response: September/October 2019 issue

Creative Support in a Time of Need

United Methodist Women member Annette Wright finds help and healing from United Methodist Women after a tragic loss.

Creative Support in a Time of Need
United Methodist Women member Annette Wright participates in a Moral Mondays March in Raleigh, North Carolina, in February 2019.

Annette Wright suffered the loss of six first and second cousins as well as a lifelong friend in the June 17, 2015, Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting. It was a personal tragedy at a level that few people experience. Wright, who was raised in Charleston but moved to North Carolina, maintained very close ties with her South Carolina family.

After 40 years of United Methodist Women membership, Wright, North Carolina Conference United Methodist Women social action coordinator, never imagined that she would receive the magnanimous fellowship that was offered her. At every level, United Methodist Women came together to express its solidarity with her.

United Methodist Women’s support started shortly after the shooting. She returned to Charleston for the funerals. Officers of the United Methodist Women South Carolina Conference visited her to offer condolences and statements of support. When she returned home, North Carolina Conference officers came to her to ask what they could do to help.

“I have boxes full of condolence cards that United Methodist Women members sent me,” Wright explained. “I look at them when I need to be reminded that I am not going through this alone.”

She has served as a leader in United Methodist Women from the local to jurisdiction level. Members from across the country sent cards and other statements of support. United Methodist Women national staff members called her and sent cards. The Corridor District president and leadership team visited her and sent Gift to Mission cards. Her unit at Mebane United Methodist Church brought food, cards and even offers of monetary assistance to her and her family.

“The support that I received from United Methodist Women, both from individual members and various divisions, was very important in getting me through these very trying times,” Wright said. “The reaction of United Methodist Women members showed me the strength of the United Methodist Women fellowship as I never had imagined.”

This fellowship binds women to act together with mutual respect.

“The United Methodist Women fellowship builds on friendship among women with similar values,” explained Khia Shaw, United Methodist Women executive for membership cultivation. “It can take many different forms. The United Methodist Women structure fosters connection between like-minded women.”

Central to this comradery is intentionality, said Shaw. Activities such as Mission u, leadership training and spiritual growth events provide focus that brings together women who bond as a result of their United Methodist Women identity.

Standing together against gun violence

In July 2015 a white supremacist entered the historic black Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and shot and killed nine people and injured one other. Wright was closely connected to seven of them.

This was not an isolated incident. It was one of many cases in the rising problem of murders committed by white supremacist extremists. Supremacists have been linked to at least 50 murders in 2018, a 35 percent increase over 2017.

The hatred and its manifestations are contagious. A 28-year-old white man has been charged with shooting and killing 49 people in terrorist attacks on two mosques a few miles apart in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, wrote that he was inspired by the Charleston murderer.

That this loss resulted from a young man espousing racial hate fueled Wright’s activities to demand better conditions for African Americans. And United Methodist Women gives her the passion to continue the struggle. Wright had participated in social justice activities and demonstrations virtually her entire adult life. But this incident fueled the flames for her.

“It gives you the framework and structure so that you don’t stand alone,” said Wright. “This made me want to act stronger to show that hate won’t win. It made me go further and harder with my activism. Because I knew that United Methodist Women will be behind me.”

In addition to United Methodist Women’s historic and ongoing work for racial justice, The United Methodist Church’s strong stance against gun violence can be read in Resolution 3428, “Our Call to End Gun Violence,” in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2016, in which congregations are encouraged to, among other actions, make preventing gun violence part of their conversations and prayers, to attend vigils, to prohibit guns from church property, to support universal background checks and arms treaties and bans on high capacity ammunition and automatic weapons, to assist people affected by gun violence and to join with other denominations and faiths that have experienced gun violence.

Bigger than gun regulation

The problem is much bigger than regulating gun use. The root of white supremacist violence is racism.

Much of the current activism is directed toward gun regulation, but it must also be paired with antiracism work. As United Methodist Women General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer Harriett Jane Olson wrote after the Charleston tragedy, “Violence against people of color is committed regularly and persistently. And the violence will continue unless we create systemic changes in our culture and societal norms.”

Racism is not limited to individual actions or interpersonal biases. It is systemic, permeating churches, governments, workplaces and other social institutions causing disparities in the distribution of education, health care, social services and wealth. These inequities show the racism, and they also feed it. Easy access to firearms only helps those with violent racist tendencies act on them.

Systemic racism, according to Olson in the September 2015 issue of response, “does not mean that individual participants in the system necessarily have personal feelings of racial hatred or bias or even that they do not do their best to be evenhanded within the established frameworks. Coming to terms with systemic racism means understanding that the system itself is designed in a way that generates disparate results just by following the rules. Acknowledging that these inequities are the result of systemic racism must catalyze us to take action.”

Wright’s struggle against gun violence is addressed not only in actions that target gun violence. Wright has participated in Moral Monday protests and the Moral March. United Methodist Women partnered with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival for the 2019 Moral March.

“The marches have been very effective,” said Wright. “They have the people marching and they give the people a platform.”

By bringing attention to the problems, the marches contribute to tangible gains. For example, between 2014 and 2018, North Carolina’s pay for teachers rose by over 14 percent.

“The marches have been very effective,” said Wright. “They have the people marching and they give the people a platform.”

“When I march, I do it for social justice,” Wright said. “Gun violence is part of it, but it is not the whole thing. And I march with the security that United Methodist Women stands with me.”

Richard Lord is a photojournalist based in Ivy, Virginia, and New York City and a frequent contributor to response.

Posted or updated: 9/4/2019 12:00:00 AM

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