What role do faith communities have in the current American movements for racial, economic and social justice? How can people from diverse backgrounds best come together, listen to each other and work together to stamp out all forms of discrimination? How can local Catholics draw on the lessons of the Diocese of Nashville’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement to advance the cause of racial justice today?
This month, Christ the King’s adult education program seeks to foster dialogue on these complex issues.
The 2016 election season brought into sharp focus “what a bad job we’ve done listening to each other. We all need to do a better job,” said Joceline Lemaire, Christ the King’s director of adult formation. With current events bringing racial justice issues to the forefront, it seemed like an opportune moment to foster some dialogue, Lemaire said.
“I think this will break down some bubbles,” said parishioner Megan Black, who was making her presentation on “Faith Rooted Movements for Justice” on Jan. 15. “I’m curious to get the pulse of the parish …excited to see how people are thinking about this.”
Black, a lifelong Catholic who recently completed her Master of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt University, is the National Clergy Organizer for PICO, People Improving Communities through Organizing. She has been closely following Pope Francis’ engagement with the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which includes marginalized people from around the world who are working for structural change to lift up the poor.
The three main focus areas of the World Meeting of Popular Movements are lodging, land and labor. “I want to use their framework of challenging systemic inequalities,” Black said, and to make connections with the issues facing poor and minority people in our own communities, like those struggling to pay the rent and earn a living wage.
“We’ll also look at justice movements in U.S. history and Catholic participation,” Black said. “How can we as Catholics think about movement building?”
Black said she would look at the Church’s involvement in the Civil Right Movement, which was explored by Joseph Sweatt in a Jan. 8 presentation at Christ the King. Sweatt, the former editor of the Tennessee Register, and others who worked closely with Nashville Bishop Joseph A. Durick to advance the cause of Civil Rights were widely vilified within the diocese, and the state, at the time.
Today, the Civil Rights Movement, “is kind of safely stowed away as something we can feel good about,” Black said, but the kind of radical action that took place in the 1960s is needed today to protest modern-day inequalities.
Having conversations about race and disrupting the status quo, Black knows, “can be very emotional and provocative,” but she is ready to have a civil conversation about them.
As a mixed-race woman in the Catholic Church, Black is used to uncomfortable situations, feeling like she doesn’t quite belong, often existing as “a brown face in a sea of white.” But, she said, “there’s always the Mass and the Eucharist, and that’s incorruptible and I feel fed and sustained by that.”
Christ the King parishioner and recent Catholic convert Whitney Washington will make a presentation Jan. 22 on “Intersectionality and the Movement for Black Lives,” which will address promoting equal rights for everyone and help participants articulate, listen to and understand diverse experiences.
Washington says her social justice work, including serving as a member of the leadership team for the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, is inextricably linked with her journey to the Catholic faith. In the teachings of the Catholic Church, she said, “was the first time I heard about making God’s kingdom on earth and not waiting for heaven. That really resonated with me.”
Washington said with her activism work, “I really feel like I’m serving, contributing to making a better world. My faith propels me to do that.”
Some of the issues the local Black Lives Matter chapter has taken on include racial profiling by police and criminal justice reform.
Many people involved with the modern racial justice movement come from a faith background, Washington said. “It’s more common than not.”
While Christ the King is a majority white parish, “we still have a role in racial justice,” Washington said. Getting involved with the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice is a good place to start, she said.
“A lot of people are removed from social movements and activism, but I want to educate people how and why it works and the importance of direct action.”
While these are tough conversations to have, and people will not agree on everything, Washington said, “we’re all coming from a place of faith. There’s a way for us to work together.”
Christ the King will wrap up its “Faith Rooted Movements for Justice” series on Jan. 29 with a special workshop to be held in the Civil Rights Room at the Downtown Public Library from 2-4 p.m. Entitled “Challenge the Narrative,” the workshop will explore resources from the library’s Civil Rights collections for connections to contemporary conversations about social justice. The presentation will include discussion of leadership and strategies of mass mobilization – then and now – and discuss personal stories surrounding bias, solidarity and cultural awareness.
Christ the King’s adult education programs are held Sunday mornings, 9:45-10:45 a.m. in the Celebration Room, except for the Jan. 29 presentation, noted above.