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Kearni Warren. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Winters, Photographer)

Kearni Warren always knew there was more to life than just landing a good job. When natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake occurred, she was at the front of relief efforts. She was the chairperson of Chester Friends of Haiti, a group out of Pennsylvania that delivered over 100 bags of luggage filled with food, clothing, medical and school supplies. She has also worked as a substitute teacher and mentor to young girls in Pennsylvania.

What are your professional responsibilities and why did you choose that career? I am a healthcare equity and environmental justice advocate and organizer. My career path has been unexpected. I have participated as a volunteer and a concerned-community resident, family caregiver and advocate, which has turned into my profession. I have been on assignment, and realized God had a calling on my life. I am the Philadelphia region organizer for Energy Justice Network. I assist communities fighting environmental racism, incineration and the move towards zero waste. My responsibilities are educating, organizing and activating residents to fight against the harmful industries in their communities. I sit on state and county committees, testify at local municipality, county [and] government meetings, as well as federal government agency meetings. I speak at rallies, conferences, universities and host community engagement events. My current role chose me. The dots throughout my life, and my passions, have been connected.

As a Black woman, what do you consider your superpower to be? My superpower as a Black woman is grit. I have faced tremendous obstacles and pain in my life; however, I continue to persevere despite the difficulties that come. I have learned that hardships in life will happen. My grandmother would say, “live long enough and you will see.” But what I also know is, after every Good Friday there is a Resurrection Sunday. Studying and working hard to achieve your goals are important, but the real work and test is how you manage to press forward when the punches of life hit you.

What advice would you give your younger self? I would tell my younger self life does not have to be hard, use the resources in front of your face and not to be a people pleaser. [Not] everyone does not deserve your kind acts. Also, when people show you who they are, believe them the first time.

If you could thank any Black woman for her contributions to history and society, who would it be and why? My mother, the Rev. Bernice Warren because she is the reason I have received this honor. In her profession, she made history as being the first Black woman to be ordained in the Philadelphia Presbytery – where the first Black Presbyterian Church was founded – and being listed among the top 10 Black women to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister. I learned how to never give up, fight for what is right, and how to support and give back to my community by her example. She was my strongest educator, protector and supporter.

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By Bettie J. Durrah

Part Two

Several other global encounters included observer status at the 6th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Zimbabwe in 1998. I joined a seminary group that was led by a Zimbabwean professor who lives in the States. This time, I lived in the home of a Zimbabwean family, and I was able to experience how some Africans live and see the sharp contrast of

where/how the family’s “houseboy” lived. That year, I was also able to experience less emphasis being placed on Christmas and to carry that same spirit over into my

personal life upon returning home. From that time on, I have always wanted to spend Christmas holidays in another part of the world. At one of the bible studies in which I participated; I was able to greet again that leader as she spoke in the Atlanta area. When I missed seeing the best part of Victoria Falls, the guard let me return the next day without paying the admission price a second time because she remembered my conversation with her about “correcting the colonial history” of who “found” Victoria Falls, no matter what the signs said.

After participating in the meeting of the All-Africa Conference of Churches in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1997, my group, (Religious Heritage of the African World -Interdenominational Theological Center) visited the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. These 11th century rocks were crying out to me as an African in the Diaspora. “Take off your shoes, my sister, you are standing on holy ground.” I wrote an essay, “Look to the Rock,” and it was included as one of the three resources that I wrote, as I also assisted in compiling that resource for publication by the Religious Heritage of the African World, Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta in partnership with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Two other international trips going the route of the tourist were full of surprises, though expected. A ship excursion that started in Rome, led to a stop in Cadiz, Spain, a non-descript small port, I heard someone call my name. A woman from upstate New York had joined her spouse and his Elmira College Spanish language students for an excursion—it was one of my Presbyterian acquaintances. On still another occasion, walking around Paris, I called out to a Presbyterian acquaintance from Mississippi whom I had seen the previous week in her home state. These were not “real” surprises for you might meet many persons whom you may know as you travel. That happened at other times, and at other times, I was greeted by persons whom I had met in the States. It was serendipitous that a Rwandan woman whom I had met the previous year in Ethiopia, and now in Zimbabwe, even told me about a fraudulent deal that took place in Ethiopia the previous year by a member of my traveling group. I gave her the money, and when I returned to the states, I related the incident to the leader who reimbursed me. We, Westerners have also been known to cheat especially in certain countries, not understanding the full implications of our deeds. I am not talking about bartering! I must reiterate that all of this was before cell phones! We were one year away from the Ethiopian experience and many countries removed, but the evil that one does will eventually surface!

I will always remember that I was not so hospitable with the Ethiopian family with whom I stayed overnight when I did not drink the coffee that was specifically made for me. Even though I do not drink coffee, and said so from the beginning, I have always felt that I should have taken the coffee anyway! It would not have hurt my digestive system!

There have been many opportunities to meet and share with persons from around the world from an ethics professor in Prague, Czechoslovakia (at the time, this church official predicted that his nation would not dissolve, but it did (to Czech Republic), shortly after we met in 1988 in North Carolina. It was he who led a group to talk to conference officials about some negative comments about racial matters that arose the first night of this global mission conference.

I have artwork from around the world representing some given to me, including a picture hanging in my dining room from a Russian governmental official. I use a Malagasy game that I learned in Africa to break the ice when I interact with many young children. I, also, keep learning about Palestine, etc. I have attended so many workshops and many events with a global theme: “Year with Africa,” ‘Year with Latin America,” ‘Thursdays in Black,” you name it. My written words have been dramatized!

