A Gateway for the Futureby Luke Gascho
Planning is a gateway for the future. A gateway creates a transition between one space and another, links from one time to another and makes possible interactions among diverse people.
A Pilgrimage of Peace:
A gateway for the future
Meeting ‘Malcolm, Martin and the Mennonites’ in MayBy Jodi H. Beyeler
Standing in front of a classroom of Goshen College students, Malinda Berry moved deftly between defining theological words, such as “atonement” and “theodicy,” to showing video clips of Martin Luther King Jr. at a Civil Rights march to soliciting opinions regarding interracial dating.
Berry ’96 – a doctoral student at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York City – returned to her alma mater to teach a special course, “Malcolm, Martin and the Mennonites,” during Goshen’s three-week May term when students concentrate on one class. As she wove together religious, historical and sociological issues, Berry said, “I am bringing forth issues I care about in a community I care about.”
Berry highlighted the differing responses of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to racism and oppression based on contrasting life experiences that led to King’s acceptance as a venerated American icon transcending race and the ownership of Malcolm X as a hero mostly among black Americans. After examining the two men’s lives, Berry expanded the course conversation to include the broader issues of racial identity and racism, and how they connected with theological themes, such as violence, suffering, abuse and forgiveness.
Anabaptist peace theology and Mennonite responses to racism were also discussed. “Both King and Malcolm X agreed that the way the world is isn’t the way the world should be. And that we are called to help make the world what it ought to be, which many Mennonites have come to agree with as well,” she said. “I see this class as a form of witnessing.”
Providing students with exposure to these complex issues and increasing their understanding of them were at the top of Berry’s goals for the class. “For many of the students, this is the first time that they had seen or heard Malcolm X, when I showed them video of him,” she said. She also showed footage of King beyond his “I have a dream” speech, a riveting sermon that represents only a fraction of his public messages.
Jessica Buller (So., Goshen) said, “I grew up knowing a lot about MLK, but I didn’t know much about Malcolm X. Through this class I have learned a lot about who he was and what he represented. I have come to respect him and his objectives, even if I don’t agree with him on everything.”
Berry, a graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, first taught the course three years ago when she was asked to develop a course for Goshen College’s Bible and religion department. In teaching the course a second time, Berry’s topic drew twice as many students, and a third of the students were persons of color. “As a student here, I had never been in a class with that many other persons of color,” she said, adding, “It is important for white students to reflect on what it means to be white too. This isn’t just a class for black people.”
As a past Goshen College student, a Mennonite and a person of color, the issues discussed in her class weren’t merely theoretical. She has used her knowledge of her students and her training to fully engage each class. “I am being trained as a theologian and I am able to open up theological questions and issues in a different way because of it,” she said. “And I tell them stories, which triggers their own stories.”