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Lesson from the cotton fields

Guest blogger Felipe Martinez is Associate Executive Presbyter, Whitewater Valley Presbytery, and moderator of the 2013 Spirit & Place judges panel.

On November 1, the Spirit and Place Festival will kick off its 2013 theme Risk with a gutsy event, $20K: A Competition about Race. Creators of four finalist projects will present their vision to an audience and a panel of judges, hoping to receive the $20,000 award to implement their innovative ideas inviting a fresh conversation about race in Indianapolis. The winner of this competition will help Indianapolis and central Indiana residents look back on our own histories, and challenge us to a shared commitment to reshape our communities in positive ways.

At some point in an honest, open dialogue about race in the United States, family stories surface. The stories might date back decades, or refer to events last week; the stories might be of facing and overcoming oppression, or of the perks and pitfalls of being a part of a racial majority. And then there are the stories which document the moments when we learn or unlearn how race contributes to the shaping of community.

Prof. Luis R. Martinez and students, circa 1945.

Prof. Luis R. Martinez and students, circa 1945.

When I reflect on my earliest notions of race, I think about my dad, who was a public school teacher in Mexico for over 60 years. Dad always had a second job to help supplement his meager salary. One summer in the 1940s, he even traveled to southern Texas to work as a field hand picking cotton. There, for the first time, he labored side by side with African American workers. He spoke to me with compassion of their physical strength to do the work and their spiritual depth to survive in a blatantly racist society. Though his contact with them ended when he returned to Mexico, the impact of those relationships endured. Dad taught me to pray for those who suffer from injustice and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

If we risk together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder to remember and re-imagine, to dream and dare, our actions will have a lasting impact in our richly diverse community.

Filed under: Guest Bloggers, Indiana, Local, Public Programs

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