The Race to the Finish Line: Reverend James Forbes Speaks on Recruiting Human Race Activists


On Tuesday, Oct. 28, St. Norbert College hosted Reverend James Alexander Forbes, Jr., who was in town to present his lecture entitled, “The Recruitment of Human Race Activists.”

The lecture took place in the Walter Theater and was organized by the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice and Public Understanding.

An hour that started with a crowd rendition of the gospel song, “Walk Together Children,” was filled with empowering words, emotional anecdotes and even a little personal poetry, ended on an equally high note, but not without a bit of contemplation and despair in the middle.

After greeting the audience as “brothers and sisters,” Dr. Forbes went on to tell a story of his first experience of being allowed to sit at the lunch counter of a Woolworth’s in Raleigh, North Carolina. What started as a heartwarming, endearing tale soon ended with disappointment, as Dr. Forbes used it as a segue into the heart of the lecture.

As the lecture progressed, Dr. Forbes used his talent as a speaker and knowledge as a minister to incorporate the teachings of the Bible into his speech against racism and to promote a sense of community and radical hospitality on campus.

Forbes was not hesitant to state his position on racism and said that one of his callings was to “build a world in which our racial differences would not tear us apart.”

After stating his position, Dr. Forbes backed his arguments with Biblical citations and logic, saying that “racism has become a kind of religious faith,” and going on to describe what he called “religious exceptionalism.”

He categorized racism not just as a sociological phenomenon but as a religious faith in which people are committed to the idea that differences among humans are more distinguishing than their similarities.

Forbes went on to compare humans to the cells of the human body. He provided an argument that although humans may represent different areas, races, religions and ideas, all humans are exactly that: humans.

Forbes argued that despite the differences among people, all humans are called to serve the same purpose.

The lecture was closed with an emotional monologue in which the Reverend Forbes said, “The maintenance of racism requires lying…The people who are committed to racism are not likely to sustain compassion toward fellow people…”

Forbes finished the lecture by asking the audience to stand and sing a hymn reminding everyone of the purpose of the lecture: to encourage everyone to abide by the Golden Rule and appreciate everyone on the planet, regardless of who they worship, what color their skin is or what values they hold.

The Reverend James Alexander Forbes, Jr., is senior minister emeritus of the world-famous Riverside Church in New York. He was the first African-American minister in the church’s history, holding the seat of senior minister from 1989 to 2007.

Today, Forbes is involved with many interfaith organizations, including A Partnership of Faith and the Healing of the Nations Foundation. He has been acclaimed for his charisma and was even recognized by Newsweek in 1996 as being the twelfth-most effective preacher in the English-speaking world.

Forbes received his degree as a Doctor of Ministry from Colgate-Rochester University and has also received a Master of Divinity Degree from Union Theological Seminary and a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Howard University. He has also been awarded 13 honorary degrees.


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