Truth-telling with Love

By: Dr. Maria Reyna

The second year of the Black Religious Studies Group Visiting Professor partnership was my first year as a faculty member at the seminary. From the first notes of the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan’s melodic self-introduction, I knew my decision to accept the job offer was going to be transformative for me, both personally and professionally. In the seminary community and beyond, the Rev. Dr. Kirk-Duggan spoke assertively, gave her perspective unapologetically, and shared her love generously. At that time, my experience of women of color in positions of authority had been limited, and the Rev. Dr. Kirk-Duggan’s ability to hold her own space was revolutionary for me. In reflecting on the mentorship I experienced from her that first year, I have realized that one of the many gifts of the BRSG partnership was the modeling and wisdom each visiting professor provided the faculty of color. With each visiting professor, I experienced this representation as a gift and a challenge. I began to ask myself, “How can I become whole unto myself, without apology or shame, with truth-telling and love?”

In their synthesis of the literature on anti-racist pedagogy, Kishimoto (2018) described the imperative task for faculty to reflect on their social positioning in relationship to race and power within the current and historical United States, and analyze the impact of these relationships on their teaching, research, and activities in the institution and community. As a trained counselor, clinical supervisor, and counselor educator, self-reflection is an on-going process that is crucial to fostering effective relationships with clients, supervisees, and students (ACA, 2014; CACREP, 2024). At the same time, the unique work environment that was made possible by the presence and wisdom of each BRSG visiting professor gave me an invitation and a model to deepen my own self-examination with regard to race, power, privilege, and oppression.  

“To admit that the faculty are ‘also in the process of learning’ and to acknowledge their oppressed identity as well as their complicity in the oppression of others is a political act. It is important to note that it is riskier for faculty of color, especially women of color, compared to white faculty to acknowledge this because of their already vulnerable positions (Berry and Mizelle 2006; Gutiérrez y Muhs et al. 2012; Kishimoto and Mwangi 2009; Li and Beckett 2006; Mabokela and Green 2001; Stanley 2006; TuSmith and Reddy 2002; Vargas 2002)” (Kishimoto, 2018, p. 544).

I am an able-bodied, queer, Latina, cisgender woman from a mixed-ethnic heritage. I can appear as White-passing and, at times, I can pass as heterosexual. I am a documented U.S. citizen and have experienced economic stability for the majority of my life. I grew up connected to the dominant religious framework and, while I no longer belong to the religious communities of my youth, I am a person of deep faith. As I wrestled with the parts of my life where I experience privilege and oppression, the answer to my question began to emerge: in order to be whole unto myself and engage the world with truth-telling and love, I must be courageous in recovering the oppressed pieces of myself that have been buried in shadow, silence, and hate while also persistently and humbly using the privileged pieces of myself to center humans who experience oppression. The power of the BRSG partnership is that I was not alone in my wrestling – this has been a call to the entire seminary community. The most effective anti-racism work is never done in isolation. 

The BRSG partnership occurred at a crucial time in my teaching career: like many early career faculty, I was finding my footing and identity as a counselor educator and the mentorship from the BRSG visiting professors was an immense gift. Further, their presence fostered a collective focus on anti-racism, which encouraged the counseling faculty to embark on the ambitious endeavor of revising our entire curriculum to infuse and embody anti-racism throughout each course, policy, and procedure. The teamwork, collaboration, and encouragement that we, as the counseling faculty, created in our revision meetings is one of the most significant professional gifts I have ever received. From this synergy, we infused anti-racist values in each counseling course, attended to the deep self-reflective, anti-racist identity work with our advisees, and birthed new initiatives – The Racial Healing Initiative, Richmond-Rosenburg Area Bilingual Fellowship, and Counselors for Social Justice –  and much more. Most importantly, we continue to recommit ourselves to be faculty that encourage truth-telling with love amongst ourselves and with our students. The gratitude I feel to be part of such a counseling faculty is immense.  

To carry this work forward, my plan is to continue to utilize my social position to advocate, collaborate, and create. From being the faculty advisor for Counselors for Social Justice, to serving on national and state-wide counseling and counselor education committees focused on diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism, I am grateful for continued opportunities to be a part of advocacy at the seminary and beyond. Personally, I am learning from curanderas, growing in my knowledge of plant medicine, celebrating my queerness, and using the sacredness of ritual to continue my own healing journey. The best part: I am not doing it alone. I give sacred gratitude to the Divine herself for the work of the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, Rev. Yolanda Norton, the Rev. Dr. Brandon Crowley, and the Rev. Dr. Stephen Ray. I give sacred gratitude for the faculty of color who continue the vulnerable and courageous work of self-reflection, advocacy, and collaboration. I give sacred gratitude for the courageous work of the entire seminary community – may we continue to be brave in our mission of cultivating beloved community.

How can you become whole unto yourself, without shame, with truth-telling and love? Consider reflecting on your social position using the ADDRESSING model (Hays, 1996; 2008) in relationship to race and power and analyzing the impact of these relationships on your personal and professional spheres of influence: 

  • Age & generational influences
  • Developmental abilities
  • Disabilities acquired later in life
  • Religion & spiritual orientation
  • Ethnic and racial identity
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Indigenous heritage
  • National origin
  • Gender

Where are the people near you doing the work of anti-racism? Join them. 

This fall, Sowing Holy Questions reflects on the personal and professional impacts of the Black Religious Scholars Group Visiting Professor partnership of the past five years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *