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Local faith leaders work to build alliances between minorities in St. Louis

Vince Bantu (left) listens to speaker SueJeanne Koh at the Summit for Future Theological Educators of Color, a conference held in Evanston, Ilinois, in the summer of 2014.
Vince Bantu | Jubilee Community Church
Vince Bantu (left) listens to speaker SueJeanne Koh at the Summit for Future Theological Educators of Color, a conference held in Evanston, Ilinois, in the summer of 2014.

What exactly is an “inter-minority" dialogue?

For Vince Lee Bantu, it’s a space for where people of color can come share their common cultural experiences and nuanced struggles while building connections.

On Saturday, Inter-Minority Dialogue is an event with workshops that will explore topics that include “Latinos, Immigration, and the Church;” “Being Arab in St. Louis;” and “Partnering with Refugees.” Organized by local faith leaders like Bantu to focus on the experiences of people of color, the event will take place at Comunidad Cristiana Vida Abundante, 1216 Sidney St., in St. Louis.

“We’re really starting to grow in our immigrant and refugee community in St. Louis,” said Bantu, a lead organizer and teaching pastor at Jubilee Community Church in north St. Louis. “The event is really to help us start to take our conversation beyond black and white.”

Estimates from the last Census, in 2010, show that the city of St. Louis has an almost 50-50 split of black and white residents — though those numbers have been changing. The foreign-born population in the St. Louis area grew about 9 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the American Community Survey — faster than any of the nation's other top 19 metropolitan areas. As of August 2016, refugee resettlement efforts have brought sizeable numbers of people to Missouri from Somalia, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“This event is all about elevating minority perspectives, especially in St. Louis,” Bantu said.  “We have lots of refugee and immigrant communities who are coming into this very racially tense, black-white dynamic, and the hope is that we can help our community elevate the conversation to where our demographics have shifted.”

Michelle Higgins, director of worship and outreach at South City Church, will emcee the event. For her, bringing together many ethnicities in conversation is a powerful way to dismantle racism and oppression while fostering cross-cultural competency.

“We have to have a multi-ethnic movement towards the de-centering of whiteness,” Higgins said. “Not just in our public spaces, in our laws, and in our institutions — but conversations that demand that white supremacy no longer be the center of the house of faith.”

Higgins and Bantu both talked about the event as a way to step away from narratives that speak to the struggles of people of color only in context of their white counterparts.

“Conversations around race, and racial reconciliation often time tend to orbit around the dominant culture,” Bantu said. “Whether it’s what they need to understand, what they need to do, what they need to change — and that pits minority communities and their perspective in reference to the dominant culture.”

Bantu and his fellow organizers look forward to facilitating discussions that will "build bridges" between minority communities in the area. While many of the panels will reference the ways that racial and social inequality can be addressed in faith communities, they say people of all ethnicities and faith practices — or those who do not have a faith practice — are welcome. 

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn

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