Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

Not a Page in Your Handbook

Not a Page in Your Handbook

Garrison Mays
July 21, 2018

A few weeks ago, I took it upon myself to binge watch the second season of Dear White People, a series on Netflix. There was an episode where one of the supporting characters Lionel, a gay Black man, goes on a little adventure to find the right gay network where he can thrive and be himself. He goes through all the gay stereotype crowds: the Black gays, the theater gays, the overly sexual gays, etc. After his party hopping, he finds out that none of them accept him, regardless of the fact that they all share similar sexual identities. It should have worked out, right? Very wrong. Some people didn’t like Lionel because he wasn’t “gay enough,” others because he wasn’t “Black enough.” The list goes on as to why Lionel doesn’t fit other’s ideas of what he should be.

Like Lionel, I went to a Predominately White Institution (PWI) as an openly gay Black man.  However, unlike Lionel who had some sort of base network, I had a hard time finding a group  that understood and supported the three important attributes – my sexual orientation, my race, and my gender – that make me who I am.  In some groups, I got dumb questions about my blackness, and in others I got dumber questions about my gayness to the point where they weren’t inquisitive, but disrespectful.

Throughout my four years in college, it has been very difficult to feel 100% comfortable at this PWI. I have always bounced around from one white group to another, straight and gay groups alike, to better understand my place.  Lionel’s main network is made of thoughtful, smart, and decent Black people who don’t judge him by his gayness or his awkward blackness, but by his actions and the way he communicates. As my time was wrapping up at this PWI, I found a space that was judgement free with different types of people: straight, gay, Black, Latinx/Mexican, trans–all thoughtful and thought-provoking individuals that care about being inclusive and inquisitive about things that are unfamiliar.

I say all of this to say that Pride Month is a time for celebrating who you are. I for one bask in and appreciate this month so much as I try to find my place in this world that is just now coming around to the idea of the LGBTQ+ community. Nevertheless, this is an ongoing experience for me. I always try and fight the urge not to exclude a person because they don’t abide by the textbook or the website definition of what a queer person is. I’m not for everyone and vice versa–I understand that. But everyone deserves a chance to try and be comfortable in their surroundings. Happy Pride Month!

Garrison is a young chocolate smart-alec, who shares his opinion and wants to hear yours. He graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor’s in marketing. He is excited to explore the opportunities that present themselves to him moving forward. He loves Beyoncé more than most, his favorite movies are The Incredibles and Reservoir Dogs, and you can find him lying in his hammock listening to the podcast The Read to decompress from people.

Juneteenth: A Celebration and Call for Freedom

Juneteenth: A Celebration and Call for Freedom

Jeremiah Pennebaker
June 19, 2018

“In its spread across the country and gradual supplanting of other emancipation celebrations, Juneteenth has always retained that sense of belatedness. It is the observance of a victory delayed, of foot-dragging and desperate resistance by white supremacy against the tide of human rights, and of a legal freedom trampled by the might of state violence. As the belated emancipation embedded in the holiday foretold generations of black codes, forced labor, racial terror, police brutality, and a century-long regime of Jim Crow, it also imbued the holiday with a sense of a Sisyphean prospect of an abridged liberty, with full citizenship always taunting and tantalizing, but just one more protest down the road.” – Vann R. Newkirk II, “The Quintessential Americanness of Juneteenth”

“What’s Juneteenth again?” I ask myself in my head because I did not want to admit out loud in front of my fellow interns that I didn’t know the meaning behind it. We were trying to figure out how to better integrate racial justice themes into our summer service locations. For the longest time my only connection to Juneteenth was an obscure Boondocks reference. Luckily for me there was another Black student in our intern small group who was able to explain what it was. “Juneteenth is the celebration of coming freedom,” she said.

“Coming freedom” tells us that freedom exists, but it is not here yet. The Emancipation Proclamation — the legislation that freed all enslaved Black women and men on U.S. soil — was signed into law on January 1, 1863. But like many things concerning the freedom and civil rights of Black individuals, the process was delayed. Juneteenth was established two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger issued Order #3 in the district of Galveston, Texas informing the residents that slavery was abolished and that the freed people should now operate under an employer/ employee relationship.

Over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, news of liberation finally reached slaves in the southernmost parts of the country. Despite this, enslavement and mistreatment of Black people continued as slave owners took their slaves to the yet-to-be-unionized New Orleans, where emancipation was just folklore. There was no relief or instant jubilation as many might imagine; instead, some faced consequences if they celebrated too openly or tried to run away. This is evident in the account of former slave Susan Merritt in Leon Litwack’s book, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery: “Those who acted on the news did so at their peril. You could see lots of niggers hangin’ to trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom, ’cause they cotch ’em swimmin’ ‘cross Sabine River and shoot ’em.’”[1] Although slaves were free in theory, they were not free in practice.

Coming freedom is the Black American Dream–the idea that we will be free one day as it has already been proclaimed. Growing up in the church I imagined that freedom was something similar to the idea of kingdom come. As my father would say, we stand on tiptoe anticipation for the day that we can lay our burdens down and rejoice in the presence of the Lord. But what I’ve also learned about kingdom come and coming freedom is that obstacles still lie between us and the freedom. Lynch mobs and police units still lie between us and the coming freedom. Protests and assassinations still lie between us the coming freedom. Colorblind classmates, coworkers, and Members of Congress still lie between us and coming freedom. But the hope within coming freedom and the jubilation of Juneteenth lies within the fact that regardless of what lie between us and coming freedom, it is still coming.

[1] What Is Juneteenth?

Questions to Ask Yourself for the 2018 Primaries

Questions to Ask Yourself for the 2018 Primaries

Mary Cunningham
June 14, 2018

With midterm elections rapidly approaching, it is time to start thinking about primaries. While certain state primaries have already passed, there are some that are just around the corner! Primaries are preliminary elections used to determine which candidates will face off for the general election scheduled for November 6, 2018. With a surge of new candidates on the ballots, particularly women, it is important to ascertain whether or not these candidates will implement the policies you care about if elected to office. So with all that in mind, what are the important questions you should ask yourself before voting in your state’s primary?

  1. How will the candidates lived experience and background contribute to a more nuanced and diverse Congress?

When you see photos of most Members of Congress you will notice a striking pattern: they are typically white, middle-aged men. Imagine what it would be like to have more diverse voices in our offices– people of different genders, races, and religious affiliations. Take women as an example: according to Vox, women currently constitute less than 20% of Congress. That boils down to just 22 female senators and 83 female representatives in a Congress made up of 535 people total. It’s even more discouraging when you look at the number of women of color in Congress. According to Axios, 30 states have never elected a woman of color to Congress. Instead of leaving it up to the men to decide, we need female perspectives on issues such as paid-family leave and childcare. There is hope in the fact that more women are running for Congress, but that hope will only be realized if we take the extra step and vote for them!

  1. What is the candidate’s approach to the importance of human dignity for all in local, state, and federal policies?

As Catholics we hold dear the belief that all people have an inherent dignity: rich or poor, citizen or noncitizen.  We do not get to decide whether or not someone is not worthy of love. In Pope Francis’s new apostolic exhortation he calls us to value the life of migrants as we would any other life. Multiple candidates for the midterm elections have come out with flagrant anti-immigrant agendas. There is no place for these egregious mindsets in Congress. We need elected officials who recognize that there is value in every human being and who will enact policies that allow all to reach their full potential. This means recognizing the plight of those who cross the border and the dignity of all people, not making unsubstantiated assumptions about them!

