How Lauren Kelley is using the tools of faith to strengthen democracy
Lauren Kelley stepped onto the Springfield political scene after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. At a time when tensions were soaring nationally, her goal was to help establish a working relationship between the police and the Black community.
In that effort — as in all others, Kelley is doubly faith-based: her means of making progress are as anchored in her faith as her aims.
Like so many, Kelley hit the pause button this year, exhausted by political rancor and Covid-weariness.
Concerned she could be burning out in her job as a correctional officer in juvenile court, she found a fresh start in the business office of a supermarket chain’s distribution center.
But at 32, she’s continuing an involvement in Springfield’s civic affairs through a police advisory team she was appointed to.
“My whole goal was basically to bring the Black community and police officers together,” she said. “I feel that if we can get them in the same room talking about things that are difficult, that will definitely help down the road.”
“As I’ve often said, there’s more of a presence there than a relationship.“
She also wants to encourage young Black people to apply to the local police department — for the same reason she’s on the policing board, “because I believe that if there’s an issue in a certain area, I can make it better if I’m in the system and I see first-hand what goes on.”
That, of course, takes an investment of time and the ability to keep the faith in the process along the way.
Kelley said she learned the power of an embedded, long-term approach from being the daughter of the Rev. Bruce Kelley Sr., pastor of Springfield’s Church of God.
When conflicts arise, she said, “You're going to have people on either side, the ones who support you and the ones who don't.”
It’s a deeper form of that faith that sustains her in a time that will be remembered through the lens of televised images of the killings of unarmed Black people like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbury.
“You know, I don't live in fear. I live more in the spirit of hope. Even if mankind, as we have from the beginning time … tend(s) to do things our way, at the end of the day, God controls the narrative,” she said.
But Kelley also recognizes the power of the narratives that flourish on social media. And while many comment on the memes and trolls that have hacked into Americans’ faith in one another, Kelley points to a second problem underscored by the current hit film, “Don’t Look Up.”
“We’re so focused on the Kardashians or the next hot song or … the latest outfit. But our world is really unfortunately falling apart on a certain level.”
Solving problems, she said, requires a serious involvement of mind and heart, a daily practice of prayer and strategy.
Kelley says she’s a mix of political parts, a social conservative with a deep commitment to racial equality. She finds important nuance missing in both major political parties.
“More than ever, we need faith. We need hope. We need someone that can be that voice of reason to kind of calm the storm.”
“On one hand you have the Republican party. They felt like their rights were being taken away because they had to wear a mask, but they're willing to suppress the rights of Black voters.
“Then you have the Democrats, on the other side, say you have to wear a mask, but a woman should have a choice to do whatever she wants with her body. On one hand, ‘you’re saying, I want what I want, but I don't want you to have what you want.’”
Social conservatism, she insisted, is not one-size-fits-all. Her family suffered from gun violence when her aunt was killed in 2019 in Dayton’s Oregon District shooting and she sees gray areas in the debate over gun rights and other issues. In what might be viewed as a spiritual crisis in democracy, she sees one way forward.
“More than ever, we need faith,” Kelley said. “We need hope. We need someone that can be that voice of reason to kind of calm the storm.”
And while younger African-American voters like her are more likely to turn out for national elections than state and local elections, Kelley thinks it’s wisest to work close to home and to dig deep.
“The higher you go, there’s more politics that are played,” she said. “ And that’s why I feel like everything starts on the local level.”
She says she’s found more reason for hope, while acknowledging change takes time even at the local level.
“We still have a lot of work to do as a community. This is not a perfect place to live. But I’m thankful that I’ve been able to cultivate relationships where I feel I can push the needle. And even if it might take some years, I definitely feel like you're able to make more of an impact on a local level.
At a time when she acknowledges “you don’t know what can happen from day to day,” Kelley is committed to keeping the faith and keeping it local.
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