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ELCA Racial Justice

Redemption Song; Episode 2 of the series, Talks at the Desk

As we continue to celebrate Black history month we invite you to watch episode 2 of the series, Talks at the Desk, season 2:

In this episode we travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands and visit several of the oldest Lutheran churches in the Western hemisphere. This episode explores the history and impact of colonialism both past and present. We meet wise and courageous people of faith who remind us about sacred struggles of the past and the presence of God and ancestors today in the work that remains to be done.

African Descent Ministries of the ELCA celebrates Black History Month Talks at the Desk, a four-part video series that will explore diverse expressions of the church.

A new video will premiere each Wednesday in February at 7:30 pm Central time. Watch them live on YouTube or download them here.



We invite you to join us in celebrating Black History Month

The African Descent Ministries of the ELCA is celebrating Black History Month with season two of Talks at the Desk, a video series that explores diverse expressions of the church. A new video will premiere each Wednesday in February at 7:30 pm Central time. Watch them live on YouTube or  Click here to watch now.

Join us to hear youth, young adults, rostered leaders, elders and friends of our communities share their own sacred stories.

For more updates, follow @ELCAADM on Twitter and Instagram or check out

Prayers for the Fulfillment of King’s Dream by Rev. Dr. Andrea L. Walker

I was 4 years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I was too young to understand the import of his words while he lived. Yet I remember the importance of those words, his struggles and his assassination to the Black community as I grew up in Chester, Penn. The community felt he was one of theirs. Not only was he a marvelous young African American preacher and civil rights leader, but he was also educated at Crozer Theological Seminary, just up the road in Upland, Penn.


In the late 60s and the 70s a framed picture of the civil rights leader hung in almost every Black home — at least in every one that I entered. His picture hung in a prominent place in Granny Bettie’s kitchen. There was a picture in Granny’s best friend’s home, in my Aunt Lucille’s home and in all the homes of my family members. King’s words and legacy were celebrated in our community long before his birthday was designated a national holiday.


Many in the community took to heart the words he preached, the speeches he made. I especially remember hearing the words “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” on my grandmother’s television. I sat on a stool in a corner of the kitchen as Granny and her friends sipped instant coffee and talked about the possibilities. What would it look like for Blacks to be seen as brilliant and beautiful and capable — as equal to whites? My granny wanted King’s words to be true for me and my siblings.


Granny Bettie was born in the 1920s, when Calvin Coolidge was president. She grew up in the South at a time when grown men were referred to as “boy” and grown women could only be “gal.”  Her mother, whom I called Grandma Essie, was the daughter of a slave. My granny picked cotton when she was a young girl and had only a sixth-grade education.  When she moved north, she did domestic work. Often referred to as “gal” well into her 50’s,  she did not know what it was like to be judged by the content of her character.


When Barack Obama was declared the Democratic nominee for president, many believed that Martin Luther King’s words had come true. I was so hopeful and yet afraid to believe. Some 45 years after MLK’s speech, on the night of the 2008 election, I sat alone watching the results. When Obama was declared president-elect, with tears in my eyes I thought, “I wish Granny were here to see this.”


The community was so hopeful; I was so hopeful. Many would say that as pastor of a white congregation I am evidence of the dream becoming real. Yet at the dawn of 2023 Martin Luther King Jr.’s words have yet to be realized. After all these years mothers of Black children still worry about how their children are perceived. I worry as my 16-year-old grandson gets his driver’s license, as he travels with his track team, as he walks in this world; will the prayers of his pastor grandmom be enough to keep him safe? My grandson stands six feet tall and has an athletic frame, and though he has a baby face and the cutest dimples, I do not know if he will be judged by the content of his character or be thought of as a threat because of his beautiful brown skin.


My prayer for all children in 2023 is that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream will soon be their reality.



Rev. Dr. Andrea L. Walker is pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Washington, DC. Before her current call Pastor Walker traveled extensively as ELCA Global Mission Area Director for Madagascar West and Central Africa. She was touched by the lives and stories of the women she met, who reminded her of the community of women in her life- her grandmother and aunts. Ordained for twenty-two years in the ELCA she has a heart for justice and wants to always lift the stories of women.



Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day by Vance Blackfox

It is my prayer that each of you had a wonderful Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and that as you looked around you saw more and more non-Indigenous people observing this holiday in ways that lifted up the gifts and beauty of the Indigenous people in what is presently known as the United States.