  1. How will the candidate respond to the most vulnerable members of their community?

Back in November, the Republican tax bill passed, promising tax cuts for the wealthy largely at the expense of the poor. The new law is estimated to increase the United States debt by over $1 trillion.  Almost immediately after its passage, Republicans pivoted and took aim at safety net programs. This can be seen in the recent efforts to introduce Medicaid work requirements, SNAP work requirements, and harsh policies imposed on those who receive federal housing subsidies.

In another blatant show of hypocrisy, several House Representatives voting for stricter work requirements and SNAP restrictions in the Farm Bill are themselves benefitting from the federal farm subsidies they will pocket if the bill passes. It’s one thing to claim to support the needs of your constituents, but it’s another to fight for policies that actually help them. Without access to federal assistance programs, many families will not be able to stay afloat. When casting your vote, ask yourself: can you rely on that candidate to protect the needs of people who are marginalized?

When voting for a candidate, it is important to be informed about their platform. Furthermore, as Catholics, it is important to make sure that the people we elect to office represent our closest held values—whether that be dignity of life, care for the poor, or others After all, these are the people that will be representing you and all you stand for over the next few years. That should not be taken lightly!

The Right to Vote: Then and Now

The Right to Vote: Then and Now

Claudia Brock
June 6, 2018

Every election my mom likes to remind my sister and me of the time we accompanied her to vote in the 2000 presidential election. At the ages of 4 and 6, we were convinced that voting was one of the most glamorous and exciting things an adult could do. After all, you had to be 18 and you got to have a say in who ran the country. On Election Day, my sister and I donned our finest tutus and costume jewelry to accompany our mom to the polls for this truly sophisticated event. Imagine our disappointment when we walked into our local elementary school’s cafeteria and waited as our mom went into the voting booth, only to head out the door five minutes later. I’m not sure what my sister and I hoped to see, but we were grossly unimpressed.

When I voted for the first time in the 2012 election, the experience was completely different—entering a voting booth at a local park pavilion felt plenty exciting. I had carefully researched all of the candidates on the ballot and even called my county election commission to make sure I could bring my notes into the booth with me. I took, and still take, my right to vote very seriously because not only do I help elect leaders I think will benefit my community, but I also understand that thousands of women fought for my right to be in the voting booth.

The Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibits states and the federal government from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex, was originally introduced in Congress in 1878 and was finally passed 41 years later on June 4, 1919 and submitted to the states for ratification. Suffragettes had marched, protested, and lobbied for the inclusion of women in the vote since the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York. For 71 years, these women built a grassroots movement, but they also were imprisoned, endured physical and sexual assaults, were disowned from their parents, and had their parental rights terminated as a result of their work and beliefs.

Despite their work for greater access to democracy, these women failed to address the dual oppression of racism and sexism faced by Black women. Suffragettes barred Black women from the movement and presented voting rights as an extension of white supremacy to make it more palatable to other white Americans. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory polling laws like voting taxes and literacy tests, that Black women secured the right to vote.

In the United States, those who vote have more representation than those who do not. This is a problem when you consider that there are still efforts to suppress the votes of people of color, including the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, strict voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, polling place intimidation, voting roll purges, and more. As I reflect on my first time voting, I realize my experience was ripe with privilege: I had the time and resources to go to the polls, my name was not purged from the voting roll, I was not asked to show ID, I was not harassed at the poll, and there were enough poll workers present so my voting lasted only 10 minutes.

Voting is a great step in reducing inequality of all kinds and achieving racial equity through public policy. It plays a large role in the allocation of government resources, who benefits from public policies, and the size of government. If you are able to vote, you should! You can register here. Around the anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, use your voice to advocate for voting rights to create a more perfect and inclusive union.

Ramadan: Hungry for Spiritual Growth

Ramadan: Hungry for Spiritual Growth

Mehreen Karim
May 24, 2018

WHO: My elementary school teachers couldn’t fathom why a 9 year old kid would be ecstatic to wake up at unkind hours of the morning, only to begin a day long fast from food and water. Fourteen years later, my adult peers grapple with the same doubts when hearing that Muslims voluntarily fast and actually reap boundless pleasures and joys from Ramadan. As one of the foundational practices of Islam, all Muslims in good health (excluding children and those that are pregnant, nursing, ill, or menstruating), are required to participate in fasting during Ramadan. That’s at least a billion Muslims.

