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Philadelphia Activist: Progressives Can't Skip Out On White Privilege

'Challenge people on race." This is the plea and directive of Reverend Gregory Holston. Even progressives need to get better at this.

“You can actually have church actually in your own home on a Sunday morning, or a Wednesday, for that matter,” the Reverend Gregory Holston told Daily Kos during a Making Progress interview. Now, that conversation took place last summer at Netroots Nation, a conference for progressives, but his words on how to make faith and faith-based services accessible and welcoming for diverse ages using virtual services and technology certainly hits home with fresh meaning during our ongoing pandemic. As Holston told Daily Kos, the technologies of sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram allow “virtual houses of faith to be able to come forward and create a new kind of community of believers that are empowered for actual social justice and change.”

Curious about the role faith plays in progressive spaces? Rev. Holston, the former executive director of POWER: Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild and recent senior advisor on advocacy and policy for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, shares his insights with Daily Kos in the video interview above, including discussions of mobilizing, organizing, and having important conversations that “challenge people on race.”

Question 1: What are some of the biggest challenges to working across enormous cross sections of humanity? What has worked and what can be replicated in less diverse communities?

It is my belief that to really activate your faith, you have to be involved in this political process. The scripture tells us that we should feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and minister to them that are sick and visit them that are in prison. That if you don't do this to the least of our brothers, you have not also done it to God himself. And so, that's not just service, but that is also being active to make sure that kind of agenda is done for our government and by our government. One of the most powerful scriptures [is] found in Matthew 25, is where Jesus said that we must feed the hungry and clothe the naked and minister to them that are sick and visit them in prison.

And, if we don't do this for the least of our brothers and sisters, we also haven't done it to God himself. And so our government’s, part of our government's role is to be the one who helps minister to the sick and take care of our fellow citizens. And so, it's important for faith people to make sure that that is actually done.

Question 2: Why is it important for faith communities to mobilize in this political landscape? What does the progressive movement miss out on if we discount faith leadership?

That is a powerful statement and actually a question that many congregations are grappling with. I think the advances in technology with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and others who now, you can actually have church actually in your own home on a Sunday morning, or a Wednesday for that matter. Allows for the opportunity for these virtual churches, or virtual houses of faith to be able to come forward and create a new kind of community of believers that are empowered for actual social justice and change.

Question 3: Many folks under the age of 45 consider themselves to be spiritual but do not have a religious affiliation. Where do you see the new organizing communities for these folks? How can older folks meet younger generations where they are?

Well, one of the things that we've been trying to say over and over is to really have honest conversations, particularly about race. To challenge people on race. Many studies have shown that if people who call themselves “progressive” are not talking about racial justice, the vacuum will be filled by others who will use it as a divisive tool. And so, we need to have open, honest conversations about our weaknesses, about our strengths, about our biases, about the things that we learned, and how systematically, that affects us in our various institutions. And, when we do that, we can build across and really build real bridges and that really have a way of having people come together.

Bonus Question: If you could give advice to your teenage self, what would it be?

Be patient. You don't need everything right away. Life is a lot longer than you think it is. And you can mistakes along the way and still recover, and still live a valuable life after you recover from those mistakes. I would say that to myself, and I would say that to young people as well. Life really doesn't begin ‘til at least 40. And so, be patient.

Want to check out more Making Progress videos? Don’t miss out on our talk with Julián Castro about immigration, our chat with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on who inspires her, and why mainstream media needs to reframe the way it talks about racial injustice.

Published with permission from Daily Kos.

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