As program staff for a national gathering of Presbyterian Women, I invited a Palestinian clergyman, who never fails to remember me each time I see him as he returns to the United States. Three years later, as national administrative staff for the global affairs committee, I had the responsibility of coordinating international travel and programming for another major event for Churchwide Presbyterian Women. My follow-up letter to the participants, once they returned home, led me to know that my Egyptian sister did not think of herself as “African” based on the way she responded to my letter, paraphrasing Langston Hughes’ poem, “Brothers.” I will leave that geopolitical discussion for another time! The Middle East conflict still divides this nation. I have not been able to travel to the Middle East, but many persons from the area have come to the States. I always support my Palestinian-born clergy friend in all his endeavors in the Atlanta area. My trip was cancelled many years ago, and I just have not been “brave” enough to travel to the Middle East in recent years. I keep reading, attending sessions, and saying that one day, “I will go.”

I cannot begin to tell you how my life has changed because of my many global excursions—both in this country and outside of it. I cannot tell you how many persons I have squired around Atlanta visiting various places, including a stop on Sunset Avenue in SW Atlanta so that a South African clergyman (whom I first met in Cape Town) could talk with one of the sons of M L King. My airport excursions have included picking up someone who only spoke Portuguese and contacting Atlantans for another Brazilian woman who shed some light on “colorism” for me. I also provided hospitality in my home for a young man who was scoping out seminaries to attend. Not once did he mention a single piece of African artwork from his home country in my home, some prominently displayed, as he descended the stairs daily. Yes, it did hurt for a time! He also did not choose an Atlanta school.

I cannot tell you how many demonstrations I have been a part of - especially the ones that related to anti-apartheid, and capital punishment. I also demonstrated in 1988, in front of the US Embassy in Nicaragua. I have invited numerous persons to speak at my local church, including a Central America speaker, who caused a negative stir in my church because her words offended a Reagan-appointed staff.

I cannot tell you how many books/documents I have in my personal library from Kairos Palestine, Belhar Confession (now incorporated into my church’s Book of Confession), and many more. I could not begin to tell you the number of seminars, workshops, etc. that I have attended, many at my expense, but this is what has brought me joy, sometimes cacophonous moments, and at other times pure, unadulterated joy. I have written many “Minute for Missions” in my church for various speakers. I have written many letters, made telephone calls, and supported monetarily many causes, I have written many articles, and chore poems (choral readings), some of which have been published, some in international publications. Presently, I am treasurer for an organization that promotes initiatives and projects among African people and Africans in the diaspora.

I have, thus, had a great immersion experience over half century. I have seen the world change during this time. I have changed. Many people around me have changed! I may still write a book. Most of my choreopoems have been sent to the Presbyterian Historical Society where persons can find them in the future. Some of my writings are in various publications. My chore poem that has received greatest publicity is called “Colors of the Human Family,” It was produced by the Third World Women’s Coordinating Committee for the Gathering of 5,000 Presbyterian women in the Hall of Music at Purdue University in 1982 and in the same Hall in 1983 by another national church group. It has been produced all over the various women’s groups. My traveling group produced it in South Africa at a church in Cape Town in 1984. Churchwide Presbyterian Women produced it again in 2012 in Orlando, Florida, and added the story of the Middle Eastern woman to the story of African American, Asian American, European American, Hispanic American, and Native American Women. That dramatic presentation set me on a trajectory for using my writing skills to create readings which would help to change the mind set of others -- especially Americans with privilege. During the last year, that portions of the same chore poem is getting publicity as part of a striation produced by college students in the Philadelphia area in the garden of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, around the statues of some of the colonial “fathers, one of whom is John Witherspoon. It reads, thusly:

“Color me black, yellow, red, brown…

Color me part of the human family…”

What does all this mean! My global experiences have made me a new person, with new language, new perceptions, and one who has been stretched from end-to-end and who works every day to make this world a better place. “Think globally, and act locally” is my mantra. I am still learning and growing. There is no going back! “We are each other’s destiny,” according to Mary Oliver in one of her poems.

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Presbyterian Mission Agency Social ethicist and scholar to lead Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Center for Repair of Historical Harms | Presbyterian Mission Agency

"LOUISVILLE — A minister, social ethicist and scholar has been chosen to lead a new endeavor by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to repair the damage done by structural racism and white supremacy within the Church and around the globe.

The Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam, the former associate pastor for Social Justice at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Minnesota, will serve as the first director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Center for Repair of Historical Harms".

“I am overjoyed that the opening of the Center for Repair of Historical Harms is the PC(USA)’s announcement to itself, to God and to the world God loves and sustains that we are, in fact, in the business of being moved by God who moves mountains — especially mountains of settled public opinion and habit,” said Ross-Allam, a doctoral candidate in social ethics at Union Theological Seminary. It is “an honor to have the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and take up this sacred work with all of you.”

The Center, which is under development, is the result of an 18-month strategic planning process by the PMA that stretched across the denomination and is part of the 2023-2024 Mission Work Plan approved by the 225th General Assembly last summer.

“The Center exists so that the PC(USA) can have an organized way to go about the business of repairing the harm that the PC(USA) has done to Indigenous peoples and to African Americans and to other groups,” said Ross-Allam, a native of Willis, Texas, who will serve as deployed staff. “One of the things that we hope is that by doing this work of repair that is specific to the relationships within the PC(USA), we will also be witnessing to people throughout the country and around the world that repair is an absolutely necessary thing to do but that it’s also right and that it’s very possible.”

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