WHAT: Ramadan is one of the holy months in the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims fast from dawn till dusk every day of this month. By abstaining from food, water, and sinful behavior, Muslims devote their entire days to purging bad habits and implementing better ones. From a young age, I fell in love with Ramadan for its heart-changing virtues. I was, in fact, the 9-year-old that loved to rally her siblings at 5 AM to sleep-eat breakfast foods and chug glasses of water. And at every sunset, I was comforted by the sight of family coming together for the sole purpose of breaking fast and praying together—no questions asked—for thirty days.

WHEN: Ramadan marks the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Historically, God revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during the month of Ramadan.

WHERE: Muslims are fasting in every country around the world. You can find us breaking fast at home, a restaurant, or at any local mosque. Every night of Ramadan, communities come together at local mosques to provide a free dinner to all who wish to join. If you ever want to experience the foods, customs, and hospitality of Muslims during this blessed month, drop by a mosque near you at sunset!

WHY: Thirty days of restraining from food, and yes, even water, comes off as an unreasonable and often dreadful experience to the average onlooker. However, the physically challenging practices of Ramadan rarely compare in difficulty to the equally crucial practices of self-improvement and spiritual growth. Holding off on a staff lunch is a cakewalk (pun intended) in comparison to holding off from lying, backbiting, jealousy, greed, and every other toxic sentiment you may come by in a regular day. The mental challenge of fasting from one’s bad habits and inner demons is perhaps the most taxing, and therefore, the most cleansing form of self-restraint Ramadan enables. When understanding the “why” of Ramadan, one must correct a common misconception: to restrain oneself is not to deprive oneself.  Reward lies in restraint.

When fasting, we are dusting off our relationship with God— polishing it with the utmost attention to detail. We reflect on the crevices in our faith, noting that each crevice is proof that there is only ever more room to grow towards our Creator.  The greatest unsung truth about Ramadan is this– Muslims dedicate 30 days of the year to forging heights in our spirituality, expanding the bounds of our mental health, and living out our love for God in honest self-revelation.

Mama Knew Love

Mama Knew Love

Jeremiah Pennebaker
May 12, 2018

It’s a cool Easter Sunday in Louisville, Kentucky and family and friends have filled up this tiny house wearing everything from church clothes to sweatpants. It may be a cool 68 outside, but it is no less than 85 degrees in the house from the combination of body heat and the oven stuffed with fried chicken, baked beans, and my personal favorite: my granny’s mac and cheese. Granny calls me from upstairs to come and give her a kiss. She proceeds to do this every 30 minutes, and each time I hustle up the stairs and give her a hug and a kiss, she brags about me to the other grownfolks. It is a great day with great food and great fellowship.

A few weeks later on April 12th, 2011, my father’s 40th birthday, my granny died. It was all pretty blurry, but from what I remember she was over worked and had a stress related seizure. Granny was working several jobs and had recently taken in some of my younger cousins as a foster parent. She was taking care of her mother, my Nana, and still was saving up and storing things in layaway for me and my siblings. I knew this because she was already asking me what I wanted for Christmas during the Easter cookout. My Granny was doing a lot and when she died it shifted everything for my family.  It especially impacted my father to lose his mother in such a tragic fashion. He always remarks that she was the bedrock of the family and it shows as going back to Louisville has never been the same.

