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My Turn, Rev. Olen Bruner: Citizens join together to acknowledge racial history

By Olen Bruner

Once again, on Aug. 6, citizens of Salisbury are calling each other forward to uphold the very foundation of our American values and to remind ourselves of our country’s difficult history that lives with us still. 

Once again, citizens are joining together to acknowledge our racial history. We commemorate those whose lives were unjustly taken and those whose lives continue to be wrongly diminished by racial injustice. We also gather as people of faith to recommit ourselves to take actions that uphold equality and eliminate inequity in our community, outside the walls of our churches and the confines of our comfort levels. For what is faith without works?

Many folks have been socialized to question whether community action and spirituality can come together. But the real query is whether they are able to ever be separated. Those of Judeo-Christian tradition and faith are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. We are to love one another as we are loved. We must not limit our spiritual paths to certain days of the week, particular places and a self-selected organization of human beings. We must task ourselves to work collaboratively and without ceasing, for as the Prophet Amos said “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)

This Aug. 6 marks a turning point in the public acknowledgement of our local history. Here in Salisbury, as throughout the nation, citizens are working together, calling on one another to accomplish the outcomes of equity and equal justice before the law. 

Some of those actions are symbolic such as installing an Equal Justice Initiative Historical Marker of Remembrance. Yet, by placing the marker near the historic slave cemetery and across from the county prison, we join with many others across our country in maintaining that the injuries caused by the racial injustices of slavery, the lynchings of the Jim Crow era and the systemic institutional policies of today must be reckoned with. The wounding nevertheless inflicted through racial profiling, police brutality and mass incarceration must end!  

Salisbury is the first city in North Carolina to achieve the installation of an Equal Justice Initiative historical marker. As we come together to dedicate the marker this Aug. 6, we also call ourselves to greater action, deeper levels of mercy and compassion and higher levels of resolve. Let us be strengthened by this symbolic call and let us also appreciate the concrete efforts we have made. Over the past four years, members of Actions in Faith & Justice have collaborated with individuals and citizen groups as well as with civic and faith leaders at local, state and national levels. Working with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the N.C. Youth Justice Project, we raised awareness of disproportionate impact in school-based courtroom referrals. We continue to call for equitable discipline in our public schools by working to establish a School Justice Partnership in Rowan County. 

Actions in Faith & Justice continues outreach through sponsoring community equity webinars, providing a platform for civic and faith leaders to discuss systemic inequities and examine the economic and social benefits of changing pre-trial custody and cash bond practices. 

This year, we welcome the participation of Soldiers Memorial AME Zion, St. Luke’s Episcopal and St. John’s Lutheran as they engage their commitment to faith and justice by partnering with us across denominational and color lines to honor and celebrate Salisbury-Rowan’s Community Remembrance Project. Each year, the circle grows. People of faith are called to the work of justice and are taking community action to enhance the common good. Yes, we are one another’s keeper.  

I congratulate the residents of Salisbury in achieving the installation of an EJI Historical Marker of Remembrance. I respect all citizens who have helped Actions in Faith & Justice attain this goal and I challenge us all to continue working for a new future strengthened by our courage to reckon with the past.

Rev. Olen V. Bruner is chair of Actions in Faith & Justice.

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