By Sara Alvarez and Wil LaVeist of Mennonite Mission Network
LEESBURG, Va. (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Education Agency/Mennonite Church USA)—At the Hope … for the Future III conference, Racial/Ethnic leaders invited white Mennonites to use their power to become persistent agents for increasing Racial/Ethnic diverse leadership if true multiculturalism is to happen within Mennonite institutions.
Thirty-five Racial/Ethnic and 10 white leaders gathered at the conference in Leesburg, Va., Jan. 30-Feb. 2, to develop strategies for institutional change. Everence, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Education Agency and Mennonite Mission Network sponsored the event.
After two years of only inviting people from Racial/Ethnic backgrounds, planners invited white leaders of Mennonite institutions to the conference so that they could work together to make concrete changes.
Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA and one of the organizers of the conferences, said that the first two meetings intentionally included only Racial/Ethnic leaders—Africans, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans—so that they could freely share their experiences with Mennonite institutions.
“[Now], we want to recognize that we’re all a part of Mennonite Church USA,” said Jesús Cruz, associate program director for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. “We don’t want to ignore race, but we’re not just a separate Iglesia Menonita Hispana or African-American Mennonite Association from the Mennonite Church USA.”
Many of the senior Racial/Ethnic leaders, who have been part of inclusion discussions in the Mennonite Church since before the Civil Rights era, expressed how important it was that implementable changes come out of this meeting.
“Our vision for the end of this conference is to have concrete directives of three things we want to work on to build leadership for Racial/Ethnic people,” said de León-Hartshorn.
The directives were to:
- develop leaders of color by intentionally offering Racial/Ethnic people the resources and information they need to navigate the institutional world.
- increase the pool of Racial/Ethnic leaders.
- provide more networking opportunities for leaders.
The group agreed that although the number of leaders from Racial/Ethnic diverse backgrounds is increasing, more needs to be done so that it reflects the growing Racial/Ethnic populations.
U.S. Census reports estimate that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of the total population after 2040. Anabaptist church membership among white North American and European churches is declining, while Asian, African and Latin American churches are growing rapidly. A 2006 Young Center of Elizabethtown (Pa.) College study found that from 2000 to 2005, 25 percent of new Mennonites were non-white compared to just 6 percent from 1995 to 2000.
“It was great to see many of the Mennonite agencies represented at the event,” said de León-Hartshorn. “Last year, the group identified educational institutions as a key place to implement change, so it was nice to see representatives from Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College attend this year.”
Participants at the conference identified that one of the barriers to increasing the number of leaders is that Racial/Ethnic young people aren’t being groomed for leadership.
In order to do this, current leaders of educational institutions need to make the effort to recruit and retain diverse Racial/Ethnic young talent and to help these students navigate the institutional culture.
Many of the participants—from both the dominant and Racial/Ethnic cultures—mentioned that experienced adults had helped them understand the unwritten rules in their organizations. The directive formalized the need for current leaders to do the same.
De León-Hartshorn identified three upcoming events at which leaders can build relationships: the Native Assembly in Winnipeg, Man. (July 28-31), and the Iglesia Menonita Hispana and African-American Mennonite Association conferences in August.
Luke Hartman, vice president for enrollment at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., encouraged white Mennonites to go even beyond being an ally or advocate.
“[White leaders] need to be agents who engage in strategic action,” he said.
Next year’s Hope … for the Future conference is planned for Jan. 22-25 in Fort Myers, Fla. In 2015, the planners hope to also extend invitations to Racial/Ethnic young adults identified as potential leaders.
Sunoko Lin (left), pastor of Maranatha Christian Fellowship, Northridge, Calif., and Marco Güete, Sarasota, Fla., conference minister for Southeast Mennonite Conference, converse during the Hope … for the Future III conference. (Photo by Carol Roth)