Fast-forward to 2018 and it’s a week from Mother’s Day, and I’m trying to figure out what gift I can get my mother, the new bedrock of the family. What gift can I give to the woman that of course deserves everything? What gift can I give the woman who got pregnant with me her senior year in college and decided to put her wants on pause to make sure that I had what I need? What do I get the woman who spent every dime she had to make sure that Xavier wasn’t pushing me out of the door after my freshman year? If I had enough money, I’d buy her a house and tell her to quit her job like all the newly drafted athletes do. But all I can afford to give her is a nice Facebook post, and maybe a coupon for a spa day. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this predicament with Mother’s Day less than a week away as I write this essay. But I’m also sure that no matter what I get my mother, or whatever anyone else gets their mother, that they will love it unconditionally like they do every year. What I wish I could give my mother above all though, is simply some rest.

The shockwaves of my granny’s death continue to reverberate within my life, and I constantly worry about both my parents as many do, but specifically my mother because of all of the things that she is holding up. I can’t fathom all of the things that she is carrying on her shoulders, and I wish in some way that I could give her some rest so that she doesn’t burn herself out and I lose my mother too soon as well.

In my experience, Black women have been the foundation of many families regardless of the presence of fathers and father figures. This quasi-matriarchal type of culture is the result of the systemic separation and destruction of Black families through slavery and the justice system alike. While the longstanding impacts and results of these things are under constant debate, what I’m focused on is the impact this has on the psyche and the mental well-being of the Black woman.

It is widely know that stress can have many adverse effects on the body and overall health outcomes. Stress greatly increases the chances of heart disease and stroke, and can lead to heart palpitations, and depression in extreme cases. Being a woman in and of itself brings about stress. According to the World Health Organization, “Depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms and high rates of comorbidity are significantly related to interconnected and co-occurrent risk factors such as gender based roles, stressors and negative life experiences and events.” The stress of sexism, social pressures, and misogynist culture have dire effects on the mental health of women by simply existing within this patriarchal world. To continue to pile on race-based stress can kill Black and brown people almost as effectively as the criminal justice system. Situations involving racial microaggressions and/or violence can leave many with PTSD-like symptoms. Even the anticipation of a potential racial interaction can have physical reactions: “Just the anticipation of experiencing racial discrimination can be enough to cause a significant spike in stress responses. A study showed that Latina students who interacted with a person with presumably racist ideas showed an increased ‘fight or flight’ response with higher blood pressure and faster heart rates.” On top of the physical ramifications of this country’s capitalist, sexist, and racist culture and institutions, there are many more consequences for the mental wellbeing of its citizens.

May is largely about Mother’s Day, and rightfully so, but it is also mental health awareness month. Stress impacts people in poverty, women, and people of color, so imagine the impacts of those at the intersections. I can’t imagine the weight carried by people like my mother and my grandmother who hold onto all of these identities and history. I recognize my mommy as one of the strongest people I know, but for how long must she be strong? Why is it that she’s been put in a position that she needs to be this strong? Hopefully one day soon I too can tell my mother she won’t ever have to worry again. Because I don’t always need my mother to be strong, but I need her to be here.

Growing up with a Working Mom

Growing up with a Working Mom

Claudia Brock
May 12, 2018

My mom has been a working mother all of my life. When I was born my mom was working at a health sciences college in Omaha and in my baby book there are several photographs of me having some tummy-time on the floor of her office and of her rocking me in the on-site day care center. When I was in kindergarten my mom founded her own nonprofit, Concord Center: a mediation and conflict resolution center serving families, individuals, businesses, schools and community groups. In her office she has a picture frame with photos of my sister and me the year she started her organization: my early 2000s school picture featuring some missing teeth,  and a picture of my curly-haired, three-year-old sister.

Starting her own non-profit while my sister and I were young children meant creating a family-friendly work environment and flexible schedule were essential. My early memories include playing with my sister in my mom’s workspace, coloring on her whiteboard with dry erase markers, watching Disney VHS tapes on a small television in her office, and roller skating around her conference room table. My mom’s flexible schedule allowed her to pick me up from school and spend time with me in the afternoons. But I also have memories of accompanying my mom to meetings and attending day camp if my sister and I had a school holiday that could not be accommodated by my parents’ work schedule.

