Sparking Difficult Conversations About Racial Injustice

Anti-Racism Design Lab participants create tools to help congregations address racism

How do you get people to learn about subjects they may be reluctant to engage in, particularly around racial injustice? In the fall semester of 2020, the Anti-Racism Design Lab challenged Princeton Theological Seminary students and affiliates to develop experiential learning tools to help congregations address racism in their communities. The Lab was made possible by the Zoe Project, a grant initiative hosted by Princeton Seminary and funded by the Lilly Endowment.

“These tools create connections between people and pry open conversations that are otherwise hard to start without a ‘third thing’ like a common experience,” says Kenda Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Seminary.

While most of the participants had no prior background in educational ministry, their passion for healing the world around racism sparked their creativity. For example, Samuel Marquez’s “ReUNITE Project” is a walk-through, tangible experience that offers a journey of introspection and opportunity for people to connect.

SEO ARDL Marquez booth

Using wood floating panels for self-expression and a wall with black and white images of racist and antiracist demonstrations throughout U.S. history, “ReUNITE Project” takes participants through the stages of lament, confession, decision, and reconciliation. The reconciliation section contains a small table with bread and wine where more than one person can gather and talk. This area is a subtle reference to the Lord’s supper and uses the only color in the installation — red, representing Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

“The idea is for people to have an emotional reunion where they decide to stay the same or forgive and embrace understanding,” Marquez says. “I called it ‘ReUNITE’ because while we all live in the same land, the walls in our hearts and minds are dividing us.”

Emma Lietz Bilecky’s “ChurchLands StoryMaps” helps church leaders see connections between their land and its role in environmental racism, past and present. Incorporating publicly accessible data through online mapping tools similar to Google Maps, the searchable multimedia maps explore the ecology, demographics, land ownership data, and pollution sources in a church’s area.

SEO Story Map 2

“The goal is to shift the way churches think about their land: not merely as a property or financial asset, but as a living member of our congregations that witnesses to injustice in our midst,” Bilecky says. “These story maps can help churches think critically about how they’re partnering with their land — to perpetuate historic injustices, or to repent, heal, and repair them.”

The students were required test their ideas in congregational settings to help open conversations about race “in a way that is loving, productive, and vulnerable,” Dean says. “The longer range hope is that they gain experience that is transferable to put these ideas to work on the ground in the community.”

Princeton Seminary students Emmanuel Agyemfra, Bonnie Lin, Harlan Redmond, Collin Thomas, and Tara Woodward also developed learning tools as part of the Lab. Agyemfra designed “Table of Color: An Invitation to the Kente Table,” a tool to facilitate conversations about race in multicultural communities. In “Look Again: Subverting the Model Minority Myth,” Lin created an interactive online learning tool for Asian American Christian young adults. “Interwoven Conversation Cards,” a card-based tool conceived by Redmond, fosters conversations around self-awareness of each individual’s own conditioning. Thomas developed “Imago Dei,” which addresses the neurology of prejudice, asking congregations to explore the impact of images of Christ. Woodward designed “Do Justice Love Philly” specifically to help two merging churches in Philadelphia blend their mercy ministries.

For more information on all the learning tools and how to access them, email joy.crosley@ptsem.edu.

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

PhD Student

Isaac Kim, Class of 2015

“One of the biggest lessons I learned was how to be charitable to views other than my own. Christian charity was shown to me, not just in the readings for class, but from the professors, and the Seminary community.”