West Dallas Church Leader Says There's No Avoiding Conversations About Black Lives Matter
The recent Black Lives Matter protests across the world have sparked conversations about racism and police brutality at a historic West Dallas church.
For Berry, that realization has been a journey, he said.
"Prior to Sept. 6, 2018, you wouldn't have been able to talk to me about social justice."
He's referring to the day Botham Jean, a 26-year-old Dallas black man, was killed in his apartment by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. After the shooting, Guyger said she thought Jean's apartment was her's by mistake. She was convicted of murder a year later.
Jean was a member of Dallas West Church of Christ, and that's why another killing in the hands of the police — Floyd's — hits home for Berry.
"When it comes into your congregation and it takes one of your leaders, then all of the sudden you have to say: This thing is real," he said.
Berry's been a member of the predominantly black church for more than 41 years, 20 of those serving as the minister. Members of the church call him Brother Berry.
In his office, the rustic wooden furniture includes a dark brown desk with an engraved plaque that reads "Sammie L. Berry." On the right of the desk he has masks and hand sanitizer and on the left, an abundance of drinks: water, peach tea and Pepsi. When the phone rings, he picks up and says, "Dallas West Church of Christ."
The phone rings about four times during the 30-minute interview. Berry's a busy man. He says the church community is close-knit.
Dallas West Church of Christ began in 1947, after residents of West Dallas agreed to start their own congregation instead of driving to Oak Cliff. It's a Christian church that follows the Bible's New Testament. Berry says people would categorize the church as Evangelical, but he doesn't like labels.
Berry says it's hard to avoid tough conversations about police brutality and racism as he glances over to his bookshelf, which has titles like, What Shall I Preach?, Ten Steps For Church Growth and How To Equip the African American Families.
COVID-19 has forced Berry's church to shift services online. He connects to members of the church through Zoom. There he spreads the message: Black lives matter.
"What we are going to have to do is sit down at the table and tear down some of the walls that have been built up. The walls of racism. The walls of police brutality. The walls of fear," Berry said.
He says he tells members of the church he supports protesting in a calm and respectable way and encourages members of the church to lean into prayer. Berry says the church has a yearly summit.
He hopes this year's can continue the conversation around police and social justice reform.
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