I feel very lucky to have grown up with a working mom. As a young girl I benefitted from seeing my mom as a boss, a leader, a collaborator, and a problem solver and learning that being a dedicated mom and an engaged worker were not mutually exclusive. I grew up around coworkers who respected her in both a professional and personal capacity. I am proud of my mom’s career and feel grateful that she and my dad always spoke about their careers as a way to share their gifts with the world, and as something tied to their own spirituality and concern for community- they had vocations, not jobs. When I envision my own future it always involves being a working mother.

While I so admire my mom’s accomplishments I am very aware that she had to make professional sacrifices to be fully available to my sister and me. In fact, it is a national trend for women’s careers to have family-related interruptions more often than men’s careers. These interruptions contribute to the gender wage gap and limit the number of women in top-level jobs.

As with most issues, the rights and privileges extended to working parents have a class and racial dimension. People who make more than $75,000 a year are twice as likely as those who make less than $30,000 to receive paid leave, with only 14% of workers in the United States having access to paid family leave. Balancing childcare and work often lead todifficult decisions for many families, and in particular African American families who, “are doubly penalized by lower wages and higher rates of parental labor force participation.”

The United States remains one of the wealthiest nations and yet the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers. In the U.S., 1 in 4 new mothers go back to work just 10 days after giving birth. So this Mother’s Day let’s ask policymakers for family friendly workplaces; for paid leave, flexible hours, and affordable and accessible child care in addition to making mom breakfast in bed- it’s the least we can do.

The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Immigrant Families

The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Immigrant Families

Sana Rizvi
May 2, 2018

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Trump administration has anti-immigrant policies, considering our current president won an entire campaign on an explicitly anti-immigrant platform. Yet, I am still outraged by the horrific nature of these policies and how they have attacked the very foundation of our society: families.

How can we not be outraged? When did our political leaders forget the value and sacredness of family?

I have heard my entire life that our nation is a nation of immigrants. If that is (at least partially) true, why do we treat immigrants in this country today as second-class citizens? Why do we allow our government to tear immigrant families—people who came to this country for safety and security—apart?

Over the past few months, as advocates fought to keep DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in the news cycle, the Administration took action to uproot our immigrant communities by ramping up detentions and intentionally separating children from their parents.

Here are just a few examples:

On October 24, 2017, Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old undocumented girl with cerebral palsy, was arrested by border agents while being taken into surgery. National outrage came swiftly, and it was a rare moment of national spotlight, which led Rosa Maria to be released on November 3, 2017.

A few weeks later, 1-year-old Mateo was separated from his father, who was applying for asylum as a family unit at the same time as several other families. Onlookers who resisted the separation of father and son were forcibly told by the arresting officer that doing so would hurt their own claims for asylum. The four children taken during that encounter were then processed as unaccompanied minors and sent to foster care in separate states.[i]

In March, a Congolese woman was finally reunited with her 7-year-old daughter after being separated from her for several months by almost 2,000 miles, a situation DHS Secretary Nielsen herself could not rationalize.[ii]

These are just a few recent examples, but the everyday reality is that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is systematically seeking to separate parents from their children. [iii]

In Islam, heaven is under your mother’s feet and looking at your parents with love is considered a form of worship. Woe to those who tear children away from heaven.

As a person of faith, I am deeply troubled by the leniency our collective conscience has allowed to those who tear families apart in the name of national security. Family separation has gone from a once-abhorred policy to being a common state-sanctioned practice.

Two recent ICE directives have made this possible: The first instructed agents on how to separate children from their parents, removing key elements of earlier policies that allowed prosecutorial discretion to provide assistance to parents who need help retaining their parental rights in immigration courts. The second changed an ICE policy to begin long-term detainment of pregnant women, despite multiple lawsuits and reports of miscarriages occurring from the conditions of detention.[iv]

One of the most memorable verses in the Quran asks “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to flee for refuge?” (Quran 4:97) Every time I read it, I am reminded that we erected strict borders, even though God asked us to never turn away people who come to your door in need.

