The business of constructing justice

Guest Contributor

The following is a guest post to the ICJS Huffington Post blog by Kendra Dunbar, Executive Director at the Intersection. It was originally published on The Huffington Post on Sept. 27, 2017. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome this diversity of perspective.

The Intersection provides students with two to three years of leadership formation, academic counseling, advocacy and community organizing training, emotional and social support, and ongoing college and career advising.


I sat and watched white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, VA. As I watched, I was not saddened, I was not angry, and I was definitely not surprised by what I saw. I was still. I was numb. I was quiet. I was thoughtful and reflective. I planned. I continue to plan what comes next for me. I know that I will receive requests for resources, trainings, advice, or analysis. I know I will need to go back to work as focused and energized as possible because though the violence of racism is of no surprise to me, the reminder of the cost of racism will renew a sense of insecurity, hostility, confusion, and remorse that will need to be met with understanding, grace, and strategic engagement.

As I watched the vitriol, the abuse, the sticks, the torches, the anger, and the hate, I saw death… death of love, death of silence, death of apathy, death of denial, as well as loss of life. I am quiet. In the midst of all of the death and all of the violence, I am quiet; and I am thankful that I still have life. I know the Cost of Discipleship as laid out by Bonhoeffer, and I know that with life, I am bound to work, sacrifice, love, and to honor the traditions of the freedom fighters and the liberation seekers who have come before me.

The Funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.

His headstone said
FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST
But death is a slave’s freedom
We seek the freedom of free men
And the construction of a world
Where Martin Luther King could have lived
And preached non-violence.
-Nikki Giovanni, The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni

I know that for some, these deaths are fleeting. Many will go on with their day-to-day, too busy to confront ideologies, beliefs, practices, or policies that sustain oppression and foster hatred. After complaining to friends, posting on social media, reading blogs, or watching their favorite news show, some will resume life as usual and as fast as possible in their own form of denial and disengagement. For some, fear or anger will begin to take up space where love once lived causing silences to resume. For others hope of something new, something different will fuel a return to love or renew a commitment to work for justice, equity, and peace.

“We seek freedom… and the construction of a world where Martin Luther King could have lived and preached non-violence.” …Where Martin Luther King could have lived… I sit and watch the news and know, as I have long known, that we have not yet constructed a world where Martin Luther King Jr. could have lived and preached non-violence. I am not even sure that we have constructed a world where I can live and do my work faithfully. I am an educator, organizer, connector, administrator, boss, at times a mediator, and always an activist. I have never understood my career as attached to a particular job or title, rather I understand my career as a reflection of my life’s purpose.

As a pastor’s kid and former seminary student, much of my life has been spent discerning my purpose and developing a path that will allow me to remain steadfast and true to who, what, and how I am called to be engaged in this world. As Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Justice makes me come alive. Seeking justice and equity for those who are committed to moving their lives and identities from the margins to the center makes me come alive. “For what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)

This walk is often lonely and can be a frustrating walk. It can also be a walk that reveals the most brilliant shades of purple one has seen. My mother taught me, at a young age, to always look for the color purple. I have learned that the hope and promise of the color purple accompanies me in the midst of horrifying violence and unrelenting forms of oppression. It relieves me from my pain and reminds me of my humanity, dignity, and worth. It is my job to pass on that wisdom, that hope, that love for another day so that the students with whom I work and walk alongside can see, feel, and experience the vibrancy of purple even amidst their most difficult, confusing, or painful times.

I think of the young people I work with in Baltimore who seek liberation from the confines of systemic oppression, trauma, and erasure so they are able to envision a future that is marked with opportunity and choice, a future of their design. I think of these students as I watch the news and know my work is not yet done. I have long known I am in the business of construction. I am but one co-constructor committed to a world, a community, and a reality that sees beyond the vice grip of racism, sexism, gender bias, Islamophobia, etc. and embraces equity and justice.

I create spaces, host dialogues, and facilitate workshops for truth telling, exploration, strategizing, and moving individuals and communities closer toward healing, creativity, and the cultivation of collective power. As hate, fear, desire for comforts, and hunger for dominance continues to kill and render some lives unworthy and insignificant, opening spaces for dialogue, bridging understanding, sustaining hope, and building community seem as important as ever.

“Above all, try always to be able to feel deeply any injustice committed against any person in any part of the world. It is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary.”- Che Guevara

The ICJS Entrepreneurs Lunchtime Series (ELS) brings together local entrepreneurial leaders to discuss the role that religion and ethics can play in building healthy communities. In this initiative, the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about religion and ethics in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome and lift up this diversity of perspectives.

Image attribution: Schatzim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons