What can a group of pastors and lay people from Grand Rapids, Mich., teach the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee about fighting racism? This is what organizers of CRWRC’s first Antiracism Tour hoped to discover.
The 10-day tour to Senegal, West Africa, was hosted by CRWRC staffer Mary Crickmore. “I was excited to host this trip,” she said. “I wanted to learn how CRWRC can change its policies to be more antiracist in its community development work.”
The participants were people involved in multicultural ministries who were looking for ideas to implement in their own communities.
The trip began with an overview of Senegalese history, culture, and customs. This provided a backdrop to what the group would experience in the coming days.
“On one of our first days, we visited Goree Island,” said Rev. Reggie Smith of Roosevelt Park CRC. “It is estimated that 4 million people were taken to this island and exported as slaves to North and Central America. It was very emotional and difficult to see.”
They also learned how colonialism in Senegal turned communities against one another and left them feeling that they needed help from the West to create change.
Later, the tour members saw how communities were overcoming these obstacles, thanks in part to programs run by CRWRC and its Senegalese partners.
“We saw a clinic where families affected by HIV/AIDS are receiving support from their community,” says Smith. “We also went to a small village where CRWRC is equipping local health nurses to provide immunizations and basic health care.”
The programs encourage people to work with their whole community, regardless of tribal or religious differences.
“As a result of this tour, we’ve developed a new plan for our work in West Africa,” said Crickmore. “We’ll be encouraging youth-to-youth exchanges between African American and Nigerian youth.
“We’ll be focusing on racism problems within West Africa and encouraging peace and reconciliation between ethnic groups.
“We also plan to produce training videos to help North American volunteers appreciate and adapt to West African culture while they serve with CRWRC.”
Sharon R. Smith is a member of Roosevelt Park CRC and was a participant in the antiracism tour.