What excuses will we make in front of God when asked why we treated our neighbors as criminals and increased their suffering when they came to us for help? What will we say when we are shown the children who fled to a country they did not know and were torn from their mothers?

[i] “Five Outrageous ways ICE Separates Families” Amnesty International USA. Dec. 18, 2017. https://medium.com/@amnestyusa/five-outrageous-ways-ice-separates-families-fe0452653272

[ii] “Durbin says Homeland Security admits separating Congolese mother and child ‘a mistake’” Chicago Tribune. March 7, 2018. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/huppke/ct-met-congo-family-separated-immigration-huppke-20180307-story.html

[iii] Our friends at Hope Border Institute recently published a report of asylum seekers at the El Paso Sector of the border being deterred from entry through cases of family separation and the horrific conditions of detention, find that report and more resources here: https://www.hopeborder.org/sealing-the-border

[iv]  “Detained  Women Suffering Miscarriages Due to ICE Negligence, Activists Say” NETA February 12, 2018 https://netargv.com/2018/02/12/detained-women-suffering-miscarriages-due-ice-negligence-activists-say/

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Mary Cunningham
April 30, 2018

“He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’ ” – St. Bernardine of Siena

On May 1, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Pope Pius XII established this feast day in 1955 to honor St. Joseph and celebrate the Catholic Church’s commitment to the dignity of labor. St. Joseph cared for Mary, his wife, and Jesus, his son, through his work as a carpenter, representing for us the ideal of dignified work and faithful contribution to the common good. His example reminds all workers to participate in God’s continuing creation each and every day through our own labor.

As I reflect on St. Joseph the Worker, I am reminded of the teacher strikes emerging throughout our country in the past few months. Beginning in West Virginia –and growing to Colorado, Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma– teachers are uniting to demand higher wages and better conditions for the schools where they teach. The teachers rallying are from states with some of the lowest salaries for educators in the country. They are calling for more state funding for public education, which is currently inadequate.

In a pivotal move, teachers are leaving their classrooms to go on strike. In West Virginia, the teachers hoped to point out not only inadequate pay, but also changes to PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency), a health insurance company that covers state employees. They also wanted to highlight the large number of teacher vacancies (700 in West Virginia) resulting from poor school conditions and low teacher pay. In Colorado, teachers rallied at the State Capitol for various reasons, among them fear of changes to retirement and pension plans. United for a common mission, these teachers have gained national attention, and in some cases, secured greater education funding.

Like teachers, workers across professions are joining together to demand just wages and benefits for their work. At the Christian Care Home  in Ferguson, Missouri, healthcare workers participated in a 104 day-long strike because the nursing home mishandled vacation and violated  the contract for time off  for its employees. Around 65 full-time employees and 25 part-time workers participated in the strike, which eventually led to a 20 cent an hour raise to $9.85 an hour. Christian Care Home also agreed to cover health insurance rates and cover payouts for unfair labor practices. This is another striking example of what it looks like to take action to secure dignified labor.

As we celebrate St Joseph the Worker today, we recall all workers who have experienced injustice and sought better working conditions for themselves and those around them. The teachers going on strike, and all teachers across the United States, are shaping our education system and forming the young women and men who will soon enter the workforce, and serve as our politicians, engineers, and innovators. Their contribution to the common good cannot be understated. All workers deserve dignity, fair compensation, and safe work environments that allow them to shape our shared future and contribute to the common good.

