This is What Discipleship Looks Like!Debby Kirk, SNEUCC Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries had a recent phone conversation with Andrew McKinnis, a 16 year-old who is a member of First Congregational Church of Fairfield, CT. Andrew has been active in the Fairfield Equity Project.
Tell me a little about Fairfield Equity Project
This is an umbrella platform for three groups: Fairfield Equity Coalition which is made up of alums and current students and started in response to the murder of George Floyd. The other groups are Fairfield Ward High School Voices for Equity and Ludlowe High School Voices.
I attend Ludlowe and ours is a student-lead group that has focused on support for students in Bridgeport and minority students in the Fairfield Public School System up to now. Activities have included holiday toy drives and tutoring. I think the fact that we were isolated due to Covid-19 contributed to the movement. We weren’t tied up with our usual school activities and had more time to devote to this work.
What is your Role in the Fairfield Equity Coalition?
I am the local policy chair. Oversee the research team. We meet once a week so I can assign research tasks. My research time focuses on the local side of things. For example, we looked into hiring practices in the Fairfield Public School System and the racial make-up of the staff and administration.
What are some of the goals for the Fairfield Equity Coalition?
The Fairfield Equity Coalition has been working on Actionable Changes to present to the Board of Education. There are several pages of recommendations, but a few of the major pieces are:
- Implementing curriculum with cultural and racial diversity in order to amplify marginalized voices
- Mandatory anti-racism and implicit bias training for staff
- Recruit, hire, and retain racially diverse faculty. Currently there are many students of color in the system and all- white staff.
Communication is important. The Fairfield Equity Coalition now is 70 members strong and I estimate in all 3 groups, we have over 120 people fighting for Equity. Communication is key when you are working with so many people. The good thing is that we have a stronger voice.
In the Coalition, I have been overseeing 8 or 9 people on the research team and I am learning more about leadership. I have to hold people accountable and sometimes it is uncomfortable. I try to make sure I am specific about communicating expectations.
What are some of your other initiatives?
The Fairfield Equity Project intro video was meant to put the name out in the community and to connect to other youth. We want to be creative in the ways we express the work. Part of the effort is to be ‘Kid friendly’ by showing youth speaking to youth. I didn’t start equity work until the end of Middle School, and I think it is important to get kids involved at a younger age. It can be something as simple as reading picture books with characters of color.
We just released a second video a few days ago. It has an overview of our hopes for the program and also explains the groups involved in the project and how they relate.
What got you started in this work?
Both my church and Silver Lake have had an influence. In 2018, upon entering freshman year I felt the need to be doing something more, so I joined the Diversity Club at school. (Now known as Youth For Equity)
Our congregation is predominantly white, and has a partnership with First Baptist of Stratford, which is predominantly black. We have regular exchanges and this has allowed me to participate in a different types of worship. One particular sermon by their pastor really started my thought process. The Sermon was called “Against All Odds,” and given by the great Pastor William Bernard Sutton, III. One line that sticks with me is, “Of all people who must struggle to survive, struggle to make it, and in many instances fight to be heard, to be recognized and to acknowledged, they (people of color) must do so, Against All Odds.”
How did Silver Lake have an impact?
My first summer at camp was 2018 when I was going into my freshman year of high school. When I got to Silver Lake, I realized how magical it was. Everyone was loved for who they were. This really impacted me because I wanted other places to feel like this. I wanted to walk around day to day where everyone was loved and accepted for who they are. Every day, I try to make the environments I work in more accepting and loving of others.
I think you were on target to go to Silver Lake this summer. Is this right?
I was accepted to be on Camp Family this summer and was disappointed when the summer season had to shift to virtual programming. We still consider ourselves Camp Family 2020 even though we couldn’t be on site.
What was your Plan B for work this summer?
I have been doing an Internship at a local non-profit. I volunteer at Operation Hope which serves lunch and dinner Monday through Friday to the homeless and hungry in Fairfield. This is my third year working there and I have met fascinating people from all walks of life. Since the pandemic hit, Operation Hope converted to a drive-up pantry and we see many more people relying on assistance from programs like ours. The Community kitchen meals have been restructured so guests can sit 6 feet apart.
These are stressful times. Do you have a spiritual or self-care practice that helps you cope?
The most important self-care practice for me during this pandemic is to take a break from social media and my devices. I know it can be hard because for many of us this is all we have to do because we are stuck at home and not much is open but, when you take a break you feel better and you can focus more on how you feel.
What motivates you? How is your racial justice work an expression of your faith?
What motivates me the most is my future. I want to live in a world where everyone is loved no matter who they are. This is an expression of my faith because I practice my religion at an open and affirming congregation where we preach, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
How can people find out more about the project?
To learn more, people can visit our social media pages:
FB Fairfield Equity Coalition
Instagram Fairfield Equity Coalition
Fairfield Equity Project YouTube
Andrew McKinnis, age 16, is a rising Junior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. He is a member of First Congregational Church of Fairfield, CT where he assists with tech support for online worship. Andrew was a Thinking About Working For God Apprentice in 2019 and attended the Shine for Justice retreat in 2019. He participated in the 2020 SNEUCC Youth Revival Project and has active at Silver Lake as a Conferee, CIT, and member of the 2020 virtual Camp Family.
Andrew McKinnis is a member of First Congregational Church of Fairfield, CT.