By Ariele Vaccaro
A group of Milwaukee area religious leaders recently began an initiative to end segregation and poverty through faith.
The alliance goes by the title Racial Reconciliation, and it’s taking advantage of social media outlets as a means of communication.
On Monday, Feb. 24, the group launched a Facebook page exclusively for Racial Reconciliation’s religious leaders.
Rev. Steve Jerbi works at All People’s Church, which calls itself as a “cross-cultural congregation” on its Twitter page.
He discovered early after the Racial Reconciliation Facebook page went live that others were interested. So, by the next Monday, the group had launched a whole new page for the public called “Religious Leaders for Racial Reconciliation in Milwaukee”.
Bishop Walter Harvey, of Parklawn Assembly of God, is a leader with Racial Reconciliation. He finds that an active social media presence allows the group to, as Harvey puts it, “get in where we fit in.”
He feels that the Facebook pages could allow the group to stay informed and respond swiftly to issues and questions.
For a few months, the initiative has been evolving.
It began on the same day that District Attorney John Chisholm decided not to indict Chris Manney for the death of Dontre Hamilton.
Manney shot and killed Hamilton — a mentally-ill, African-American Milwaukee man — last April in Red Arrow Park.
Jerbi remembers that first Racial Reconciliation gathering as a day for faith leaders to “pray with each other in the midst of all that”.
Since then, the group has met one more time on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Rev. Matt Erickson of Eastbrook Church, Bishop Walter Harvey of Parklawn Assembly of God, representative from Interfaith of Greater Milwaukee and Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) joined Jerbi at Eastbrook coffee shop, Holy Grounds Café.
According to Jerbi, the group was diverse racially as well as spiritually. Participants represented a number of different Christian faiths.
For now, only denominations of Christianity are present in Racial Reconciliation.
Jerbi can see the group expanding its membership to multiple religions, however.
At the meeting, faith leaders discussed the present state of poverty, segregation, and police-public relations and shared a communal desire to amend the problems.
For Jerbi, it’s important to recognize that these issues have roots in racism.
“If we’re going to tackle the challenges in Milwaukee, we cannot ignore the racial history and racial presence that shapes that,” Jerbi said.
Not only is the public guilty of the racism that pushes diverse residents into an exhausting cycle of poverty, danger, and poor education.
Jerbi admits that even religious communities are “struggling to cross racial divides”.
So, the initiative will take on Milwaukee’s problems related to racism by shedding light on efforts already being made by faith communities in Milwaukee to help diverse residents to find success, education, and safety.
Jerbi cited efforts by Brothers and Sisters In Christ Serving (BASICS) to foster better relations between Milwaukee police and the populations they serve.
Racial Reconciliation is set to meet again on April 28th. That day, participants will likely sign a statement to be presented by Erickson, Harvey, and Jerbi. In addition, the group will discuss the possibility of holding an event open to the public.
Overall, Jerbi has seen resounding support for the initiative from Milwaukee faith communities and the public. In fact, he sees it as “a sign that people want them to take up this work, and that faith leaders want to do that.”
In a highly segregated city, where opportunity, education, and a liveable wage aren’t guaranteed, that might be exactly what residents need.