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Sarasota Tuesday, May 18, 2021 5 months ago

Pastors to speak on overcoming racism at Church of the Redeemer event

Richard Harris and Kenneth Stephens come from wildly different backgrounds to speak at Church of the Redeemer.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

Richard Harris and Kenneth Stephens used to have nothing in common besides hate. 

Harris was a small, bullied child growing up in Indiana in the 1970s and says he felt a visceral need to inflict payback on others. When his school  became desegregated and he met Black students for the first time, he decided he had a direction for his anger. 

That hate stayed with him as he was recruited by the Ku Klux Klan at age 16, eventually becoming the Grand Dragon of the Indiana KKK chapter.

Stephens, a Black man born and raised in Florida, found his hate later in life. His brother was killed by two white soldiers while serving in the military. The incident left Stephens — who was also in the military at the time — with deep mistrust and anger.

"I'm serving with people who I was supposed to trust with my life and they took my brother's life," Stephens said. 

Both Harris and Stephens say they found salvation through God — Harris, 63, learning more about Jesus’ teachings that weren’t conveyed to him in the Klan.  Stephens, 58, found forgiveness working for a church — and both eventually found themselves working as professors at Southeastern University and as pastors at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church.  Now more than ever, they feel they need to help others let go of theirs. 

Harris and Stephens now work to connect with communities to  encourage communication across racial lines. They will be speaking at the Church of the Redeemer  on May 25 as part of the “Steeped in Hate, Saved by Love” event. 

"We both had the same yet very different journey," Harris said. "We both had racism steeped in our lives but overcame it."

 The pair will discuss small practical ways to see other people differently and how to approach friends and family who might need help. 

"We talk about reconciliation and we talk about hate and how it turned into love," Stephens said. "It is something that I truly believe that's needed in this country right now."


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Harry Sayer is the Black Tie Reporter for the Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida and previously worked the Black Tie beat for the Observer newspaper in Winter Park and Maitland. You can catch him at one of Sarasota's fundraisers and shindigs. 

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