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Meet the 2016 Summer Conference Leadership!


May 18, 2016

Meet the 2016 Summer Conference Leadership!

Summer Conference will be here before you know it! And we have some great leaders coming for the week. Recently we were able to speak with some of them to learn more about them, their work, and their passion for social justice. Keep reading to learn more about our incredible Summer Conference leadership!

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Rev. Doug Avilesbernal

Worship Leader

Rev. Avilesbernal is the Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Norristown, PA. He is the son of a Missionary Pastor, having been born in Guatemala. His growth in Christian faith has spanned three decades, several continents, many countries, and the requisite number of schools, culminating in his 2005 Graduation from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

BPFNA: What gives you strength and what keeps you motivated to do this work?

DA: Life in diversity at our church is a big part of my motivation and strength. We are now living in a community that includes all of the major ethnic groups in our town. We live in a peaceful search for justice among ourselves and the world around us. Our peace is not exempt from misunderstandings, conflict, anger, joy, hope, on and on and that fullness of emotional life also contributes to my own strength to keep going in this work of following Christ into the world.

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Rev. Damien Durr

Bible Study Leader

A native of Cleveland, OH who now resides in Nashville, TN, Rev. Damien Durr is a minister, educator, and teacher who inspires, galvanizes, and promotes hope from churches to barber shops to public schools. Rev. Durr received his B.A. from American Baptist College and his M.DIV from Vanderbilt Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. He currently serves as the youth and young adult pastor at the Temple Church, a consultant for the Children’s Defense Fund, and a facilitator in the Metro Nashville Public School system.

BPFNA: What led you to become involved in your current peace and justice work? When/how did you know this was the work you were called to do?

DD: My own experience with the criminal justice system as well as my experience in education. With the criminal justice system, its was regarding the culture of racial profiling from police and encounters with law enforcement that were not positive. In education, it was due to standardized testing in the school system. I did not graduate from high school because I could not pass a portion of a math test for the Ohio proficiency test. I did not realize until years later the intersectionality between race, class, criminalization, and marginalization in education and in policing that characterized my own reality and was also destroying the lives of other young people of color.

During my time at American Baptist College I had the opportunity to analyze my life, read, think, breathe, and become more acquainted not only with the prophetic tradition that characterized the black church, but also with the prophetic ministry of Jesus. I also had the opportunity to meet and converse with many of the architects of the Civil rights movement along with others who led and participated in justice movements around the world. On that campus, my desire to speak on and participate in justice work was nurtured in ways that helped develop the lens and language that guides my work now.

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Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes


Rev. Dr. Townes is the current dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is also the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society. She has been a pioneering scholar in womanist theology, a field of studies in which the historic and current insights of African American women are brought into critical engagement with the traditions of Christian theology. She also currently serves as president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion (2012–2016) and was the first African American woman elected to the presidential line of the American Academy of Religion, which she led in 2008.

BPFNA: What led you to become involved in your current peace and justice work? When or how did you know this was the work you were called to do?

ET: Growing up in the late 50s and 60s and seeing the power of nonviolent protest and the important role that my home church played in mobilizing Black college students in my home town to effect change.
When desegregation hit my home town and I saw the ways in which some White Christians responded by fleeing to the county so that their children, who had been some of my playmates and friends, would not have to go to a high school that was predominately Black. It was in the environment that had a school demographic of Black folk across the class spectrum, poor Whites, and a small White liberal student body that I began to realize that I need to put my faith into action.

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Dave Diewert


Originally from Vancouver, BC, Dave took the academic route through most of his life, teaching biblical languages and literature at Regent College for two and a half decades, and periodically at the University of British Columbia. Fifteen years ago he left his full-time academic career to venture into the marginalized world of low-income communities in East Vancouver. There he encountered the structural violence of poverty, homelessness, discrimination and oppression, as well as the beauty and dignity of those discarded by mainstream settler-colonial society. Spurred on by the biblical call to justice, he helped establish Streams of Justice in 2007, a social justice group that invites people of faith to stumble together along the paths of decolonization, solidarity, resistance, and liberation. 

BPFNA: What’s one thing people can do in their own communities to raise awareness about or work toward changing these systems of injustice?

DD: A constant struggle we face is the colonization of our minds and imaginations. The dominant discourse of neo-liberal capitalism (competitive individualism, wealth accumulation, private property ownership, endless consumption, etc.) has saturated our consciousness so that market solutions to social problems are the only options on the table. I think efforts at popular education and collective actions alongside oppressed people loosen its hold on our minds, hearts and habits so that we can embody new forms of relating to one another and to the earth. Some practical ideas might include local reading and discussion groups, independent newspapers rooted in the experiences and perspectives of marginalized communities, actions of solidarity with oppressed people, and campaigns that resist policies that produce poverty, displacement and discrimination. 

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Hon Wendell Griffen


Wendell L. Griffen is an Arkansas lawyer, jurist, legal educator, business leader, ordained Baptist minister, and public speaker. He is currently a judge to Arkansas’s Sixth Circuit for Pulaski County. In addition to this, he serves as pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock and CEO of Griffen Strategic Consulting. He also runs a blog called Justice is a Verb!.

BPFNA: What led you to become involved in your current peace and justice work? When/how did you know this was the work you were called to do?

WG: I was born in 1952. During the month of my fifth birthday (September 1957) nine black students braved hateful mobs and defied opportunistic politicians to enter Little Rock Central High School. That was three years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial segregation in public education unconstitutional. Yet, black and white children in my home county did not begin attending school together until fall 1964, a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. During the 1960's my family was inspired by the courageous work of civil rights activists. Years later, I drew on those memories and lessons to become a political science (pre-law) major in college.

As an Army officer I served with soldiers who had served in Vietnam, and saw firsthand how racism, sexism, and militarism intersected to wreak havoc on lives and hinder social justice. And as a law student, lawyer, and minister, I came to understand how religion is often used to justify oppression.

I accepted social justice as my ministry after I entered my first pastoral charge in 1988.

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Jim Bennett & Greg Jarrell


Jim and Greg have known each other for 15 years and have played music together in a variety of settings. They have each recorded on their own, and recently put out their first recording together called How Bright the Path. Greg is founder and co-director of QC Family Tree, a community of hospitality and rooted discipleship in Charlotte, NC. He is an active saxophonist in the Charlotte area, working with local musicians and nationally-known touring acts. Greg works to pursue justice, beauty, and love by sharing life with neighbors in Charlotte, including wife Helms and two sons, John Tyson and Zeb. Jim travels through life as a musician, husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He seeks to make the world a better place through music, community, restorative justice, and prayer. 

BPFNA: How do you see the role of music being important in social justice work? How can music act as an agent of social change?

JB: Music has a powerful role in the work for social justice partly because it can engage people's bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits. It has the ability to take us out of our heads and into a deep place where transformation can take place. It's not enough sometimes to simply talk. Music/singing can open us to something more. 

GJ: It is hard to imagine the work without the music that is the soundtrack for the work. Every revolution and movement has music that stirs the imagination and rouses our bodies to sing and clap and dance our way to freedom. 

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