Our 2017 Commencement Speaker was the Rev. Traci Blackmon, who is the Acting Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries of The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO. She addressed our chosen theme: “Is There No Balm in Gilead: Healing Witness for a Hurting World” based on Jeremiah 8: 18 – 22.
Initially ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Blackmon served in various ministry capacities for nine years prior to becoming ordained in the United Church of Christ and installed as the first woman and 18th pastor in the 159-year history of Christ the King United Church of Christ. A registered nurse with more than 25 years of healthcare experience, Rev. Blackmon’s clinical focus was cardiac care. In later years, her focus shifted to mobile healthcare in underserved communities, with the greatest health disparities being in her region. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Birmingham – Southern College (1985), and a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (2009).
A featured voice with many regional, national, and international media outlets and a frequent contributor to print publications, Rev. Blackmon’s communal leadership and work in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, MO, has gained her both national and international recognition and audiences from the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. She was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay Nixon and to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack H. Obama.
Rev. Blackmon toured the nation with Rev. Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays and Repairers of the Breach, Rev. Dr. James Forbes of The Drum Major Institute and Pastor Emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York, and Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus, proclaiming the need for a Moral Revival in this nation.
When discussing the events in the world and in our PSR community that had most shaped their time at PSR, our 2017 graduates identified watershed moments like the killing of Michael Brown, the shooting at Pulse nightclub, the refugee crisis, and the stand-offs at Standing Rock, as well as the movements for justice that have grown out of and continue to engage them. For many, learning what religious and spiritual leadership looks like in moments of crisis, unrest, resistance and transformation has been the primary task of their theological education. Rev. Blackmon’s experiences as a pastor and justice-worker makes her uniquely well-suited to offer a reflection that engages this context.
Speaking on the role of religious leadership in our contemporary context, the Rev. Traci Blackmon boldly declared, “We are living in troubled times. These are the times our journey has been preparing us for. We were made for fights — fights for justice, for love, for compassion and for equality. This is what our journey has been all about, and we are uniquely positioned in this moment to lead.”