um, and then with the racial equity indicators report and the environmental racism report, and like, there are just so many things that St. Louis has. People of color have spoken. What a gift, what a gift to the white folks here. And so that feels, and that felt like incredibly wonderful fodder to start with. And there was just all these folks who were trying to figure it out and saying, we don't know all the things, but we have this culture of trying and we have this culture of startups and we have this like, clear sense that we know what the problems are. And we still love this place. And I hadn't found that in many places that I had lived. And so it was almost intoxicating, honestly, like to come here.
Aaron: What does a commitment to anti-racist work look like for you in your life?
Kara: I think, I think it looks like being in relationship with other folks who are asking questions about the nature of white supremacy and how it impacts our lives. Whether that looks like a colleague relationship or a friend or neighbor, um, in coalition or in organizing work, and, and maybe in relationship with ourselves, like asking those questions of ourselves too, but the commitment means asking it and then asking it again and choosing to say yes, I'm going to ask more questions.
Aaron: Even though there's still that looming question of like, is it even possible?
Kara: Yeah. I mean, I think the idea of it being possible, or the idea of an end is so white anyways. Like why don't we just live the questions? I think white dominant culture wants us to say, like, oh, we can check a box and then we can be done.
Kara: And it's like, we're not, we're not going to be done. Like, ever.
Kara: That's part of what we understand about it. And so that's part of the nature of white supremacy. Like. We can't just like eradicate it
Aaron: Right. You don't get a degree and then you're like, done!
Kara: Yeah, yeah. And so there's always ways to go deeper. I think a commitment is to say, like, that's not all we are. Like, we are not our distress. We are not white supremacy. That is not the only thing that makes us up. And I think sometimes we can get into a place in this journey. Well, at the beginning it's often like, well, we don't want to admit there's anything in relationship to white supremacy at all. Then when we're in it a long time we're like it's all consuming.
Kara: I can't see myself as anything other than problematic. And then there's part of our racial identity development where we can come and say, it's a both and. Like we have to be intentional about being antiracist every day in our major decisions and in our small decisions. And like, how do we cultivate joy and beauty and like art and singing and, you know, friendship. And then these relationships that are beyond white supremacy. That are like, not beyond it, but like different and differentiated from it. Um, that is not all we are and not all anyone else is either. And so to say, that's the only thing is also a product of, white supremacy thinking. And so it's like a commitment to anti-racism is to acknowledge and try to live into that both and, and trying to live into that tension of the current reality and the not yet. And like, how do we build something that's not yet there? It requires community. And then that goes back to the relationships. It means being in relationship with people and being in the messiness of relationships and the like beauty that can happen of trust building over years, that can come out of that.
And I think, you know, I've been in relationships with colleagues who are probably my primary relationships in terms of this work, where I've seen, it's possible to like, if we're working on our healing and they're working on their healing, like it's possible to be in authentic, vulnerable life-giving relationships.
Like, and that's what I want for all of us. To not just push it under the rug and dismiss it. Not for it to be like overly consuming, but for it to be in the mix, but not have to take over.
Groups Kara has found helpful or worked with:
Training for Change (Philadelphia)
The Work that Reconnects Network
Norma Wong, Zen Priest and movement strategist - Q&A
Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training
Crossroads College Preparatory School
US Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC) (St. Louis)