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The Racial Justice Advocacy Forum - Launch Review

This isn't so much a "star rating" or a "marks out of ten" review... But I really wanted to share what I took away from this reception and launch event for the RJAF that had been brewing for over a year or so.

The Racial Justice Advocacy Forum saw its official launch in February at Bloomsbury Baptist Church in Central London. After my first trip on the new Elizabeth Line (still more recognisable to many as "Crossrail") we disembarked at Tottenham Court Road and upon entering the church building, were greeted with the delicious smells of Caribbean cooking... So far, so good!

But now to the real action of the evening.

The event was a very special "Official Launch" of what has already been a series of conversations, events and actions undertaken by various members of the forum:

(this list is extremely condensed and not exhaustive)

  • Our past Youth Worker here at Streatham Baptist Church (Neil Charlton) has been involved with members of the RJAF responding to the killing of Chris Kaba. [1]

  • Members of the forum have been engaging with the Government at different levels on it's responses to various aspects of institutional racism.

  • The RJAF has written official responses to some of the 2020/21/22 Government reports on racism and institutional racism. [2]

  • We heard from ex-metropolitan police officer Bevan Powell on institutional racism within the police force and how his Christian colleagues have been speaking truth to power within the criminal justice system. [3]

  • We heard a useful reminder from Rhaea Russell-Cartwright on some of the discussions and resources that the RJAF has collaborated on, especially exploring reparations (both financial and other forms) [3]

It was both heartening and challenging to be attending the event with some people whom I greatly respect. Some of these individuals are highly active in their own ways, challenging injustices and working for change.

Chatting to Neil Charlton afterwards, he had this to say about the event:

"It was good to be a small part of the RJAF in its early stages and great to be there yesterday, seeing how far it has come. I'm happy to see that it is starting to become a robust voice within the churches of the UK and Ireland, less reactive (around short-term crises) but more proactive. Part of that proactive work is equipping churches across the UK to be voices as well, but moving in practical ways in their own local communities too."

It was also great to see church member Adrian Lock there who is the founder of the "White Allies Network" that I am also involved in. Adrian has done a lot of work over the last couple of years to raise the profile of issues of racial justice, amongst both the local church, and his colleagues and networks.

Neil also said:

"Although I will be moving on from my role at SBC this year, I know that I will still be working alongside the RJAF and many of their partners. I hope that SBC will be able to take advantage of the resources that the forum is producing and also to be a proactive participant, not just a consumer... There are conversations that are ongoing and I know that many members of Streatham Baptist Church will be keen to raise their voices as individuals but also collectively. What's encouraging to see is that these conversations are already starting to bear fruit in action, not just words, so I pray that this would continue and not grow cold."

However, the highlight of the evening for me:- both the most memorable and the most affecting, was a performance on the grand piano by Alexander Douglas.

His piece was a modern, discordant, jazz reworking of a classic and was both beautiful and jarring at once. When a chord progression should have reached a resolution, it often erred and then crashed into a dissonant, hanging thread that left you wondering if the pianist had just strayed from the sheet music into another song in a different key.

With barely an introduction, the effect of this clashing, yet sometimes tranquil piece, left you wondering quite what this experience was to do with racial justice. Another attendee, James Barrick commented to me afterwards: "It almost left me feeling tired!" and I knew what he meant. I believe it was intentional. After finishing to stunned silence and then applause, Alexandre stood up to explain a little...

This remarkable performance was in fact, partly a protest. A protest that conveys what it feels like to work towards justice. A portrait of the difficulty and discomfort that is often felt when speaking out against injustice. Moments of beauty and progress, but very often a dissonance that returns and jars, once again.

It was a reminder that on this journey towards justice, we will always face discomfort, and we must be willing and prepared to face that. Perhaps we won't always resent it and we might even get used to it.

But whatever our feelings, we must take conscious decisions to embrace an uncomfortable journey if we really are determined to see change.


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