For those of you who are not counting, it has been just over a year since the position titled Director of Indigenous Ministry and Tribal Relations for the ELCA was created.  And while it is positioned in the Service and Justice home area, it is no longer considered an ethnic specific ministry and is now aligned with the international ministries of Service and Justice.  This move was requested by the leaders of American Indian and Alaska Native communities many years ago, and finally in this last re-organization of the ELCA the change was made.


This change helps the ELCA better understand its relationship with tribal sovereign nations, Native organizations throughout the United States, and Indigenous people globally.  This while continuing to journey with the 24 Indigenous ministries in the ELCA.


In 2016 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly memorialized the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery claiming this action for implementation across all expressions of the church. While some congregations and several synods worked hard to learn about and live out what it means to be a church repudiated, there was very little initiated by churchwide or comprehensively.  In 2021, at the insistence of Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo and Rev. Jessica Crist, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton appointed the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force, and the work on living as church repudiated officially began.


The efforts include:


  1. Sub-task force groups: Churchwide Assembly, Settler Narrative, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People.  Sub-task force groups will change and develop responsively as the work continues.
  2. In September of 2021, the ELCA Church Council adopted the Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People and announced it on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  It can be read at
  3. The ritual and practice of Land Acknowledgement is being developed and initiated by many congregations and synods across the ELCA.  We are encouraging all synods, congregations, and churchwide leaders to begin practicing this important ritual at the beginning of every church meeting or gathering.
  4. The Director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations is working with churchwide and synod staffs to care for Native congregations and ministries and innovate new ways to ensure appropriate support and right relationships with Indigenous siblings who are citizens of sovereign tribal nations.
  5. The Director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations is collaborating with the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation to learn how best to support the growing epidemic of homeless, houseless, and displacement on the reservation.  To address this tragic growth and build new relationships, ELCA World Hunger has committed $2M to address the needs of the tribe and its people.  An initial portion of the funds will be used to design a homeless shelter that will be constructed with 3-D technology and complete within a year.


This is only a brief list of all the work happening over the past year.  Further, I hope that each of you are ready for the work ahead, as the work does not just belong to me, Bishop Eaton, the Task Force, or churchwide staff, this work belongs to each of us who confess our love for Christ and who confess as members of the ELCA our commitment to justice.  Here is our chance once again to lead in building better, right, and just relationships with Indigenous peoples.

BIO: Vance Blackfox is an Indigenous Theologian and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the founder and director of Other+Wise, a multi-site cultural education and cultural immersion program for youth and student groups from across the country. He serves the churchwide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as the Director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations.


The Beauty and Tragedy of the Mestizaje Mindset by Kristina Diaz

Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month! As we celebrate, I can’t help reflecting on what is being celebrated: independence, legacy and identity. As far as my own identity, I  grew up, like many Puerto Ricans, hearing the poems and songs that claim we all have a Black grandma hidden away somewhere. There was this shared idea among the people in my life that, no matter how hard we try to hide it, somewhere in our DNA we are all Black.


However, I wouldn’t attribute this to my other hispanic-identifying compatriots. We may share a similar history of colonial conquest, building nations on the backs of slaves, and migration that brings influences from all over the world, but that is where many of the similarities end. Still, in that shared common history exists the beauty and the tragedy of the mestizaje (“mixed race”) mentality.

Unlike in the United States, historically people in Latin America were encouraged to mix. A whole caste system was created to measure your identity based on how you were “mixing.”  Presently people may have forgotten the chart, but you’ll often hear them identify in a number of ways referring to its different levels before they will call themselves Black.


As a Latina woman, I have learned to embrace that I am Black, Indigenous and Puerto Rican. No matter how many times people look at me as if I’m crazy, being Latin@ means we are more than one thing. We are not exempt from the prejudices that come with these identities either; we just live with them differently. They show up in many ways: in sayings within the culture, in what is held as beautiful, in what counts as acceptable and in representation, to name a few. A good example of what I mean is telenovelas. I have never seen a telenovela in which the main characters are Black unless it’s a period piece. My husband will argue, “What about Celia?” I loved the biographical novela about the life of Cuban singer Celia Cruz, but I also know it exists only because she was famous. There are no novelas about modern-day Afro-Latine people living their best lives.


Not until we fill out the U.S. census form are we forced to look at these nuances. Some resist while others argue. My friend Janice shared her frustration over a plate of mofongo the other day: “I don’t know what to put down. I’m not black or white; I’m brown.” I looked at her and said, “You’re Indigenous in the same way that I am Indigenous and Black.” I’ll never forget the shock and awe on her face.


