CST alumnae Samantha Wilson, ’14, and AJ Bush, ’15, are pastors who, concerned by increasing violence in their communities, wondered about the best way to have conversations about racial justice—particularly in small, white, rural communities. From that question, Rural Race Dialogue was born. Rural Race Dialogue is a workshop designed by Reverends Bush and Wilson that seeks to engage white-majority faith communities in conversation and strategic action for racial justice.
Rev. Bush says, “These dialogues were born out of our passion for racial justice work, as well as local incidents of hate, violence, and prejudice being experienced across our communities. In response to these very local realities, I, as a faith leader, wanted to engage the community in conversations that would explore the role racial identity plays in our current political, socioeconomic, and culture contexts.”
Rev. Bush, now a United Methodist pastor in Gillette, WY, came to CST for its United Methodist ties and its commitment to diversity and interfaith work. She says she always knew she wanted to be involved in justice and diversity work, and throughout her time at CST she had many opportunities to do so. However, she says, “When I left CST, I was suddenly faced with a very different culture and climate in which to pursue justice work. But because of the foundation I had been given at CST, I had acquired the skills and developed the relationships to continue doing this work, even in a very different place.”
Rev. Wilson, a Unitarian Universalist minister, chaplain, and doctoral candidate, serves as a Restorative Practices Consultant and Facilitator with the Ahimsa Collective. Her doctoral work focuses on the participation of white people in anti-racist organizing and the role of white people in interrupting and transforming white supremacy culture.
Reverends Bush and Wilson recognized a gap in resources available for doing this work in rural contexts, so they developed their own day-long experience that seeks to cultivate curiosity and empathy for the other, while activating white people in rural areas to become more involved in racial justice organizing work.
They have hosted these workshops throughout Wyoming and Montana and have seen great transformation among participants. Rev. Bush says, “Our time together has not only changed the perspectives of individuals, but has also led to community partnerships with people-of-color-led organizations as well as increased involvement in community and social justice organizing throughout the region. Our next steps include facilitating a cohort of clergy leaders around the region who are interested in doing racial justice work within their local congregations/communities. This year-long cohort will equip clergy with skills, resources, training, and ongoing support to do this work.”