This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By Ashley Winters

Local nonprofit St. Louis Reconciliation Network is focused on helping heal strained race relations through harnessing the collective power of its diverse communities of faith.

Ohio native Brandon Wilkes, the network’s executive director, is leading and coaching faith-based communities through discussions about integrating racial unity into churches’ dialogue. 

The network held its inaugural Race to Reconciliation 5K Labor Day Weekend on a course that began and ended at Benton Park. The goal of the race was to bring all faith communities together to show solidarity in the community.

The network has trained and coached a half dozen classes per year over the last five years. According to Wilkes, many churches aren’t aware or just aren’t educated on what needs to happen surrounding racial unity. 

“This city is about building unity not just the racial divide, and the faith-based organizations are leading the charge,” said Wilkes. 

At the height of the pandemic and peak racial tensions, Wilkes took intentional steps to make an impact through his faith and his community. 

The St. Louis Reconciliation Network started in 2012, the goal of the network is to address the racial division that impacted our region, particularly in faith-based organizations. In the spring of 2014, Wilkes made his way to St. Louis just a few months before the killing of Mike Brown and the Ferguson Uprising.

He came by way of Cincinnati and the One Church congregation; he and five other families moved to St. Louis with a plan to start a congregation here that focused on intentionally creating a multi-racial and ethnic church. 

Wikes had unfortunately heard about the infamous Delmar Divide and the systemic racial practices that plague the region. Five other families moved here to work on bringing people together through a common goal—teaching the love for one another from the lens of Christianity. 

13 years before the killing of Mike Brown and the Ferguson Uprising a similar situation happened in Cincinnati where an unarmed Black man, Timothy Thomas, was killed by a Cincinnati police officer. Wilkes explained soon after the metropolitan city also experienced an uprising.

“When everything happened here in August 2014 it was like Deja vu,” said Wilkes. 

“I’ve seen this before.” 

To help repair the impact of decades of racial, social, and economic St. Louis Reconciliation Network has partnered with One Family Church, Woodlawn Presbyterian Church, Gateway Christian Fellowship Church, and the Archdiocese.

 “We go wherever we are invited,” said the executive director. 

The enthusiastic pastor went on to say that even in a place where the common goal is to love God and one another people will be people and the church is filled with broken people who need to relearn and understand that loving everyone means just that, everyone. He took it a step further paraphrasing scripture on how we should even love our enemy.

When he began doing the work in the spring of 2014, he reached out to pastoral leaders who understood the racial fractures here. Some were passive about lending help, Wilkes said, because they had been down the road that he was eager to travel.

If we can get it right in the church then there is hope that we can get it right outside the church.

Brandon Wilke, executive director of St. Louis Reconciliation Network 

He explained they were trying to help him avoid failure and frustration–but he received their advice with respect knowing they knew St. Louis better than him. However, Wilkes knew there was still room for adjustments and change. 

From his perspective because of the sin of slavery and racism the church has been segregated just like society, as a pastor he feels it is his responsibility to teach the whole bible and racism is a part of that.

Wilkes puts it in the perspective of the Jews and Gentiles, or other priests, and spiritual leaders from other parts of the world, including Rome, Nigeria, and Northern Africa. 

“If we can get it right in the church then there is hope that we can get it right outside the church,” said Wilkes. 

Ashley Winters is a Report for America reporter for the St. Louis American.