MILWAUKEE — Despite recommendations to avoid talking about politics, religion or money, a group of local faith leaders is ignoring that advice all in the name of change.
"There has never been a time where there was zero tension between the black and white community," Pastor Kurt Owens, with UFlourish Church and Milwaukee Declaration said. "There's always been a bit of a divide. There are good relationships but overall, the dynamic."
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Owens hosted a forum with a group of diverse faith leaders from around Southeastern Wisconsin. The goal of the conversation is to bring in different voices to help everyone understand the current events through their particular lens.
"Immediately, I'm like, I'm black and look in history for black people and say, let's see, make America great again?" Owens said. "When was it ever great for black people? Do they mean make it great again by putting us back in slavery? I know it was probably great for a certain demographic of people but from the black experience, it wasn't that great for us."
Owens posed the question to the group about their view of Independence Day and it came with different answers.
"What I was taught in school was different than what I was taught at home," Pastor Jay English with Parklawn Assembly of God said. "My mother was a killjoy, saying independence was not for you. We celebrate it for what it is but she was like, there is a reality of independence came for a lot of people but not for us then. It was a bittersweet thing. We enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. I teach my daughter about it but the other side of it too. Independence for African Americans didn't come for about 90 more years."
It was a poignant talking point for English, as tomorrow marks the 155 years since the last group of slaves were freed in Texas.
"I'm learning something that's never been on my radar," Pastor Beverly Rehfeld with World Impact Industries said. "These conversations are absolutely necessary so the divide is lessened."
Rehfeld's reaction is the motivator for Owens to host these conversations. He says congregations, just like the City of Milwaukee itself, are very segregated. These kinds of uncomfortable conversations could help end that.
"If you've got a congregation that's in a community that's 98 percent white, they're not hearing the other perspective," Owens said. "They're only hearing what's being reported on the news."
"It's important for white Christians to use lenses we use and reread scripture and history in different eyes," Pastor Matt Erickson with Eastbrook Church said. "We probably will begin to see things about the bible and the history of the church that we assumed or took for granted."
It's a small group of faith leaders who meet via Zoom every other Thursday. However, Owens hopes these individuals will go back to their respective congregations to spread the word and the ripple effects will continue.
"As a black man, I don't have a voice," Owens said. "But my white brothers and sisters, they have a voice. I don't want anyone to take that wrong but my voice is less than our white brothers and sisters."
"Some places, we'll never have that audience," English said. "You can and will. Don't back away from them. Sugarcoating and covering our eyes has gone away. Equality isn't a monopoly. Under the law, everyone deserves a piece."
Whether believers or not, Owens hopes people can take down their walls to hear other points of view.
"Allow me to be ignorant," Owens said. "Because there are some things I don't know because man, I'm not white. And some things you won't know because you're not black. Give each other grace. Allow each other to grow in that relationship and that understanding."
Owens and other faith leaders meet every other Thursday at 11:00 a.m. during a Facebook Live on the Milwaukee Declaration page. The next meeting is on July 2nd and past meetings are still on the Facebook page.