Striving For Holiness In Our Advocacy

Striving For Holiness In Our Advocacy

Mary Cunningham
April 26, 2018

In his recently-published apostolic exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad,” Pope Francis explores what it means to be holy in a world often tainted by egoism and a disregard for the marginalized. He calls us all to follow Jesus in order to embody His holiness and live out His mission in the world. In one section of the apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis lists the “signs of holiness in today’s world:” Perseverance, Patience and Meekness, Joy and a Sense of Humor, Boldness and Passion, Community, and Constant Prayer. What do these mean, and how do they apply to our own lives and our advocacy?

Perseverance, Patience and Meekness

“They do not desert others in bad times; they accompany them in their anxiety and distress, even though doing so may not bring immediate satisfaction.” (#112)

Working for justice can be draining. I am always amazed by our lobbyists who constantly advocate for policy goals that may or may not be realized. It is difficult to measure how much one lobby visit or one conversation can influence a policy maker. While our lobbyists might not feel immediate satisfaction from their actions, they continue to do this work because they are hopeful that through advocacy we will move towards a more positive future. As we continue in our work for justice, it is important to look towards our ultimate goal to avoid being weighed down in moments of distress.

Joy and a Sense of Humor

“Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’”  (#125)

In our political climate it can be hard to find joy, let alone a sense of humor. The current administration makes daily decisions that threaten the livelihood of our sisters and brothers both in the United States and across the world. In the face of this adversity, it is important to cultivate the inner sense of joy and positivity we need to move forward.

At NETWORK, I find joy in my co-workers, who find time to engage with one another in meaningful ways even when they are bogged down with hill visits, or grassroots organizing. I also find joy in the hope that our work will contribute to promoting the common good and dismantle the oppressive systems currently in place.

Boldness and Passion

“God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where men and women, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek an answer to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Jn 1:14).” (#135)

Going to the fringes requires a willingness to enter into moments of discomfort and leave our own privilege. One of our goals at NETWORK is to engage in dialogues and actions surrounding racial justice. As a white person, I often struggle with these conversations. I try to make sure I am being respectful in the language I use, while also acknowledging my own privilege, which can be uncomfortable. In the advocacy space, it is important not to let our fears overcome our passion. We are human. God calls us to enter into difficult conversations and to be bold so that justice can be advanced. Complacency is resignation. As Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”

Community

“Contrary to the growing consumerist individualism that tends to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others, our path to holiness can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you’ (Jn 17:21).” (#146)

It’s a human tendency to think we can do everything on our own. Sometimes it feels easier to do it that way instead of consulting our sisters and brothers for help. However, in our work for justice, we must always seek out our neighbors. Our Grassroots Mobilization team constantly puts this into action by building advocates teams across the United States and mobilizing them to be active voices in their communities. We also see this sense of community in our spirit-filled network at NETWORK that participates in action alerts, webinars, and more. Without them, out work would not be possible.

Another key part of advocacy is building relationships with other organizations advancing justice and lifting up the work they are doing. At NETWORK we work on our Mend the Gap issue areas, but we can only cover so much! Without the great work of our partner organizations, the uphill battle towards economic and social justice would be a lot more challenging. When we recognize the value of community, we are all able to combine our unique strengths to work towards a common goal.

Constant Prayer

“Trust-filled prayer is a response of a heart open to encountering God face to face, where all is peaceful and the quiet voice of the Lord can be heard in the midst of silence. In that silence, we can discern, in the light of the Spirit, the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us.” (#149)

Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of discernment by asking, how do we faithfully follow God? Being in prayer with God means being in conversation with Her and asking where do you most need me? Although this can be unclear, only in talking to God can we ensure that we are doing all we can to live out Her mission.

A huge part of our work for justice requires listening and bearing witness to what is going on around us. We must occasionally set aside doing and focus on openness: letting God’s will enter our hearts and our minds. We have to remind ourselves of why we are doing this work. Only then can we ensure we are truly living out God’s call for us.

Overall, there is a lot to take from the pope’s apostolic exhortation. Pope Francis assures us that we are all called to be holy in our own unique way. The “signs of holiness” are the means through which we can animate our advocacy and achieve holiness in our lives.