Rural communities are both impacted by racism and have the capacity to work for racial justice.

Primary Media
Portrait of Michiko Bown-Kai
Credit: Michiko Bown-Kai
Published On: October 26, 2023

It’s been a couple of years since I moved away from Toronto, the city known as a hub of diversity. When I first moved to Toronto it was healing and enlightening for me to be able to experience so many cultures, something I had lacked growing up in White suburbia, and to realize the depth of diversity. It’s not just about the colour of people’s skin but also family histories, language, food, music, art, dance, stories, religion, the lands they know as home, ways of communicating and relationship building, and so much more. Sometimes I sought out experiences that would help me appreciate and understand someone’s culture better, but many times I was blessed with learning simply because of an opportunity that landed right in front of me.

Not too long ago, I decided to move away from Toronto when I had an opportunity to become a minister at a rural congregation. These days I live in a small village with three stop signs. The local church is one of the most prominent institutions and buildings. It’s not a place with regular protests and demonstrations. We do not have a Showing Up for Racial Justice chapter (yet!) or any community groups for Indigenous or racialized peoples that I’m aware of, so I have been forced to imagine new ways that I can remain committed to the ongoing work of racial justice. It was important for me to recognize that rural communities are both impacted by racism and have the capacity to work for racial justice. Different approaches may be needed to organize, but the conversation remains just as topical and important.

In my own life, I am learning to slow down and find healing by reconnecting to the land I live on. One of the lessons I am unlearning is the way White supremacy and settler colonialism taught me that I am separate from the land. I realized that if the waters where I lived were trying to tell me that they were sick, I wouldn’t know how to listen. I’m aware that I have never lived anywhere long enough in my adult life to be able to appreciate the rhythms of the seasons properly—to recognize the return of migrating birds or appreciate fruit trees maturing.

So now, I garden. I learn to listen to creation in ways that are guided by respect instead of extraction. I let my time with the plants help me uproot the ideas White supremacy thrives on, like perfectionism, anthropocentric individualism, and a constant sense of urgency, as I see the garden reveal its magic through patient and imperfect acts of caretaking. I let go of the need to “master” my knowledge of nature and give thanks for the opportunity to be a humble beginner that is seeking relationships that are based in reciprocity. These lessons being taught to me by the land help me heal and grow and impact how I’m able to engage in anti-racism work.

I find God in the soil, a perfect example of the beautiful messiness of resurrection, a Holy Composter making all things new and reminding me that the new world God calls us to create is still possible. Every time I tend to the garden, I see that God is still right here working alongside us if we’re willing to get our hands a little dirty.

Faith Reflection

A Prayer for Racial Justice

God of ghost towns and ghettos,
You whose Spirit moves through reserves and other open-air prisons,

God of the sojourners of truth, justice, and peace,
God of the detained migrant, the always-getting-carded Black youth,

God whose beauty is present through all of creation, and present in those whose relationship to land has been devastated by colonialism and policing and the threat of violence,

Hold our prayers.
Hold the injustice we swallow when we don’t know how safe it is to speak truth,
hold the exhaustion that sometimes sounds like silence, sometimes sounds like last straw desperation,
hold the grief that sometimes sounds like a prayer for the sea to part only so it can swallow us up, that sometimes sounds like an untraceable perfectionist performance of being okay.

We call on you, O Lord, to shepherd all of those we have lost to White supremacy,
to hold vigil with us at the foot of unmarked graves,
to be a shoulder for every mother like Mary to cry on, for every mother who has witnessed her child die at the hands of the state to cry on.

May your presence be made known in the ways we laugh in response to racist audacity.
May your healing justice come in moments of unapologetic pleasure and deep joy that declare to the world that we have always known and will always worship your boundless Love.

This we pray in the name of a brown Palestinian refugee we know and love as Jesus the Christ,

Bringing It Home

  • Learn more about and support advocacy for racial justice issues that are local, such as migrant justice (we have many migrant workers in the area).
  • Learn more about Indigenous history and treaties in my new home and support current justice work happening in the area.
  • Share resources on how White people can help address racism they are witnessing in their communities and workplaces.

Michiko Bown-Kai (they/them) is a minister in The United Church of Canada who is passionate about social justice and creative expression. Michiko studied Social Justice and Peace Studies and Political Science at the University of Western Ontario before attending Emmanuel College for their Master of Divinity program. Over the past decade Michiko has engaged in ministry in many forms: activism in the areas of Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ justice, as a Sunday school coordinator, as a program coordinator at the United Church’s General Council Office, and most recently as the minister at Glen Morris United Church. Find them on social media @queerkenosis.