These are difficult times for our neighborhoods, cities, nation, and the world at large. I have felt and continue to feel exhausted, while at the same time extremely energized. As a person of color, I cannot aptly put into words the rawness of what this year has been, let alone the weeks following George Floyd’s death. In all, I have learned gratitude that I have had avenues to drive my emotions to safety. I am also grateful for my fellow Vincentians who have taken the time to not only learn but to attempt empathy.
The “Hope in the Face of Racism” webinar series was in itself a difficult lesson for me, personally. Within the cradle of my faith, I faced the uncomfortable reality that there were some with whom I broke bread that did not see the injustices towards people of color. I asked the Lord simply “why?” Why would the way He made me would bring out such ugliness from my fellow brothers and sisters?
I am truly thankful to our President, Ralph Middlecamp, and to my fellow Vincentians on both the African American Task Force and the Voice of the Poor Committee for our work on the webinars. I struggled with how I could be asked to help people understand a 400-year-old problem of racial injustice. The vulnerabilities within me were struggling to quieten the raging pain. If people could not have learned from giants like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, or St Vincent de Paul, why would they hear little old me? Then it came to me: I am but a vessel that has been brought here. A mere conduit so that we do not lose our way as we journey.
What this moment asks of us as Vincentians is not to examine the whys, but instead to hold the hands of our communities while we go back to the basics. To teach by our ways. “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I believe racism is not something one is born with, but rather a learned behavior. We can teach our families, fellow parishioners, and the communities we live and serve in that it is possible to “unlearn” through love. For our nation is “the traveler who has been stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road.” To come to the aid of others does not diminish who we are.
If we are to live out our Gospel values, can we also preface our actions with a question of whether we should answer the call or not? If no work of Charity is foreign to us, what is it that we are seeking at this moment? Should we not just get to work? COVID19 has robbed our communities of so much. From an inability to mourn our dead to the total disconnect brought about by the shelter in place and social distancing at a time when we need to simply hug. The emotional hunger that so many are struggling with is exacerbated further by job losses.
In the weeks ahead as the moratorium on evictions are coming to an end, the calls for help will be overwhelming. The brunt of these evictions will be carried by the very groups who have the most Coronavirus infections, the most deaths. Our energies should be towards learning. If we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us through creating a safe space to get to know one another better, there will be no limitations to what we can achieve. This “space” will allow us to refocus our gaze on Christ and the work He beckons us to be present for.
We need to open our hearts and then expand them. Today the plight of the African Americans is front and center, but there are still children that are separated from their parents. Children still living in deplorable conditions. The problems that have riddled Native Americans for generations are still in play. We cannot be complacent when the need is so great. Our Vincentian family is a large one with many talents that the Good Lord has graced us with. Let our “Hope in Action” have the courage to work towards facilitating the changes to policies that discriminate.
Chair of the African American Task Force