January 13, 2018
Royal Lane Baptist Church, Dallas, TX. Learn More »
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.
BPFNA: What gives you strength and what keeps you motivated to do this work?
DD: My relationship with God gives me strength along with practices of mindfulness such as yoga, mediation, and spending time in nature. I also gain tremendous strength from the many individuals (teenaged, young adult aged, middle aged, and very aged) that I encounter in schools, communities, churches, and in the streets.
BPFNA: Who inspires you/who are your role models?
DD: Some role models who inspire me are my family (e.g. mother, sister, grandfather, cousins). I am also inspired by dreamers, artists, and community organizers. I am inspired by many of the young people I work with who have overcome so many obstacles and yet they still dream, believe, and hope for something more. I have been mentored by pastors, college presidents, and former public officials.
BPFNA: What do you hope Summer Conference attendees take away from this week focused on breaking social and structural injustice?
DD: 1. The realization that because of our faith we have the power and capacity to challenge empire. 2. The realization that white supremacy as a theological and sociological construct has helped create this system of dehumanization. 3. New language to offer a counter narrative versus the ones that continue to perpetuate themselves as gospel. 4. Inspiration from the narrative of a young person who is using his resources to bring awareness to the issue.
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: 1. Tell the truth based on the facts in terms of numbers and the narratives of those who have been and are being impacted by this reality. 2. Use artists and the arts to highlight, dramatize, and bring attention to issues. 3. Go places where you can listen and be present with those who have and are engaging the system. 4. Share the stories of those who you know might not be heard.