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Intersection Of Race And Faith On The Agenda For Local Advocates

The event aims to illuminate ways of talking about how faith leaders can combat racism and hate.

The Women’s Group on Race Relations will convene St. Louis faith leaders to discuss how faith can combat racism on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Congregation Temple Israel in Creve Coeur.

“There is a saying that Sunday is the most segregated day in St. Louis,” said Evelyn Rice-Peebles, an organizer. “It tends to be very little cross-pollination on Sundays and if we profess to be people of faith, how can we be so unkind based on race.”

An all-woman panel of clergy will discuss Rice-Peebles’ open ended question about faith and race within all congregations.

Asking hard questions to the leaders about ways Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Jewish and all religions can incorporate denouncing racism in their teachings and offer solutions is what Rice-Peebles envisioned for the event.

She hopes the takeaway will be finding out “what you can do to combat hate and ignorance, because if 700 people go make a difference in their world and those 700 go make a difference in their world, then you have this sea of kindness moving and taking over.”

Ericka Sandiford, a member of the group, said while visiting various houses of worship in St. Louis and St. Louis County, she noticed race was not always explored.

“I think people in general don't like to discuss race. They are tired of it. And I think it's really important to be able to come together and understand each other, because we have people from different faith communities, different ideas and different beliefs,” said Sandiford, who is African American.

The group was all a dream for Rice-Peebles, who is African American. She imagined starting a women’s organization that dealt with racism because she was disgusted with the amount of discrimination she encountered during her lifetime. And soon that vision grew to about eight years of service in the community and nearly 600 members in the region.

Teaching women about other ethnicities and the challenges they face, helps Rice-Peebles and the group push the envelope when it comes to openly dialoguing about race.

“I think in St. Louis and in so many other places we are reluctant to discuss race. We are reluctant to say to someone who's white that that's what they are,” Rice-Peebles said. “That may be your point of view having grown up as a white family in Webster Groves, but for me having grown up as a black family in north St. Louis that's not my reality.”

With the help of the Women's Group on Race Relations, Rice-Peebles believes that women in St. Louis are rising to the challenge to fight racism and are also living more stable lives now, but she still fears for black men in St. Louis when it comes to racism and inequality.

“Black men are treated like 10th class citizens, and I'm sick of it. I want them to be treated as human beings. They ought to be able to ride in Webster Groves and in Sunset Hills and not be pulled over. No one else is treated the way young black men are treated in St. Louis. It's horrible, and it's unacceptable,” Rice-Peebles said.

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Andrea Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.