Conference hires Associate for Racial Justice Ministries
Note: The following is a letter from Associate Conference Minister The Rev. Kelly Gallagher. Conference Minister and President Jim Antal is on Sabbatical, but did take part in the search process.
Dear Siblings in Christ,
It is with great joy that we introduce you to Toyan Harper, Jr., our new Associate for Racial Justice Ministries for the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ. Toyan, or TJ, is a December, 2015 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and economic policy.
TJ brings a passion for organizing and dialogue with him to this position where he will seek to provide leadership and training in the area of racial justice ministries; coordinate and guide the work of MACUCC staff, clergy and lay leaders in this area; support and expand networks of racial justice leaders within the Conference; and increase collaboration between the Conference and other organizations working to end racism. TJ will be working with our clergy, churches and communities to engage the conversation of racial justice, seek ways that the Conference can support churches in this work, and provoke all of us toward the goal of eradicating racism.
The goal of the Racial Justice Ministry of the Massachusetts Conference is to engage every setting of the Conference in the work of unmasking, dismantling and eradicating racism in its personal, inter-personal, institutional and cultural forms, to make God’s love and justice real. A conversation began last year among the staff seeking to discern the best ways to address this most pressing issue. Funds were gathered from the Barnes Fund for Mission and Justice Ministries, and income from a new endowment recently given by the First United Parish of Everett.
A national search was launched in June and July seeking candidates for this position through the UCC Opportunities Listing, Idealist.org, and a network of clergy and activists. We received more than 20 candidates from around the country, conducted nine phone interviews and four face-to-face conversations. We were blessed with extraordinary applicants, making the decision incredibly challenging.
TJ Harper distinguished himself in his application essays as he articulated his ability to work within a team, described his work on the Mayor’s Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet in Cincinnati, and offered a strong faith perspective of racial justice. He is informed by James Cone and scripture as he writes: “Faith and racial justice intersect by us transforming our trust in the Lord and God’s word into daily meaningful action in our fight to eradicate racism.” After meeting with TJ it was clear that he possesses a deep passion and optimism for unity and understanding, a commitment to hard work, and an ability to smile and laugh easily. The Conference is truly blessed to have TJ Harper, Jr. with us.
I invite you to find a way to welcome TJ as our new Associate for Racial Justice Ministries and offer him your partnership as we continue this journey together.
The Rev Kelly Gallagher
Associate Conference Minister
Please read more from and about T.J. in the article below:
About TJ Harper
The Massachusetts Conference's new Associate for Racial Justice Ministries, Toyan Harper, Jr. - TJ - recently moved to Chelsea with his girlfriend, who is studying for her doctorate. Previously, the two operated a racial justice summer program for teenagers, the Social Justice Sewing Academy, in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to that, he served as an intern with the StriveTogether Foundation, a network dedicated to improving educational outcomes for children, and as an intern with the City Clerk's office in Chicago. He was also a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow for a seven-week intensive program at Princeton University
TJ grew up attending the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, and took a number of theology classes at Xavier, including Black Theology which he said had a major impact on him.
TJ said he has an intense interest in advocating and working for racial justice, and said: "I worked with the government and with nonprofits, and those are some ways to make change happen. But I am interested now in coming at it from a religious perspective."
He sees church as being about relationships, and added "developing good relationships is how stuff gets done."
TJ started work earlier this week with a 100-day plan that includes surveying churches on their viewpoints on racism - such questions as how willing their congregations are to discuss the issue, and how long they think it will take to eradicate racism. He plans to begin by increasing awareness around racism, and then offering some simple tools people can use to work on the issue. His intention is to touch base with every church in the Conference.
The Racial Justice Ministries position has funding for two years using the remaining money from the Barnes Fund for Mission and Justice Ministries, an expendable legacy from Arthur and Sidney Barnes, along with some income from a new endowment recently given by the First United Parish of Everett. The hope is to raise further funds to continue the position for at least a third year.
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