Four buses filled with members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection walked from the parking lot at St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City into the sanctuary with a purpose of opening their hearts and minds.
St. James members were intent on doing the same.
Church of the Resurrection members, led by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, are mostly white. St. James is a predominantly African-American church led by the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III.
The two churches hosted a public forum Tuesday evening for what was described as an open conversation on race. Both races were equally represented within the overflow crowd of nearly 200 hundred people.
The idea was conceived by Hamilton and Cleaver in response to the national conversation on race relations between the African-American community and members of law enforcement.
Halfway through the discussion on the racial divide in the city, the pastors looked on from the church’s pulpit, and the sight was nearly identical to what the two had envisioned.
People of different races were talking to one another about their upbringing.
“It changes you when you are talking to another human being and listening to their stories,” Hamilton said.
Cleaver, the son of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, said the forum was an effective way of helping improve race relations.
“It seems like people are really getting into it,” he said.
The gathering was much needed, said Aaron Bahney of Olathe.
“Hopefully this is a chance to really slow down and be calm and listen to what other people have to say instead of people formulating automatic opinions,” Bahney said.
The forum began with a brief overview of the racial history of Kansas City by Erik Stafford. Stafford owns and operates Kansas City Tours, a company that produces traveling and walking tours throughout some of the city’s historic neighborhoods and landmarks.
Stafford said race relations in the area have been strained since the 19th century. In 1847, the Missouri legislature passed a law prohibiting the education of blacks, free or enslaved, Stafford said.
Kansas City was incorporated as a city in 1853.
“Racism starts here in Kansas City at the early part of (its) history,” Stafford said. “Hopefully, we can have a deeper understanding of (the city’s history) because of the discussion we’ve had here today.”
Kent Berry is an African-American man born and raised in Mississippi but currently commuting back and forth between homes in Louisiana and Kansas City. He welcomed the discussion.
“It’s an interesting concept,” Berry said. “We need to try to do something to bring the people together. Conversation is a place to start.”
Another participant, Kevin Drake, also of Olathe, was invited by a friend who is a member of the Church of the Resurrection. The event was a starting point for Drake to hear about the history of the city from a different perspective.
“It’s always interesting to hear both sides of every story,” he said.