MLK Day: A Call to Action



Martin Luther King Jr. weekend -- Jan. 16-18, 2016 -- is a time to celebrate Dr. King’s life and remember how his work in the Civil Rights Movement prepared the foundation for dismantling racism.

Lanecia Rouse Tinsley
Around Western Pennsylvania, United Methodists celebrate through participation in community events or doing volunteer service. On Sunday, Jan. 17, the Pittsburgh and Greensburg Districts have scheduled a 4 p.m. celebration of Dr. King's life and ministry at Monroeville UM Church. A bus will depart from Greensburg for the service at 3 p.m. Get details.

The keynote speaker will be Lanecia Rouse Tinsley. Lanecia grew up in South Carolina, where her days with a pastor father and artist mother shaped her understanding of how the power of embodied love and art can heal, create social change, and transform lives. After graduating from Wofford College with a B.A. in Sociology and Duke Divinity School with a M.Div., Lanecia served local churches in South Carolina, England, and Tennessee before joining Bread of Life, a nonprofit serving people living on the streets launched by the Rev. Rudy and Juanita Rasmus of St. John's UMC in Houston, TX in 2011. There she spent time encouraging, and creating with her neighbors through The Art Project, Houston.  She recently married Cleve Tinsley. 

In Ellwood City, several United Methodist pastors and Beaver Falls Police Chief Mick Jones will participate in an MLK celebration service at 3:30 p.m. that is sponsored by the Ellwood City Ministerium. See details.

The annual NAACP Freedom March and program in Indiana, PA, begins at 10:30 a.m., Jan. 18, at the County Courthouse moves to Grace UMC for a commemorative program and lunch. 
In United Methodist churches, Sunday, Jan. 17 is also Human Relations Sunday, a day that calls all our churches to participate in helping all God’s children to realize their potential. Many congregations receive special offerings to fund ministries that nurture at-risk youth, strengthen communities’ self-improvement efforts and advocate for the oppressed. 

In the week leading up to the two celebrations, the UMC Commission on Religion and Race invited congregations and individuals to consider the inter-connectedness of people around the world in the work of justice and equity. They gathered voices from across the worldwide United Methodist connection to reflect on the words and life of Dr. King in their current context. The theme for the week, All My Relations, derived from the Lakota tradition, emphasizes shared respect, honor, and love for all of people and for the Earth, leaving no one out. Read their reflections at

The Western PA Conference Anti-Racism Team works to help individuals and congregations understand and act to dismantle racist attitudes and systems. The team offers Implicit Bias Workshops and other resources and training. One of the challenges of their work is a response that is common among whites in Western Pennsylvania: I don’t encounter people of color, so there is nothing I can do.

Dr. King gave his life to the cause of civil rights from the mid-1950s to 1968, when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the goal of desegregating society. Dr. King’s speeches and writings decry racism. While progress is being made, there is still a disconnect between Dr. King’s call for racial justice and actions across this country, including in Western Pennsylvania churches and communities. Implicit bias -- unconscious racism -- is a reality that perpetuates that disconnect.

In an effort to better understand the depths of racism that generally aren't seen by whites, the WPAUMC staff and leaders read Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk About Race And How to Do It, and then had workshops with the author, Dr. Shelly Tochluk.  Later some interested staff members decided to continue the effort, reading other books on racism and exploring their perceptions during lunch-hour discussions. Some of their impressions are being shared through weekly blog posts beginning with Martin Luther King weekend and running through February, which is Black History Month. Read them at

Tochluk  became dedicated to confronting issues of race through her experience as a white member of UCLA’s All-American Track and Field 4x400
meter relay team and her inner city teaching experiences. Her book touches on the effectiveness of AWARE groups for whites in Los Angeles. 

Kane District Superintendent Pat Lenox said reading Tochluk’s book became a catalyst for him to change and grow by looking at life through an anti-racist

“I had never read an extended dissertation about what White Culture is. It is so easy to think that because I have grown up always doing things certain ways that those ways are normative for everyone. Dr. Tochluk’s book peeled back layers, revealing more of what White Culture is and that it is not necessarily the norm. It is simply White Culture, not necessarily right or the best way to be or do,” Lenox said.

Other cultures should be valued and appreciated; those of the dominant culture must be exceedingly careful not to misuse their position to hold back or hurt those from other cultures, he added. Many times there is no intention to harm, but often that is the result.

“Being a white male, I see more than ever the great amount of privilege and opportunities that come to me simply because of my gender, skin color and
height,” Lenox said.

Our world is becoming more diverse and to be the church of all God’s people, we must dismantle racism. An achievable goal is to educate ourselves and find ways to have meaningful conversations about race and implicit bias. Then we can move beyond feelings of recrimination, self-doubt, fear and pain.

Here are some ways to take action. 
  • Invite the Conference Anti-Racism Team for a workshop. Email Bob Wilson at
  •  Start a conversation about how issues related to race are portrayed in the media.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Many people of color are painfully aware of racist micro-aggressions. For example, if you see an elderly African American ignored while white patrons are served first in a restaurant, speak up.
  • Go to an ethnic neighborhood and support the businesses there.
  • Post your support of dismantling racism in social media.
For more information and ideas, visit wpaumc/diversity.