What a Leading Racial Reconciliation Advocate Learned from Her Critics

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Brenda Salter McNeil says she put too much faith in an approach that downplayed justice in order to seem nonthreatening.

Brenda Salter McNeil remembers the moment when everything changed. An active leader in reconciliation circles, especially within the church, she recalls feelings of uncertainty about her involvement in the Ferguson protest movement nearly six years ago. Certain that a younger generation of activists would take the lead, she traveled to Missouri not as an active participant but as someone who was there to “learn, listen, advise and consult.”

But when the young activists asked whether she and other church leaders were actually going to join in protests later that day, Salter McNeil found she could only utter a single word in response: “Yes.”

Even if her response felt reluctant at best, the celebrated theologian, author, and pastor later felt she “was compelled to take a stand against the persistent forces that continued to deny the humanity of black and brown bodies, as evidenced by the ongoing slaughter of our sons and daughters by the police.” Little did “Dr. Brenda,” as students and parishioners know her, realize how this particular moment would upend the specific type of reconciliation work she had been engaged in for nearly three decades.

In her anticipated new release, Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now, Salter McNeil invites readers not only to learn from her as a teacher and a guide but to gird up the courage to join her in the fight against racism and systemic injustice. In a book that is both necessary and prophetic—composed of equal parts history, biblical commentary, and personal narrative—Salter McNeil offers a distinctly pastoral approach. Her book is an exhortation to storm the gates, an admonition beyond heart and into the …

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