Wheeler Avenue Social Justice Ministry: liberation for those in chains
Reverend Dr. Angela Ravin-Anderson during the Defender and Texas Children's Hospital-sponsored Early Voting Rally Oct. 22, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

For some people of faith, politics and social action are believed to be outside the acceptable boundaries of being “religious.” However, for others, like Reverend Dr. Angela Ravin-Anderson and members of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church Social Justice Ministry that she co-leads with Reverend Don Odom, such service is at the very core of religious life.

The Defender spoke with Ravin-Anderson about the Social Justice Ministry, its mission, current actions and future programs.

DEFENDER: When was the ministry founded?

REV. DR. ANGELA RAVIN-ANDERSON: This version of our ministry probably started about two years ago, following all of the incidents with George Floyd, and we were getting ready for the presidential election. So, there was a lot of motivation to organize people to really think through the outcomes that we were seeking for that election. And that was a real impetus for us to begin to kind of really formalize this ministry at that point. Following that election though, we really took some time to structure our ministry in a particular manner.

DEFENDER: What’s the mission and focus of this ministry?

RAVIN-ANDERSON: Our social justice ministry focuses on dismantling systemic injustices that are experienced in five different categories. We know as African Americans, we experience systemic injustice along a myriad of spaces and places. But there were five areas that we chose to kind of focus on. And we’ve created subcommittees in those areas. Those five areas include voter engagement, legislative reform, criminal justice reform, education reform, and then what we call community resource development.

DEFENDER: So, with all the social justice needs and issues, how was your ministry able to narrow it down to those five that you mentioned?

RAVIN-ANDERSON: Obviously, there was a great concern about criminal justice reform in light of what happened with George Floyd. And I think also we, we all understand the importance of voting, and that that is an ongoing need that we have as far as generating and motivating and galvanizing people to vote. The other aspect of that is legislative reform. I see them almost tied together because when you’re talking about systemic issues, you’re looking at the policies, right? You’re looking at the policies that are being put into place, whatever legislation and how that may disproportionately impact our communities in negative ways. So, we really had to kind of think about how do we begin to add voice to that. And then, once you elect someone into office, how do you hold them accountable for making sure that our needs and issues are being addressed in that public space. The other issues though, really have to do with kind of areas that Wheeler Avenue as a church has always been really involved with in the community. So, we naturally have a great concern about children and education and what’s happening. We’re really looking at ways that we can think through how do we break this pre-K-to-prison pipeline. What are some factors that are in that that we can help disrupt? And then, our community resource development committee has chosen to focus on two issues. One, the incidents of Type Two Diabetes and healthcare disparities. The other issue I think that they’re going to start working on a little bit more this year has to do with food deserts in our community.

DEFENDER: What do you say to people who think social justice work has no place in the church?

RAVIN-ANDERSON: I would point them to scripture’s word. God says, “I am the God of justice. I love justice.” I’ll point you to the mission of Christ when he declares in Luke 4, that this is what he’s come to do. We’ve made the gospel solely about our spiritual being. But in truth, the gospel is good news for all aspects of our lives. When we look at the story that people are so familiar with, the woman who had the issue of blood, she touches the hymn of Jesus’ garment and the words that he uses are, “You’re saved.” The word “saved” is the same word for “heal.” So, salvation really means whatever it is. And she says immediately she felt freed in her body. So, for us, when we think about these issues of oppression that keep us from living into the fullness of who God has created us to be, that’s the mission of the church. Yes, we want to bring people into a reconciled relationship with God, but we also want to bring people into a reconciled relationship with each other and a reconciled relationship with all of creation. That was the mission that we saw that Jesus was on when he was in the world. And that is what we would do. I would encourage every believer to understand that that is what God’s calling us to engage in.

DEFENDER: So, what I hear is a well-oiled machine. You all are just doing the darn thing

RAVIN-ANDERSON: <laughs> Well, I’m glad that’s what you hear, <laugh>. We are definitely giving it our very best effort. And we are trying to honestly think through the needs. When we talk about this as a ministry, one of the things that really motivates us and galvanizes our ministry it’s an underlying belief that we are trying to help individuals live into the kingdom of God. Live into what we hear Jesus say in Luke 4 when he says “I’ve come to set the captives free, to release those from oppression, to heal those who are sick, to declare the year of the Lord’s favor. That’s an economic restoration, the year of the Lord’s favor. And so, as we think about how do we do this ministry, it for us, really is about helping individuals experience God’s kingdom now.

DEFENDER: Any events coming up?

RAVIN-ANDERSON: As part of our community resource development group, we’ve recently just started Prevent T2 program where we’re partnering with the CDC and we have people trained as lifestyle coaches. They’re leading a cohort of 25 people through this year-long program that will help them. They are at risk for developing Type Two Diabetes. The goal is by the end of this program, they will be eating healthier, they will have lost weight and their A1C numbers will be down as a means of helping to prevent Type Two diabetes. We already have a waitlist for the next cohort. As part of our education reform, we’re very involved with Blackshear Elementary, and we’re working with, I believe Lockhart or Thompson, as well.

DEFENDER: How can the public support you?

RAVIN-ANDERSON: You can reach out to us at socialjustice@wheelerbc.org. That’s our email address. Just reach out to us, let us know what area that you might be interested in coming alongside of us and working. Like I said, we have several community partners that we do ministry together with. So, we’re happy to partner within our community. That’s, again, part of the legacy of Wheeler Avenue. We see ourselves as citizens of this community. So, we definitely love to partner with other organizations.