Dear Candler,

richard-williams-story.jpgHello. My name is Richard Williams. You may know me from this, or this, and probably this also. During my almost three years here, I’ve been called prophet, troublemaker, activist, ungrateful student, “infamous,” a “wanna-be MLK,” and probably worst of all, a “Candler-Hater.” Before I fade from the halls of the Rita Anne Rollins Building, I wanted to offer my thoughts on my unique Candler experience, and the power of conversion.

I came to Candler in August of 2016 to be equipped with the tools to save black people in poor neighborhoods, and to develop a network of pastor friends to help navigate what Dr. Ellison calls “fruit tree work.” What most didn’t know was that I was afraid to move down south. In fact, I was so afraid that in the first six months of my Georgia residency, there were only seven days where I wasn’t home for good before sundown. Honestly, I am still afraid to be outside of the metro Atlanta area after the sun goes down. My greatest fear in life is leaving my children fatherless, a reality I sadly know far too well. With all that in mind, I still took the risk to come to Candler. The disheartening realities experienced during my first year led me to act.

On May 19, 2017, with a scowl of anger and a soul filled with angst, I clicked send. What was sent was a final draft of the most honest writing I had ever done. That essay was entitled “The Mis-Education of the Negro Seminarian,” a piece denigrating “white” seminaries (especially Candler) for their neglect (intentional or otherwise) of black students. While honest in its assessment, the piece was conceived in anger. James Cone was once referred to as the “angriest theologian in America.” I believe, in 2017, I was the “angriest seminarian in America.”

I was angry at Candler for not expressing concern that unarmed black people were being killed by law enforcement without penalty. Angry that Candler professed to be a spiritual institution, while turning a blind eye to the undertones of white supremacy and minority disenfranchisement within its walls. I was angry there was no black Contextual Education site to inspire young children in Atlanta with the sight of black graduate students. Most of all, I was angry that Candler did not see these things, or worse, that it chose not to see! Paul talks about seeing things through a dim mirror – a distorted image, which corrupts the view of love. Candler appeared to see student life as fine. That, to me, was not love. (Before anyone says, “this is an academic institution,” it is the training ground of God’s servants, therefore it should live out the Christian principles in which it attempts to instill in future church leaders.)  So, with all of this in mind, I responded the way I used to as a young black dude in the hood. I got confrontational!

It was never my intention to disgrace Candler, but to hold Candler accountable. Could I have been more subtle? Sure, but the art of subtlety is lost on those who literally have to fight daily for their lives. I did what I believed the Lord called me to do. However, after the backlash (scarlet “T” for “Troublemaker” included) I wondered, did my heart – the heart that led me out of poverty, violence, and a wasted existence – deceive me? Was I wrong to risk alienating Candler to ensure that future black students would get the tools to reverse ejection from gentrifying communities and prison pipelines?

Then, out of nowhere, the scales fell from my eyes. I saw new administrative policies and new hires. I saw seminars on whiteness at Candler supported by the Office of Student Programming. I saw a revamped orientation and a first-year MDiv advising course committed to Fearless Dialogues. Most of all, I saw students courageous and loving enough to give voice to their concerns, and an institution’s evolution from hearing to listening.

So, as I prepare to leave you, I can honestly say, thank you, Candler. Thank you for the strides you have made. For hearing the cries of people, and working sincerely to meet those needs. Thank you for Selma and Birmingham. Thank you for e-mails of comfort when tragedies occur. Thank you for Black Seminarians Day and the scholarships that will hopefully benefit longshots like myself. Thanks for Quentin and for giving us another year of Rev. Toni last year. Most importantly, thank you for all the allies, of all races, colors, and creeds, that you have brought under one roof who worked to make Candler a better place. Though I am still looking for a Con Ed site in a black neighborhood, and a black biblical scholar, I now believe the fulfillment of these needs to be an inevitability. Something I would not have believed in 2017. I pray that you work to be the light for change in seminary education, because if you don’t, I am certain the Lord will send another Richard Williams to Dickey Drive. We both know you don’t want that! 😉

God bless you, Candler.

Sincerely written, your favorite troublemaker,

Richard Williams