Event to explore African American experiences of exclusion in Elkhart

Ben Tapper

ELKHART — Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary will honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a panel discussion and community conversation on Monday on the theme, Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart.

The event, from 2 to 4 p.m., is free and open to the public.

The program will begin with a panel discussion featuring local voices alongside Benjamin J. Tapper, who has been invited to facilitate the event.

Tapper, an associate for resource consulting with the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis, holds a Master of Public Affairs degree from Indiana University and a Master of Divinity degree from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and hosts the “Invisible Truths” podcast.

Tapper will offer a broad picture of past and present systemic discrimination toward African Americans in the U.S. These reflections will provide a context for how specific harms in Elkhart relate to ongoing nationwide struggles for racial justice.

“Centuries of white supremacist thought and policy have frayed, and in some cases completely severed, the threads of humanity that bind us together,” Tapper said. “We have to boldly work to repair the harm that has been perpetuated if we hope to restore the fabric of our communities.”

Panelists will also include longtime Elkhart residents and community leaders the Rev. Jean Mayes and Jean Robinson. Mayes is an ordained local elder to St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church; she earned a degree in biblical studies from Bethel University in Mishawaka. Robinson, an artist who has a gallery in Mishawaka, has been active with the NAACP, neighborhood groups and working with youth.

Together, they will discuss incidents such as the City of Elkhart’s demolition of the African American neighborhood west of Benham Avenue in the 1960s and ’70s. They will look at this history through the lens of the following questions: What is the lasting impact of these actions? What kind of restitution has happened, and what is still needed? How can concerned people today seek redress for the benefit of the city as a whole?

Immediately after the panel presentation, attendees will be invited to take part in a community conversation. The small and large group discussion time will give them a chance to talk about what they’ve heard, tell their own stories and explore ideas on how to move forward. Light refreshments will be available.

Repairing the Harm is being hosted by the AMBS Intercultural Competence and Undoing Racism (ICUR) team. Team coordinator Nekeisha Alayna Alexis had the idea for the program in part as a response to the 2019 commemorations of 1619, marking the 400th anniversary of the year the first enslaved African peoples were brought to the colony of Virginia. Alexis was also inspired by recent conversations on black history and racial relations organized by the South Bend Community Forum for Economic Justice.

“The time seemed ripe to focus on this topic,” she said. “We recently acknowledged a significant moment in African, American and global history. Our neighbors in South Bend are having conversations about what repair could look like in their city. And here in Elkhart we just saw the success of several diverse, grassroots-driven political campaigns.”

“But in order to really make progress,” she continued, “I think we need more shared understandings of how the disparities we see today are rooted in specific actions of the past. And not just actions of one or two people, but of entire decision-making bodies and systems.”

Rather than looking backward to stay in the past, however, she sees this event as a way of looking toward a more just future throughout the city.

“If we don’t take concrete steps, for example, to account for the losses that are still being felt, then we will continue to have a set of residents who don’t have the same access and successes as those who have received consistent investment and support,” she said. “There have to be ways to make the field genuinely even. I want this conversation to start scratching beneath the surface, to help spark some dreaming about what might be possible here.”

Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart will take place on the AMBS campus at 3003 Benham Ave. The panel discussion will be held in the seminary’s Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount; the community conversation will follow in the nearby Waltner Hall Lounge. Speaker biographies and other details are available at ambs.edu/mlkday

Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, located in Elkhart, is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance, including a wide array of lifelong learning programs – all with the goal of educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world.

Source: Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary 

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