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June 18, 2024

This Wednesday is Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. I am blessed to attend a church that is growing and full of energy under the leadership of Pastor Kevin Vandiver. The church I attend, The Reformation Lutheran Church, is one block from the U.S. Capitol. With more than 150 years of church history, Kevin Vandiver is Reformation’s first Black Senior Pastor. His sermons serve as a call to action and last Sunday was no exception.

On Sunday, Pastor Kevin shared a West African spiritual proverb, Sankofa, a teaching rooted in the expression, “Go back and fetch it.” The proverb is based on a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward and its head turned backwards. The image of the bird is that the past serves as a guide for planning the future. As Pastor Kevin said, it is the wisdom in learning from the past which ensures a strong future:

“Taking hold of our past and our history in such a way that it becomes nourishment and guidance for journeying into the future.”

Pan African colors Adinkra symbol Sankofa Bird isolated. Adinkra Folk art imitation vector illustration.

June 19, 1865 was the day Union soldiers arrived in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. A closer read of history reveals that slavery was not fully abolished until December 6,1865 when the 13th Amendment outlawed the practice in every state, including the slave states that remained in the Union — Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and New Jersey.

As a white leader, it is urgent and important for me to be an intentional ally, including by elevating the voices of lived experience and challenging each of us to strengthen our commitment to end systemic racism. At Lutheran Services in America, we have several forums where we lead and work together to address the alarming disparities in our communities, including through the Results Innovation Lab, our Mission Leaders Group, the Race Equity cohort, among others. And we will continue to be bolder as we work to spark greater understanding and action through transformational relationships. These relationships help to challenge our assumptions, encourage aligned action and support leaders in an authentic way — leaders like Renada Johnson, Senior Director of Children, Youth and Family Initiatives at Lutheran Services in America, who recently shared with me:

“I fight for people who look like me every day — in and out of work — and I am consistently reminded of the impact in advancing this work as a minority in a dominant culture has on me and others.”

Today I am giving thanks for Pastor Kevin, Renada Johnson and the many other Black and brown leaders in our communities as we work together to move our country forward.

Alesia Frerichs is the President & CEO of Lutheran Services in America.