Faith, fellowship and forgiveness: The newest chapter in Newberry’s winding journey for truth and reconciliation. From the Newberry Six lynchings in 1916 to the first year of desegregation in the town, Newberry has a lot to reconcile.
The community began with the “truth” portion of this process with a town hall on Sept. 20 to discuss the Newberry Six atrocity. That night the community opened up about an unspeakable past— taking the first step. Now they’re tackling “reconciliation,” attempting to make amends for racism and injustice.
The city commission partnered with Christ Life Fellowship church just before Thanksgiving to host a dinner and sermon in Lois Forte Park. Pastor Gary Bracewell spoke at the event about acceptance, healing and forgiveness. Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe asked other congregations to do the same. After the services, pastors invited their parishioners to join together for Thanksgiving dinner.
“The churches in my community really do have the pulse of my community, so it was a great way and a great place to start,” Marlowe said. “It’s the message of community and unity and love that is important, and my churches are on the forefront of spreading that message.”
Bracewell spoke about the importance of self-love.
“We cannot love other people if we do not love ourselves. We cannot forgive other people if we do not forgive ourselves,” he said in his sermon. “If everybody is in a better place themselves, then they most certainly will make a better community.”
President Chittur V. Radhakrishnan of Devi Temple of Florida preached a similar message at the event.
“The bottom line is everyone’s the same. We all pray in a different way. That’s all,” Radhakrishnan’s wife, Jaya, said.
Bracewell and his congregation have been hosting the Thanksgiving dinner at Lois Forte park for about six years. When the city wanted to host a dinner on the grounds, Marlowe worked with Bracewell to merge the events.
In addition to the various church congregations, Alachua County commissioners Charles Chestnut and Marihelen Wheeler came to support Newberry’s initiative as part of a countywide truth and reconciliation effort.
“We’re in the beginning stages of it. We will be going to other communities to talk about the truth and reconciliation process,” Chestnut said.
After reaching out to all of the communities in Alachua County, the commission hopes to schedule an event to bring them together. The county commission will meet again in January to discuss next steps.
Newberry plans to host more events in hopes of making amends for its past.
“I don’t know that we’ll be able to always stick to to this, but I think it’s a nice schedule to do one event that’s kind of hard, where we face some tough issues in our past, and then another sort of social event where we just come together,” Marlowe said.
Newberry’s next social event is scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Newberry’s MLK Community Center. Additionally, Marlowe hopes to host one more event before it to talk about the first year of desegregation in Newberry.
Marlowe invited the town’s pastors and county commissioners to come, in hopes of seeing the same level of community participation.
“Anyone who wants to be a part of the process is welcome to participate,” he said.
There is no book on how to reconcile a long history of prejudice and racism, but Newberry is trying in the only way it knows how — through faith and community.
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