We Cannot Sit on the Sidelines

Colleen Ross
February 26, 2021

During Black History Month when we are called to honor the “accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor,” I’m inspired by recent events. Three Black leaders — Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock — made history in the past year and are shaping the future of our country and the Catholic Church.

When Pope Francis named Washington, D.C.’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory to become a Cardinal, he made history as the first African-American Cardinal in the Catholic Church. A few months later,  Senator Warnock defeated Kelly Loeffler to become the first Black Senator from Georgia, and on January 20 the country watched Vice President Harris become the first woman of color sworn in as Vice President. Cardinal Gregory, Vice President Harris, and Senator Warnock are well suited for these roles and our country will benefit from their knowledge and experience.

While we celebrate Black history makers past and present, we should also consider the many times racism prevented their predecessors from reaching the same positions. Vice President Harris said, “I’m honored to be considered a ‘first,’ but I always think about the people who came before and paved the way for me to get where I am today. From Rosa Parks to Shirley Chisholm to Congressman John Lewis, I stand on the shoulders of so many great men and women before me.”

How much have we lost, socially, economically, and theologically by allowing systems of exclusion and oppression to keep Black people from authority and positions of power?

As we celebrate these groundbreaking achievements, we cannot think the work is finished. We must do everything we can to dismantle systemic racism and ensure these “firsts” are not also lasts. Cardinal Gregory, speaking to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.’s Theology Tap last year said, “You cannot be a Catholic and sit on the sidelines.” No matter your religious tradition, as we celebrate and honor Black History Month, let us resolve not to sit on the sidelines, but instead actively work to end racism and move towards racial equity.