Johonna McCants-Turner, interviewed by Caro Bratnober
Editorial Note: This interview first appeared on the Burke Library Blog, hosted by the Columbia University Libraries webpages, and we are grateful to them for permissions to reprint.
This summer, the Union Theological Seminary libraries hosted the Association for Public Religion and Intellectual Life (APRIL) in its annual Summer Colloquium presented in partnership with Auburn Seminary. Each year, the colloquium brings about a dozen participants to “work on vital contemporary questions about religious life and social justice” in a collaborative discussion environment. This summer’s theme was “Oppressions and Repair” — and one participant, Dr. Johonna McCants-Turner, was particularly keen to conduct research at the Burke Library as part of her project. I had the pleasure of working with Dr. McCants-Turner in navigating the papers of Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon and Dr. Emilie Townes, housed in the Burke Library among the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, guiding her through setting up her research appointments and handling archival papers. Dr. McCants-Turner was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the experience for our Blog, which we documented in the interview below. -CB
Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your interests, your current projects?
How did the APRIL/Auburn Summer Colloquium go? What did you set out to explore, what were some of the program’s highlights?
How did you come to be interested in seeing the Cannon and Townes papers at the Burke?
How was your experience doing research at the Burke? Anything stand out as particularly interesting, helpful, or unexpected about the process?
Honestly, I found all of the library staff with whom I interacted incredibly helpful. For example, Caro, you met with me before I arrived to talk with
me about the collections and give me some tips on doing this kind of archival research, which I had not done before.
What is/are 1-3 documents or items you found in the collections that particularly stand out, what did you learn from them?
One of the first pieces I encountered in the Cannon papers was a letter addressed to “Aunt Kate.” Reading that letter, a beautiful sense came over me – I was not only reading through the files of a phenomenal scholar-activist, theologian and spiritual leader who was also “the first Black woman” in so many categories — but also leafing through the personal papers of this incredible elder who was also a loving aunt, daughter, sibling, and neighbor. Although the letter was not related to my research foci, it imbued the rest of my work with a greater sense of reverence and sacredness. Moreover, it emphasized for me all the more what a privilege it was to have such access.
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Johonna McCants-Turner is Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Her areas of scholarship and teaching include restorative & transformative justice, contemporary anti-violence movements, and narrative approaches to social change. Dr McCants-Turner’s writing on the confluence of racial, gender and restorative justice is featured in several anthologies, including Beyond Equity and Inclusion in Conflict Resolution, Colorizing Restorative Justice, and the Routledge International Handbook of Restorative Justice. She serves on the advisory board of Life Comes From It, a U.S.-based grantmaking circle resourcing restorative justice, transformative justice, and Indigenous peacemaking initiatives led by Black, Indigenous, People of Color.