Showing Up for Racial Justice opens new chapter in Athens

John Schmieding of the Athens Community Relations Commission addresses the members of the Athens Stand Up for Racial Justice branch during their first meeting on Tuesday at The Christ Lutheran Church. (Photo by Blake Nissen)

Athens residents are sparking conversations to combat racism as part of a new chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice.

The group held its first meeting from 7-9 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 69 Mill St. on Tuesday. The core group, made up of 12 individuals, met over the past few months to discuss how to introduce SURJ to the community, the Rev. Evan Young of United Campus Ministry, said.

The national group was created after the election of President Barack Obama and the racial backlash that followed, Amoriya, one of the core group members, said.

“It’s the idea that as white people, we are responsible for organizing to dismantle racism,” Sarah Garlington, an assistant professor of social and public health at Ohio University, said. “It’s open to anyone. The mission is for us to be organizing in our own communities and have conversations … and that those conversations facilitate change.”

Amoriya, who only uses her last name as identification, was first introduced to SURJ at a white privilege conference. One of the workshops she attended was run by SURJ.

“I realized I found the group I was looking for and I wanted to commit myself to,” she said. “I’m really glad this is happening in my hometown.”

A big catalyst for growth within SURJ was the political climate following the election of President Donald Trump in November, Young said. At the time of the election, there were 150 chapters. Since then, more chapters have opened with the total number of groups reaching 220.

“The level and character of political discourse during that process was something we found troubling, especially (since) people who espoused racist and political attitudes felt empowered,” Young said.

Out of the approximately 50 people at the meeting, a majority of attendees were white.

“We’re doing this work because our very survival depends on it,” Cat Cutcher, the assistant director for Global Studies Program at OU, said. “White people are responsible for racism. … Our own humanity depends on us dismantling racism.”

SURJ is working with movements like Black Lives Matter and groups spearheaded by people of color, Amoriya said.

“We want to work with our brothers and sisters of other races,” Cutcher said.

The group will have monthly general attendance meetings, and Young said he is expecting more people to attend as the chapter grows.

“SURJ functions as a network of local chapters that are paying attention to the needs and the issues and the gifts and the possibilities of where they are,” Young said. “We have a lot of potential to do a lot of good.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

Originally published for The Post on Feb. 28, 2017.

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