Following God's Call
By Megan Jonas
At high risk for the coronavirus, Roberta Wilburn has mostly refrained from participating in the recent protests sparked by renewed national calls for racial justice. But then Wilburn was asked to speak at the Spokane protest for Breonna Taylor. Wilburn, Whitworth's associate dean of graduate studies in education & diversity initiatives, couldn't say no.
"She was a 26-year-old African American female who was trying to do some good things and was killed in her home," Wilburn says of Taylor, the unarmed EMT who was shot by Louisville police in March. "She could have been my daughter."
The September protest came after a grand jury declined to directly charge officers for Taylor's death.
"There are just too many things in this particular case where justice wasn't being done," Wilburn says. "I could not sit idly by."
Wilburn became passionate about promoting unity and racial reconciliation after she was the victim of a racist verbal attack as a schoolgirl. She has focused on diversity throughout her career in teacher education, but race and equity have recently become a more prominent part of her work. Two years ago, Wilburn and her husband, James, launched Wilburn & Associates, LLC, a diversity training and consulting company. Wilburn retired from Whitworth in December 2020 after 13 years to concentrate on growing her company.
"I want to focus all of my attention to diversity, equity and inclusion," Wilburn says, "because we really need it."
Wilburn desires to help people become more culturally sensitive and responsive. She believes a key place to start is by listening. "We need people to be open to listening and to taking the time to talk to people who are different from themselves, hear their stories and try to be empathetic," she says. This is why her company hosts free community conversations on difficult topics.
While Wilburn thinks it's important that more people from all walks of life are wanting to support the movement for racial justice, she is concerned that many people don't know how to be effective allies. She is currently creating a course on allyship through her online school. "I want it to be a meaningful, valuable experience to help people be effective," she says.
The verse Micah 6:8 in the Bible leads Wilburn in her work. "It talks about loving mercy, doing justice and walking humbly with your God," Wilburn says. "I think that's the call that God has put on my life, and therefore, I'm following in that direction."