Circle of Clergy Efforts Toward Racial Justice and Reconciliation

As the trial of former Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean continues in Fort Worth amid much tension and anxiety, white Episcopal clergy are among those who have allied with Black pastors in an organization called the Circle of Clergy (COC) to try to bridge the racial divides in the city.

On Tuesday, December 6, the second day of the trial, the COC held a noon prayer vigil at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church. The Rev. Karen Calafat, Dean of the Fort Worth Convocation, led one of the prayers.

The Circle of Clergy came into being in the wake of the murder of Atatiana Jefferson. Late on the night of October 12, 2019, Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, was in her home in Fort Worth playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. They had burned some hamburgers earlier and had opened the front door to air out the house. A neighbor concerned about the open door called police with the intent for them to check on the welfare of the residents, but police classified the call as an open structure.

Officer Aaron Dean and another officer walked into the back yard while responding to the call at about 2:30 a.m. Neither officer called out that they were police. Jefferson heard noises outside, grabbed her handgun from her purse and looked out the window. Dean saw her through the window, yelled for her to show her hands and fired his gun immediately. Again, he did not identify himself as police. Jefferson died at the scene.

Two days later Dean, then 34, resigned as a police officer. He was arrested and eventually charged with murder.

After three years of defense-initiated delays, the trial finally started in late November with jury selection. No Black jurors were selected. The judge declined a defense request for a change of venue and the testimony phase of the trial began December 5.

The trial comes almost exactly a month after the Fort Worth City Council voted down a proposed police advisory board. The board, which would not have been an explicit oversight board but would act as an advisory board, was the key recommendation by the city’s own Race and Culture Task Force. The Council voted 5-4 along racial lines, with only one white Council member voting for the advisory board.

The Race and Culture Task Force was created after the 2016 arrest of Jacqueline Craig. Craig, a Black woman, was tackled and arrested by a white Fort Worth police officer after she had called police about her white neighbor assaulting her son. After body camera footage was leaked, the charges against Craig were dropped. The footage went viral. Craig eventually awarded $150,000 by the city. In response, the Race and Culture Task Force was tasked with coming up with recommendations to mend racial disparities in Fort Worth in many areas, including housing, health care, and public safety. In 2018, the Task Force released a lengthy list of recommendations, topped by the one about a police advisory board.

The Dean trial begins as the disappointment and anger over the City Council vote continues to simmer.

As the date for Dean’s trial was postponed again and again, members of local Black clergy became increasingly concerned about the racial and economic divides in the city that were being brought into sharp focus. They were joined in this concern by white clergy members, including Episcopal clergy, who wanted to be supportive allies.

The result was the Circle of Clergy (COC), an interfaith collaboration among diverse Fort Worth faith communities “to enter and actively engage in the conversation about diversity, equity, inclusivity, and justice.”

Over the past few months, the COC has worked steadily on relevant racial justice issues in the North Region area, including Critical Race Theory (CRT), voting rights, the Dean trial, and various other occurrences. For example, they offered A Faith Perspective on CRT – What it is, and what it is not, an educational forum on understanding CRT with guest speaker Dr. Altheria Caldera, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Howard University School of Education. They also met with the Fort Worth Independent School District superintendent search team to voice their perspectives and expectations for the next superintendent. 

As the trial of Dean continues, the Circle of Clergy called on all people of Fort Worth to stand together on the need for racial justice and unity during this stressful time.

They explain who they are and why they came together in this video

They have issued a statement that says, “We stand in support of the family of Atatiana Jefferson. We do so through practical means as well as prayer and spiritual support. We will not let the suffering of the family of Ms. Jefferson be lost amidst legal maneuvers and filings. We will be leading prayer vigils for the duration of the trial. We invite all to join us.

“We are in favor of peaceful protests and demonstrations as ways for long-marginalized communities to get their voices heard. We are dedicated to peace and justice for all in our community. We support clear and transparent communication between law enforcement and the community.”

They have invited other faith/spiritual leader of in the community to join their regular Circle of Clergy meetings and events to become a valuable collaborator and contributor to our efforts.

They can be contacted at

See photo gallery below.



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