Perspectives: Black Theologian Day 2021 Addresses Food Insecurity as Fundamental Alienation

By Rick Wolcott*

“Perspectives: Black Theologian Day gives us an opportunity to receive some learning and perspective and have conversation about matters that are sometimes unique to the Black experience or on matters and societal issues that impact Black communities and communities of color in disproportionate numbers,” Bishop Tracy S. Malone told those gathered October 23 at the Harmont Ave. NE location of Crossroads UMC (Tuscarawas District) in Canton. “Today our theme is around food insecurity. We know people of every race, ethnicity, and demographic experience food insecurity. But we also will learn that Black households experience food insecurity two times the rate of white households.”

Black Theolgian Day is an annual learning opportunity for pastors, congregations, and faith communities to hear from a Black theological perspective. This year’s guest theologian was the Rev. Kyle Brooks, Ph.D., assistant professor of Homiletics, Worship, and Black Church and African Diasporic Studies at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. His keynote presentation was titled “Food Insecurity as Fundamental Alienation.” He also participated in a panel discussion with Rev. Nick Bates, director of Hunger Network in Ohio, and the Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, director of the Ohio Council of Churches. East Ohio Conference Director of Multicultural Vitality Will Fenton-Jones moderated the discussion.

“Perspective, we know, matters and we all bring perspectives, but we want to have informed perspectives because our perspectives help to shape the conversations that we have. Our perspectives help for us to think about how we experience and understand people and communities,” Malone said. “Perspective informs our judgments and decisions that we make. Perspective even informs and helps us sense the urgency of the need to advocate on issues that impact peoples’ lives.”

Fenton-Jones shared that this year’s Black Theologian Day was hosted at the Crossroads UMC Harmont location because of the Canton for all People Fresh Market food ministry that is feeding the community five days a week out of the building that was formerly James S. Thomas UMC.

“Ministry here has continued. The vision for ministry to this community when James S. Thomas UMC was first planted in the ‘90s has continued and will continue to do so,” said Fenton-Jones.

“Thanks to partnerships and connections of The United Methodist Church In this space every day we are feeding 50-60 households five days a week,” shared Pastor Michael Farmer, associate pastor of Crossroads UMC. “Between the downtown Crossroads church and here last month we fed over 2,275 households with fresh groceries which equates to about 7,200 individuals – that is more than 10% of the population of the city of Canton. God provides!”

Brooks stated during his presentation that the goal of the day’s conversation was not to solve the problem of food insecurity.

“The goal truly is to reckon with what we do to reckon with who we are, reckon with our own imaginations,” he said. “Ultimately justice-making is the heart and the soul of what we do. I can frame this in a lot of ways, but it ultimately comes back, I think, to these fundamental admonitions in Micah 6: ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’”

Bishop Malone encouraged participants to listen, learn, and consider next steps they could take individually and collectively.

“The purpose of today is to learn together to gain greater perspective and understanding about food insecurity so that we will be equipped when we leave here today together to discern together how we might as an East Ohio Conference and how we might in our respective communities disrupt and dismantle systems that perpetuate these kinds of inequities,” she said.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.