In a similar conversation my husband’s uncle said, “I’m not white, I’m Puerto Rican. The census just wants to divide us and bring over racist drama from the U.S.” I looked at him, confused. He is white. We may share the same national pride, but once we leave the island, accents aside, people will see him as white and me as ambiguously brown.


I know that the U.S. struggle with race is not our story, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have one of our own. So during this month of heritage and celebration, I invite you to explore with your loved ones the “both/ands” of your own identity.



Kristina Diaz has enjoyed a long career as a portrait photographer that has expanded to brand consulting as well as video and podcast editing/production in the past four years. She calls Dorado, Puerto Rico, home and is currently working on her first novel and a collection of short stories. In addition to writing, she is a fifth-generation oral tradition storyteller. Kristina is a third-generation cradle Lutheran from the Caribbean synod in Region 9. She currently serves on the board of the Asociaciacion de Ministerios Latinos of the ELCA as Communications Coordinator.


Independence in Inches: A July 4th Reflection by Nathaniel Viets-Van Lear

 Independence in Inches: A July 4th Reflection by Nathaniel Viets-Van lear

For the last four years, I’ve made the same walk on Fourth of July weekend. Each walk feeling as hot as any other before it. Shoes sticking to cracked Chicago concrete. Dots of melty black asphalt. Signs of streets deserving a little tender love, as my grandma called it.


These long walks on Douglas Boulevard in North Lawndale always have something to teach me about the past. In this all-Black neighborhood, it’s a street named after a white Illinois senator, slave owner and avid advocate for slavery. One of many dark legacies in a very American city.


For the last four summers, every July Fourth weekend I walked these streets. Because I am a youth worker. And the July Fourth weekend marks the final dress rehearsal for our youth-led community walks program. A youth job program of the organization My Block My Hood My City. A program that trains young people from the west side in how to tell the stories and history of their community. They lead myself and hundreds of guests through these same steps of North Lawndale civil rights history.


Each July Fourth weekend, walking past these iconic sites of old becomes a form of timeless therapy. A reminder of time shifting while the endemic remains all too similar.


A century-old funeral home. Formerly Jewish. Currently Black-owned. Agelessly busy during the summertime.


The corner store pharmacy. Providing affordable medicine for a class in need.


A former Jewish synagogue and then Baptist church. A building that became the center of Martin Luther King Jr.’s organizing during his time in Chicago. Stone Stars of David intermixed with stained-glass crosses. An eternal center of religion and activism.


It was here that MLK organized a movement against the relegation of blacks to slums and ghettos in the city. With gentrification and segregation as prevalent now as ever before, it’s a movement to which Chicagoans of today can certainly relate.


Independence Day comes and goes. But so much remains the same.


Yet each year I still cherish my time in this space especially. This annual walk through the aged stone temple building brings visceral images to the imagination. You can almost taste 60 years ago. MLK speaking to a packed crowd of Black folks. Sweating in that Chicago heat. Folks taking significant time and significant risk to be in radical community with one another. Many of them as young as the high schoolers I work with today.


I cherish that time in that space, because it’s in that nostalgia that you feel the weight of the movement.


On July 4, 1777, our American ancestors were still struggling as slaves.

On July 4, 1877, our ancestors were new freedmen struggling to survive.

And almost 100 years after that MLK was leading our struggle for civil rights.


That struggle is in the bones of Black folk. It is in our ancestral DNA.


And where will we be on Independence Day 2065? With God’s grace, I hope to live to see it. I hope to see it and smile, as my ancestors are today watching over me as I walk these same streets. Mere footsteps on the long path to justice. Inches closer on the road to freedom.


It’s the inches that I contemplate. And it’s for the inches I celebrate. Not with a burst like fireworks and loud sparks. More like a quiet flame. That same flame I see in the eyes of our young folk. Those passionate for justice. The ones who lead the way.




Nathaniel identifies as a multiracial activist, youth social worker, facilitator and teaching artist. Born and raised in Chicago, Nathaniel currently serves as director of youth development for the organization My Block My Hood My City. He has served in various leadership roles within the ELCA, including the Lutheran Youth Organization, the Multicultural Advisory Committee, the MYLE planning committee, and GLOCAL. He served as a multicultural consultant for the ELCA  and crafted an anti-bias curriculum for the 2015 youth gathering. Nathaniel believes radical change can happen in communities with the right tools and investment.