The Need for Ongoing Interracial Dialogue

Oates Institute invites all to join the conversation on issues related to racial justice through its unique spring symposium. For twenty-five years, the Institute has been setting the standard for spiritual caregiver skills, understanding and strategies for compassionate caring of all people. We invite you join the conversation as we lead up to the series of events both online and in person, April 28 – May 1.

Drs. Wayne E. Oates and Henlee Barnette were colleagues at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and later at the University of Louisville, School of Medicine during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Barnette was known for his social activism marching with Martin Luther King and meeting with Nikita Khrushchev to set up a college exchange program for Russian students. His book Introducing Christian Ethics was a standard in his field.

Oates was a pioneer in the pastoral care / counseling field publishing 56 books in the field. His cross-disciplinary approach combined psychological models with pastoral sensitivity, and biblical teaching. Both men emerged from poor early upbringings to become noted scholars in their respective fields. While each of them wrote from a Christocentric theological perspective, they were open and respectful of all persons of different faiths, races, and sexual orientation. The Oates Institute has continued in this time honored tradition attempting to stand at the cutting edge of social, political, and theological progressive thinking and action.

These two gentleman, scholars and others like them have had a profound impact on this writer’s journey. It is out of this tradition that the Oates Institute continues to provide forums where honest, respective dialogue can take place.

This Director’s back story

In 1965, the federal courts ordered the Jackson Mississippi public schools to be integrated. I was a senior in high school at one of the three previously all white high schools. I’ll never forget the extremely confusion, fear, and anticipation I felt as thirteen courageous African American students crossed the picket lines under the protection of the national guard to become my classmates. Racial slurs, vulgar shouts still ring in my ears as the majority of us white students stood in silence allowing the noise to be the lack of hospitality they received. Here I was a member of what some had called the hospitality state watching and listening but doing nothing to make our new classmates welcome. To that point in my education, I had not the heard black side of the story of racial discrimination. To be clear, I probably had heard the tragic story but had not integrated it because of the accepted prejudice of the day. And even though, I had not heard the words “white-privilege” and since I was from a lower middle class family would have argued against having such, time and experience would prove otherwise.

Fortunately, I moved out of the south in 1970 and was exposed to a more complete history of racial injustices of my history. Things I enjoyed since birth such as the right to vote, freedom of speech and assembly, Further, it became painfully evident that the extent of property rights and access to education, health care, quality housing, traveling, transportation, vacationing and other social goods and services. Moreover, inequities could be seen in the quality of family and neighborhood life, jobs, job satisfaction, and the access to credit. At times, I have been very uncomfortable having intentional conversations with persons of color about the dynamics that led to the circumstances experienced in the 60s.

While I never participated in a black face performance and I did not take an active part in the negative reaction to our new class members, I was complicit by remaining quiet. For that, I have always felt terrible. Through the years, I have tried to remember and live a quote by C.S. Lewis that applies to this history. “You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

It is in this spirit that I invite you to join us for this online interracial dialogue. In order to fully participate and receive the documentary links in time before the April 28 start for the symposium, you need to register NOW at

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