“Building Bridges: From the Past to the Future,” sponsored by Zion Baptist Church and St. James Episcopal Church, will feature speeches from Deborah Flemister Mullen and Erskine Clarke, both professors at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur. The Feb. 23 event is a follow-up to the first symposium the churches hosted in 2011, which included an appearance by Michele Norris of National Public Radio.
“She left us with the challenge to continue the conversation,” said Josetta Walker of east Cobb, a member of the historically black Zion church and of the committee made up of members of the two churches that are planning the symposium. “This is a continuation of that conversation.”
Board members are hoping 300 people will attend the event. St. James member Susan K. Smith of Powder Springs, chairwoman of the planning committee, said she looks forward to hearing from Clarke, who is the author of “Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic,” which discusses life on a Savannah area plantation for both the white slave masters and their slaves.
“I think the goals for the symposium are fellowship and unity and understanding, and being able to understand the other part of history,” she said.
The symposium is also in response to the directive of the national Episcopal Church, which is asking members to investigate the church’s responsibility in slavery.
Walker said she decided to serve on the committee when the church’s pastor, the Rev. Harris T. Travis, asked for volunteers.
“I for one, thought that it would be very, very interesting and very productive to be involved with this,” Walker said.
Zion member Cherise Bopape said the symposium is valuable because of the changing face of America.
“Especially in the metropolitan area that we live in,” she said. “This is tantamount to sensitivity training you would get in the workplace. It helps you use language that builds us up.”
While Clarke will discuss race relations of the past, committee members say Mullen is expected to help show attendees how to work well together in the future.
“She has lots of writing to her credit,” Walker said. “A lot of it has to do with race relations in the church.”
After the speakers finish, each table will break into a discussion of its own, led by someone who is trained by a professionally trained group leader, which St. James member Nancy Payne of Marietta said will hopefully lead to good discussions.
The event runs from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Feb. 23 at Zion Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, 165 Lemon Street. Admission is free, but attendees are asked to register in advance at http://thetalkaroundtables.eventbrite.com.