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‘We Stand Together’: John Girton, Unite for Change

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — If you live in the United States, this is your house, and a local community leaders said everyone, regardless of background, must come together to ensure we live in the best America possible.

In this We Stand Together segment, News 8’s Katiera Winfrey sits down with John Girton, a pastor.

Unite for Change is a simple concept. But it takes work to get there. Girton created the Urban Servant Leadership Conference five years ago and Saturday marks year six. That concept has stayed the same. The Un-Conference will focus on topics like public policy, economic empowerment, the healthcare crisis and social justice. And in times like these, now just may be the perfect time to unite.

WINFREY: So you’ve been active in the Indianapolis community in so many different places. What’s it like for you watching the state of the country in the state of the city as it relates to racial injustice?

GIRTON: Well nothing that is going on surprises me. Where we are today is a matter not of legislation, it’s not a matter of public policy, it’s not a matter of the marches and dying and the lynchings that have happened over the years. It’s a matter of the heart. And I think that here in our country, as well as in the state of Indiana what we’ve seen that don’t surprise me in the least bit. I think that one of the challenges of any group of people is not to become anesthetized by words and deeds and things that people do. So that you are surprised when they do something to you that seems out of character. So the defacing of the Black Lives Matter mural on Indiana Avenue did not surprise me. The words that came out of the bishop in Carmel did not surprise me. I think that what we have to do in our city and our state and our country is to make sure that we keep the main thing the main thing. And that is to continue to love on each other and one another, and to continue to give others what we want to be given. Realizing that they’re going to be some people that were literally spit in your face. But at the end of the day, seedtime and harvest works. Whatever you put into the ground is going to come back. And so the hate that is being spewed out invariably has no option but to do anything but come back to those individuals. What they are sewing they also will reap.

WINFREY: And you talk about not being surprised by all of the stuff we’ve seen. We constantly hear George Floyd, George Floyd was the springboard. This is it something that’s new. While this is a sad situation, expound on this not being new. That we’ve seen these situations play out before.

GIRTON: In our community, in minority communities. And let me say in the black and brown community, you have people who understand relationship. We are relational people. And as relational people when folks saw George Floyd they didn’t see a black man. They saw their cousin, in our community they saw their brother, some people saw their father, they saw their cousin, their uncle. They saw somebody that looked like them. They saw somebody that could have been them. We also saw our sons that we were sending to Bloomington. To IU. And we saw our daughters that we are letting out of the house and pray that they come home. And I think that’s what really fuels our anxiety over hope for the future. Because our past keeps reminding us of the hate. This is the reckoning that we have. And when we see something like that happen in our streets we have to deal with the past that we thought we were beyond. And we have to deal with the future that we question because of what we just saw.

WINFREY: Talk about how your background and everything that you’ve seen over the years went into developing the Un-conference?

GIRTON: There definitely was sort of a timeline to have the Urban Servant Leadership Conference came to be. Of course part of that involved the tent campaign in 2015 when we slept on the street in one of the most violent communities in our city. Which was literally right around the corner from the church I pastored at the time. Little did we know that we were living at that time in one of the most violent areas of the city. One of the hotspots. And so in sleeping in the tent and staying out there, what we really did more than anything, and I don’t think people realize this. It wasn’t really about the homicides. It was but it wasn’t. What it really was about was hearing from the people. It was getting an opportunity to understand that people were resilient, they were just people living in the urban community. They had ideas, they had creativity, they had vision, they had dreams, they had goals for themselves that they had set. And I would sit there in a chair, in a lawnchair and watch people drive by. And I would wave at people and they wouldn’t wave back. I would constantly stand there and look at people as they passed and I could notice that they drove through those communities without really thinking about those dreams. When you talk to people in the community, they know exactly what they want for their community. So what we found was we had people in the 25th floor of the city County building, we had people going into Salesforce Tower, we had people going into IU Health who would go into a room much like the one we’re in right now, they would sit around a table and they’d make decisions that would impact those individuals without having talk to them. Without having heard from them. So in other words they stood across the street and said let me tell you what you need. And the people said I never told you I needed that. If you had come and asked me I would have told you what we needed, what we wanted.

WINFREY: Just with the action and the motivation from so many people seeking change, do you think that now is a important time to really get the ball rolling, or will more people say you know what let me step up.

GIRTON: Clearly now is a watershed moment. It’s a reckoning for a lot of people. The challenge I think moving forward if we really want to see progressive change is that those who are in positions, who have the resources, who have the voices who are sitting in the seats which by in large part aren’t people of color, that are not women, they are not people from the LGBTQ community. We need those voices to step up, and these are people who don’t look like me. I think it we’re going to see real Change At some point they are going to have to see George Floyd as their uncle and their cousins and their brother. Someone suggested that in America we must understand that no matter where you came from, if you live in America we all live in the same house. And if the house is on fire all of our lives are in danger. And I believe that America is on fire right now. And it’s going to have to take all of our voices to make a difference. From the White House, to the outhouse, from Wall Street, to Main Street, to backstreet. We’re all going to have to come together that’s what unite for change really is all about.