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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."

Roberta Wilburn's Top Tips for Becoming a Better Ally

"Allyship is about coming alongside traditionally marginalized groups so they can be empowered to achieve equity, inclusion and societal success," Wilburn says. Here are her top tips for becoming a better ally: 

  • Start with a spirit of cultural humility. Don't assume that you know everything about another person's culture. Ask the person or group you want to become an ally with how you can be of help. Ask them what is needed and if there is something specific you can do.
  • Use your sphere of influence and privilege to advocate for the people you want to be allies with. For example, if you are serving on a committee and you know a junior colleague of color who you think would be a great member, recommend that they be invited to the committee.
  • Take time to build authentic relationships so you get to know people and their culture. If you interact with a limited number of people from diverse groups, ask a colleague or friend from work who is from a different cultural background if they would spend some time talking with you about the similarities and differences between your cultures.
  • Be partners with the groups you want to assist in elevating to success. Do not have a takeover spirit.
  • Do not insert yourself where you may not be wanted. Before inserting yourself into an activity or an event, ask the leaders if it is appropriate for you to participate or how can you assist.

This story appears in the fall 2020 issue of Whitworth Today magazine.

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