Christena Cleveland Discusses the “Women of Color” Retreat and How Laypeople Can Support Women of Color at Conferences and In Churches

Carolyn Scott
Carolyn Scott
What everyone needs to know about supporting women of color at conferences and in churches.

If you’re a woman of color who works in or serves with an evangelical organization, you’re probably used to being the only one who shares your gender and background. The overwhelming majority of evangelical organizations, colleges, and churches are run and often staffed by white men (and to a lesser extent white women). Conference speaker lists and book award lists can look similarly homogenous. Dealing with the patronizing or ignorant remarks of well-meaning coworkers and people who “don’t see color” may leave you exhausted.

Enter the Women of Color retreat: Organized for the first time last year by Duke Divinity School professor Christena Cleveland and McAfee School of Theology professor Chanequa Walker-Barnes, the 24-hour program is designed to encourage and support women of color of faith. This year’s conference will be held this weekend in Los Angeles at the conclusion of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference. (More info here.)

“So much of the work that we do, the battles that we face, and the quandaries that we find ourselves in, we’re doing it isolated, because we’re each called to different organizations,” Cleveland recently told CT.

Last year’s retreat was a welcome break from that reality.

“It was powerful to walk into the room and know that I was at home. It wasn’t just, Oh I read an article that really encouraged me. It was, This person is sitting right next to me. We are holding hands and talking about life together.

Cleveland, the author of Disunity in Christ, recently discussed with Lee her vision for the retreat, whether its model can be used at other Christian conferences, and how church leaders and laypeople can support women of color.

Where did the idea for this conference come from?

When I read Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes’ Too Heavy a Yoke two years ago, it changed my life because it was the first time anyone had theologically and sociologically laid out why black women are always so tired, why black women are always beat down by society, and how we ourselves participate by saying yes to everything. Although I didn’t know her at the time, I reached out to Dr. Chanequa and said, “Hey, we’ve got to start talking. We’ve got to put on a retreat. We’ve got to do something.”

Why does this conference exist?

This particular retreat is meeting a need. These are spaces where we as women of color can come together and share our realities and our causes. Last year, there were lots of young women and I thought, Man, I wish I had had that in my early 20s. I thought I was all alone in the world trying to make a difference around race and justice. It was beautiful to see the different generations and the different ethnicities.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Interview by Morgan Lee