Rallying Around Racial Justice

November 14, 2017
Melissa Bartholomew
Melissa Bartholomew, center, and members of the HDS community participating in a "Ferguson Walk" on the Harvard campus in 2014.

MTS candidate Steven Núñez writes below on the ongoing activities and efforts of the HDS Racial Justice and Healing Initiative.

In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown in 2014, Melissa Bartholomew, MDiv ’15, and a group of HDS students, along with Rev. Jonathan Walton, trekked to Ferguson, Missouri, to bear witness and to stand in solidarity with the community there that was faced with tumultuous injustice and unrest.

When the group returned to New England, Melissa and a small group of students around her decided to take concrete steps to providing a safe space on campus for the community to support one another in the face of such catastrophic societal conditions and established a student organization called the Racial Justice and Healing Initiative (RJHI).

To begin this academic year, RJHI invited Melissa back to campus to discuss the original intent of the organization, as well as the direction that the current students want to take it.

Establishing a Center for Racial Justice and Healing became the chief project of the organization during Melissa’s time here at HDS. “Dreaming big,” RJHI is driven in reflection to the “collective response to the urgent need to cultivate racial justice and healing in our time, as well as to provide a foundation and commitment for generations to come.”

The political reality that we face today, a mere three years later, appears to be bleaker even than it was at the origination of RJHI in 2014, and the work seemingly more pressing. RJHI has recommitted efforts to establishing a center and elevating student voices into the larger campus discussion about the fundraising campaign to reimagine Andover Hall and the conversation about what will replace the “Faces of Divinity” Bicentennial exhibit when it is removed following this academic year.

Since Melissa’s visit, RJHI, with overwhelmingly white membership, revisited our ethical commitments to “radical privileging of the voices and experiences of people of color” … “building multiracial community and relationships” … “accountability” and “continuous learning and courageous practice.” We also questioned how we might keep a space more welcoming of People of Color to unpack how race(ism) and the trauma they cause are manifest in our lives both on campus and in society more generally. The organization seems to fit as a liaison between other groups in HDS, Harvard, and the surrounding community, and a contemplative and collaborative commons where people can workshop around ideas, projects, actions, protests, etc.

To challenge blind spots, they invited Black Lives Matter-Cambridge organizer, Didi Delgado, to discuss her article “Whites Only: SURJ And The Caucasian Invasion Of Racial Justice Spaces,” and reflect on how it build bridges between the HDS community and the surrounding communities.

Monica Cannon, political advocate and activist, accompanied Didi, and the two Boston locals shared their experiences organizing in Roxbury and Dorchester. Didi and Monica rejoined us recently to discuss how RJHI can support local organizers in the upcoming November 18 Fight Supremacy 2.0 Rally on the Boston Common. Our meetings are open to the public and we welcome all members of the community to rally around racial justice here at HDS!

—by Steven Núñez