Goshen College’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) will recognize the 60th anniversary of the Letter from Birmingham Jail written by Martin Luther King Jr. on Tuesday, April 4, in the Church Chapel.

Our white clergy can know that their voice of preaching justice for the Black community is as important today as it was 60 years ago when Dr. Martin King wrote the letter.

— Lawrence Giden

King’s letter from Birmingham Jail was addressed to white clergy and churches. One excerpt from the letter states, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

With this in mind, the CCE will gather local church leaders to engage in meaningful conversation “so that dialogue about racial justice can continue,” said Lawrence Giden, the specialized community engagement coordinator. 

“And our white clergy can know that their voice of preaching justice for the black community is as important today as it was 60 years ago when Dr. Martin King wrote the letter,” Giden added.

The panel discussion will feature three white clergy members: Reverend Cindy Balc Uhrich, a pastor at Lydick United Methodist Church, Andre Stoner, a community organizer for Faith in Indiana and Pastor Ben Bouwman from Walnut Hill Mennonite Church.

Bouwman expressed his thoughts on the event, specifically his hopes for the future of race relations in Elkhart county. 

“Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail highlights some of the progress we’ve made,” Bouwman said. “[It] also demonstrates how the white community fails to grasp how pervasive systemic racism is.”

He continued, “Ultimately, I hope this event can help the white Christian community in Elkhart take seriously the call to address the harms of the past for the wholeness of us all.” 

Cyneatha Millsaps, executive director of the CCE, finds this event a helpful tool for bringing about change. 

“It provides space for us to talk through the social justice challenges of yesterday and today,” she said. 

From the GC student perspective, recognizing this letter is a vital step for an increasingly diverse campus. 

“The anniversary of this letter is important for GC to recognize,” said Mariela Esparza, a junior English and secondary education double major from Elkhart. “Lawrence and Cyneatha have been working hard at the CCE to facilitate conversations like this.”

Jakyra Green, a junior English and secondary education major from Elkhart, affirmed Giden’s passion for King’s work, adding, “We must have events like this, especially for a campus growing more diverse by the day.”

Green said she encourages everyone to attend this event “to learn about those who are different and question how systemic racism impacts the lives of Black people through King’s work.”

Millsaps expressed a similar sentiment noting that, “It’s a safe place to learn and questions what has changed and where we are still being called to work together to build a better nation and world.” 

“For those of us who claim to want to see change in the world,” she said, “you should be front and center for this discussion.”