Race & the City: ReCity Network Hosts Forum with Sho Baraka, Durham Community Leaders

A packed house of nearly 150 attendees from many walks of life joined ReCity Network last Thursday for “Race & the City,” an intense, uplifting evening discussing race relations in Durham and the nation. The event featured a diverse panel of community leaders, including: Perry Tankard, associate pastor of Grace Park Church; Reynolds Chapman, executive director of DurhamCares; Camryn Smith, program coordinator for REAL Durham; and Miriam Valle, director of operations at Partners for Youth Opportunity. Maliek Blade, diversity coordinator for event sponsor Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, led the panel in discussion.

A visual presentation set the stage for the evening’s events, hitting attendees squarely with a variety of statistics illustrating disparate treatment and outcomes among racial communities in Durham and the United States:

  • In Durham, if you are black, you are 4.5x more likely to be searched after a traffic violation than if you are white.
  • White applicants with a felony conviction are more likely to be hired than a black applicant with no criminal history.
  • White families hold 90% of the national wealth. Latinos hold 2.3%. Black families hold 2.6%.

The evening kicked off with local minister and DJ Perry Tankard interviewing influential Christian hip-hop artist and panelist, Sho Baraka. During the interview, Baraka walked the crowd through his own spiritual journey and coming-of-age story as an activist for both the black community and the evangelical church in America. “I never wanted to be a Christian rapper,” said Baraka. “But the Lord gifted me in the area of communication, so I used it to reach people like me with an identity crisis.”

The panel engaged in a deep discussion of the issues of oppression and experiencing what Martin Luther King called the “beloved community.” From a white perspective, panelist Reynolds Chapman pointed out, “It’s easy for white people to not have to deal with issues like politics and race. But we’re the ones doing the oppressing. If we don’t have conversations, oppression will continue.” The sentiment was echoed by panelist Perry Tankard with, “A lot of oppression happens without people even realizing it. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, a lot of the problems can break down.”

Some of the more powerful testimony of the evening came from a pair of women on the panel, Miriam Valle and Camryn Smith. As a Mexican-American who came to the U.S. at age four, Valle remarked on how surprised she was to learn from Sho how similar they are. “I felt invisible so many times,” said Valle. “Sometimes people ask offensive questions due to lack of knowledge.” Fighting back tears, Valle eloquently described the social effort required by state of “otherness” felt by Hispanic-Americans in 2017 by saying, “I’ve learned to talk to people so they can learn who I am, what my culture represents.”

Smith issued an emphatic call, rousing the crowd to action, saying, “Relationships ain’t gonna cut it.” She eloquently summarized the emotion of the evening by reminding the crowd that “We are all created in the image of God. Until we can begin to have shared analysis and transfer of power, nothing will change.”

The ReCity Network thanks our panelists, community members, and our special guest, Sho Baraka, for contributing to a game-changing event in our city. The evening’s discussion served as a powerful reminder of ReCity’s mission to develop trust, learn each other’s stories, and collaborate to rewrite the story of our city.

Be sure to check out WRAL's coverage of our event as well.