By Toya Richards and Michelle Melton
Correction: Alumna Lauren Randall Sanders is no longer with Housing Action Illinois and now serves with Lutheran Volunteer Corps (www.LutheranVolunteerCorps.org).
Recognizing that as women of color their own journeys have been shaped by the actions of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women at the Well organization at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary is sponsoring a celebration service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“We wouldn’t be who we are if it wasn’t for Dr. King and the movement,” said Tina Patterson, a second-year Master of Divinity degree student at LPTS and a member of Women at the Well. “That’s part of who we are.”
Scheduled for Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Frank H. and Fannie W. Caldwell Chapel on campus, the event will bring together those from the Seminary and the larger community in order to celebrate King, whose birthday is recognized nationally this month.
The Rev. Dr. Eric A. Johnson, pastor of Louisville’s Greater Galilee Baptist Church, is the featured preacher, and the event’s theme is “Let Freedom Reign.”
Johnson, has served as pastor of Louisville’s Greater Galilee Baptist Church since 1995 and holds several leadership positions within the National Baptist Convention and local city organizations. He is the First Vice Moderator of the Central District Baptist Association, President of the City-Wide Revival, and an instructor for the National Baptist Convention of America. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of North Texas and his PhD in theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville. He also has worked with Georgetown College on a partnership benefitting inner city students.
The goal of the special event is “to continue the celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” and also to remember that the struggle was for all people, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity, Patterson said.
King was a black man, but he was “for all people,” she said. And even today we must remember that many people from various walks are still fighting for their civil rights, Patterson added.
The Seminary’s King celebration is expected to include a range of participants, including those from Hispanic, Korean, and African origins.
“The unity that Dr. King promoted … crossed all racial bounds, gender bounds,” said Aline Foster, a second-year Master of Arts (Religion) degree student at Louisville Seminary and a member of Women at the Well, who is helping to organize the event.
She said, in today’s context, showing unity and chipping away collaboratively at injustice, “a little bit at a time,” can inspire others to think differently about change in the world.
Both Patterson and Foster said that kind of message is part of the mission of Women at the Well, which was the brainchild of two women students at Louisville Seminary, Rev. Lauren Randall Sanders (MDiv ’05) and Rev. Angela Cowser (MDiv ’06). As students, the two submitted a proposal for support to initiate a multicultural program that would benefit women of color who are studying at the Seminary.
In 2003, the Office of Evangelism and Racial/Cultural Diversity of the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) awarded Louisville Seminary a grant in the amount of $1,000.
Randall, who now serves with Housing Action Illinois in Chicago, thought the group would be a one-time experience for the duration of the grant. However, as other women students have taken on leadership of the organization, Women at the Well has continued, year after year, sponsoring events like the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and an annual retreat and conference for women in ministry or in theological training. This year, the retreat organizers are anticipating 200 women to participate, from Louisville Seminary, Louisville community leadership, and even those from outside Kentucky, March 12-13.
At its inception, Cowser hoped that Women at the Well would recognize, celebrate, strengthen, and preserve a woman of color’s identity that is as “deeply rooted in one’s heritage as it is in one’s gender.”
“Women of color experience a dual-citizenship in America: Living as a minority in a majority culture and society is sometimes joyful, sometimes painful,” said Coswer, who is completing doctoral work in homiletics at Vanderbilt Divinity School. “This program is one way to further the work of educating, in an interesting way, the broader LPTS community about the minority experience as it affects how one sees the world and the larger society. It’s more than being sympathetic to the issues of minority and diversity; it’s about knowing and understanding the experience of the 'other',” she explained in 2003.
It is a network of support and sisterhood, Patterson said. The organization helps “to minster to women in ministry,” many of whom are thirsty and need spiritual, professional, and vocational, refreshment, echoed Foster, who also is an associate minister at Greater Galilee Baptist Church.
Women at the Well is open to individuals who share a commitment to provide an open, safe space that “promotes the strength of women (everywhere) and to assist other women of varied diversities economically, spiritually, and in overall total well being.”
Among this year’s 157 Masters-level students, 101 are women; 24 are women of color, representing African American, Hispanic, and international backgrounds.
For more information about the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, please contact Aline Foster. To learn more about Women at the Well’s annual retreat and conference, March 12-13, at Gardencourt, Louisville Seminary, contact Angela Smith-Peeples.