Woman Stands Shining, Dine Navajo elder wisdom keeper, at the 2019 Festival on Faiths. -Photo by John Nation
Woman Stands Shining, Dine Navajo elder wisdom keeper, at the 2019 Festival on Faiths. -Photo by John Nation

Systemic racism in America and the hostile public discourse on social justice issues fuel the trauma of oppression experienced by many in our community. To foster understanding and action against racial injustice, the University of Louisville will participate in the 2021 Festival of Faiths, “Sacred Change: Essential Conversations on Faith and Race.” The event, presented by the Center for Interfaith Relations, is Nov. 18-20 at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.

UofL professor Michael Brandon McCormack and the UofL Black Diamond Choir are among the local, national and international faith, thought and community leaders who will participate in the event. Festival programs will celebrate the unique beauty, power and strength of the Black faith experiences while facing the profoundly brutal outcomes of genocide, slavery and “profit at any cost.”

McCormack, professor in the departments of Pan-African Studies and Comparative Humanities and director of the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, will present “The Ghosts and Growing Edges of Black Faith: Intersectional and Interreligious Conversations.” His presentation, Nov. 19 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., will focus on emergent religious experiences and spirituality as tools for liberation and inspiration to address the oppression of Black people and the justification of systemic racism, patriarchy, sexism and homophobia.

Co-presenters include Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of “Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals” and cofounder of the Mobile Homecoming Trust; Sunni Patterson, an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and an initiated priestess and minister; and Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund and co-chair of the Ferguson Commission.

“I am particularly excited about this panel discussion,” said McCormack. “It will invite us to expand our thinking about the interplay between faith and race by thinking about those who are often marginalized within, or by, our faith traditions. This might be those whose social location, in terms of age, gender or sexuality, has rendered their voices silent within Black church traditions. It might also be those who find their faith and/or religious identification outside of that tradition altogether. Many of those marginalized voices have important wisdom to share about how their particular experiences of faith and race might offer spiritual resources for those involved in ongoing struggles for freedom.”

Later that evening, from 7 to 9 p.m., the University of Louisville Black Diamond Choir will be among the presenters for “Artistic Expressions of Racial Healing and Repair.” The choir, along with the Keen Dance Theatre, the Louisville Jazz Initiative, spoken word artist Hannah Drake and poet Sunni Patterson, will offer an evening of music, dance and spoken word that celebrates hope and activism in the face of oppression.

“It is essential that the Black Diamond Choir and UofL are present for Festival of Faiths, because our students are still living through the daily struggle of racial repair,” said Brandyn Bailey, assistant director of the UofL Cultural Center and advisor for the Black Male Initiative. “From the perspective of gospel music, [the choir] will offer the lineage of our genre since the era of slavery. Our message is a double-edge sword for participants and onlookers alike, that invites hope, redemption and victory.”

Now in its 25th year, the Festival of Faiths is an annual event that celebrates religious diversity, promotes unity and strengthens the role of faith in society. According to Sarah Reed, managing director of the Center for Interfaith Relations, the community is long overdue for “sacred change.”

“National headlines shed light on Louisville’s deep-rooted, institutionalized/systemic disparities of human experience predicated by the color of our skin,” said Reed. “Our city may not be unique in this, but as we became an epicenter at this intersection of turmoil, the painful truth was unavoidably clear — as was our responsibility to seek transformative change.”

Details and tickets for the 2021 Festival of Faiths are available online here. Discounts for student tickets are available.