The Rev. Marilyn B. Kendrix will be making a national case for the mass incarceration dilemma facing Philadelphia’s African American communities. On the heels of giving her “Unlikely Neighbors” sermon at the Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church in Mount Airy recently, she will continue to discuss mass incarceration at a very different venue.
That is because Kendrix is now a member of the convening table of the National Council of Churches in Christ’s Education, Ecumenical Faith and Leadership Formation. She will work closely with the other three convening tables. They are Faith and Order, Interfaith Relations, and Joint Advocacy and Justice.
“Philadelphians are much more [cognizant] of the ramifications of mass incarceration,” Kendrix said. “When I was at Grace Epiphany I realized that those who live in Mount Airy are well aware of the new Jim Crow, how it got started and the complexity for their community. More of the country needs to understand how this is affecting society and all poor people in general. It has adverse effects to us as a community and us as society.
“The Philadelphia response was somewhat different for me. There is different demographics here than the churches I usually visit in Connecticut. Most UCC churches are predominantly white because it is the largest denomination of churches in the Connecticut. I’ve taken this message to many suburban and rural conferences where people are largely untouched by mass incarceration.
“So I am bringing new news and many are appalled. In Philadelphia I don’t think people are as shocked. In fact when I was speaking about certain things many were there nodding their heads [in agreement],” Kendrix said.
Kendrix has been touring United Church of Christ churches throughout Connecticut. She resides in New Haven, Conn. is an associate pastor at the Church of the Redeemer United Church of Christ (UCC) and an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven. Usually her largely white and suburban audiences are shocked or occasionally in disbelief as the reverend articulates the ramifications of incarcerating so many young men of color or poor white populations.
Kendrix has a special mission in going from church to church educating many about mass incarceration. The reason she targets this population is because many, particularly the UCC churches, are concerned about social justice and eradicating injustice. By drawing attention to the problem she hopes that they will join the movement to eradicate this practice.
“I realized after my ordination that I had a call to interface with religious people about this,” Kendrix said. “It’s important for people of faith to understand this. This call is grounded in my understanding of this. Sometimes I speak to audience that are not Christian or nominally Christian. Many just don’t know that there is something they can do about this injustice.”
Kendrix plans to bring up this issue at the National Council of Churches meetings. This is part of her three point agenda about what needs to be done about mass incarceration. The first thing, she said, is to have a positive response to those who have served their time and are being reintegrated into society. To this end, Kendrix lists helping the formerly incarcerated secure jobs, giving them resources until they find jobs, and housing them until they start steady employment.
Another thing local communities can do to reduce and eventually eliminate mass incarceration is to become educational advocates.
A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Kendrix has done much research. Her scholarly work drew her to the link between those receiving a poor education and failing to complete high school with the likelihood one will end up in prison.
This advocacy must start with accessible early childhood education, according to Kendrix.
“By advocating for universal pre-school education we can make a huge difference in the lives of young Black boys particularly in the inner city to help them make different choices later in life. By advocating for youth centers and quality education this can have a huge impact. I plan to bring this up as part of faith formation and leadership,” Kendrix said.
Lastly, Kendrix gives the example of a legislative ministry team that a New England church started. They have gotten together to talk to their elected officials about the various advocacy issues that will ultimate reduce mass incarceration. This includes providing them with entrepreneurship opportunities, access to public housing, reinstating voting rights in states where they are discriminated against, and having access to public assistance like welfare and food stamps.