Sankofa Reflection 2018: Gail Gisi, Union Gospel Mission

Although I had an expectation that this trip would impact my life, I had no idea how transformative it would be.

In just four days, the “lens” of my mind and heart was adjusted, barriers began to break down, and I was profoundly impacted by the honesty, courage, and grace of the team I traveled with.

Gail Gisi (R) with her partner Patricia Watkins (L) at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham

Since coming back, it has been amazing to see the interest expressed in my experience. The people I live and work with are aware of racial tension and division and want somewhere to process what they are seeing and feeling, somewhere they can risk asking questions, somewhere they can begin having difficult conversations. They want to make a difference, but many are unsure of where and how to start. Today, for the first time, I have something of value to add to those conversations.

[pullquote]responsibility to lament that past, to pursue justice, and to work towards unity and reconciliation…[/pullquote]

I know that while I can’t be responsible for the past, I do bear a very real responsibility to lament that past, to pursue justice, and to work towards unity and reconciliation, starting first with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I dare to believe that acting on that commitment has the power to change my family, my workplace, and my community.

My hope is that the list below of “lessons learned” will begin to express the profundity of the work God is doing in me as a result of this trip. Although that physical trip is over, my Sankofa journey – my journey to harmony – has really only just begun.

Gail Gisi (L) with Civil Rights Activist Dr. John Perkins (R)

Sankofa 2018 Lessons Learned:

I changed my “seat on the bus” from the position of a well-meaning advocate to someone the journey would and should directly impact.

My understanding of America’s history and my place in it was greatly enlarged and, at times, corrected. More importantly, the “lens” of my mind and heart was adjusted.

I was jarred by photos depicting the incongruity of life as seen through the eyes of white people and people of color – for example, the word JUSTICE emblazoned on the scaffolding of a black man being lynched.

I had to wrestle with wondering what my perspective and response might have been if I had been born during the era of slavery or had been raised in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement.

I was incredibly impressed with the spiritual underpinnings and discipline of the non-violent direct action tactics of the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. (Take a minute to do a web search for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights Nonviolence Pledge.)

As the mother of a son working in law enforcement, I began to understand the distrust of police and the deep skepticism regarding “justice” felt by many in the African American community.

I realized that because I am uncomfortable with the fact that racial bigotry and hatred still exist, I at times minimize the experiences of my brothers and sisters of color.

I was reminded that racism is at its core an issue of human depravity – of sin – and that the power of the Gospel to change hearts and transform relationships is going to be the most effective tool in the fight against it.


Gail Gisi is the Director of Adult Education and Training at Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities

Gail Gisi (L) with her partner Patricia Watkins (R) at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL

May 16, 2018