Category Archives: Racism

Pray for Reparations during Black History Month 2023

Pray for Reparations during Black History Month 2023

Pledge to pray for reparations NOW!

Pray for Reparations

During Black History Month, we invite you to pray that President Biden establishes a Commission to Study Reparations. The H.R. 40 commission is a research study that will be the development of a report and a set of data that will quantify and assess the damage systemic racism has inflicted on the descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States. The study will also make recommendations on the path to repair this damage.

For the past year, you have attended Vigils for Reparation and educated yourselves about H.R. 40 (Commission to Study Reparations).

NETWORK partners in faith, let’s join together and pray that the path to reparations begins this month.

See the prayer here!

Pledge to Pray for Reparations

Joining our prayers, we can urge President Biden to sign the executive order for a reparations commission.

Watch Faith in Reparations Again...and Share it with Friends and Family

Faith leaders led a Spirit-filled call for reparations in November 2022. Watch, re-watch, and share!

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The Tragic Killing of Tyre Nichols Must Lead to Police Reform

The Tragic Killing of Tyre Nichols Must Lead to Police Reform

The Tragic Killing of Tyre Nichols Must Lead to Police Reform

Min. Christian S. Watkins, Government Relations Advocate and Elissa Hackerson, Digital Communications Coordinator
February 1, 2023

“Our country has mishandled public safety challenges with racist policies and practices that have made us all less safe and secure, like: hyper-militarized law enforcement of Black and Brown neighborhoods, overly aggressive — and sometimes deadly — policing tactics…”

‐No More Unsafe Policing Bills. It’s Time For Data-Driven Public Safety Solutions (August 2022)

Tyre Nichols from Memphis, Tennessee should be working a shift at FedEx, eating a meal at his mother’s table, or editing pictures for his online photography website, but his life was stolen by those sworn to protect and serve. Memphis police officers brutally beat Tyre so severely on January 7 that they caused organ failure and cardiac arrest. His death three days later led to the arrest of five Memphis police officers who face multiple charge,s including second degree murder. An additional two police officers have been suspended, and three Memphis Fire Department personnel have been fired for their failure to provide care to Tyre. This is not enough. Policies and practices that prevent law enforcement nationwide from using brutal force to subdue, and kill, unarmed Black bodies are needed now!  

The death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black father, son, and brother, has rocked our nation. His beaten body laying lifeless in the street after a traffic stop is evidence that the United States needs drastic policing reform. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and the others we call by name because of police violence — and the blessed souls whose names we don’t know — should have been cause for reform. People of faith, and all those with an interest in justice and the common good, recognize that interactions with police, especially a non-violent traffic stop, should not leave a man dead. In Memphis, where about 65% of the population is Black, there has been tension between Black people and the police who have who have behaved as predators, not public safety officers for decades.

Tyre’s death by heinous law enforcement violence once again focuses the national spotlight on the danger Black lives face when confronted by police power. In a recent statement, the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC) asks, “How will this modern-day Black genocide be eradicated? Where do we go from here?” For the NBSC, the solution lies in comprehensive action from Congress, the Department of Justice, and local and state law enforcement agencies.

We join the call for action that NBSC proposes. The tragic murder of Tyre Nichols must lead to police reform in our country.

Tyre Nichols Lived a Thriving Life

We are inspired by the stories shared by friends and family that reveal his passion for life, the joy he felt for the natural world, and his compassion and humanity. Tyre was over six feet tall and loved to eat his mother’s cooking, though he was underweight at about 145 pounds due to Crohns disease. He grew up in Sacramento, California guided by a free spirit that drew him to skateboarding and youth groups, and the communities that existed around his passions. A childhood friend said, “Every church knew him; every youth group knew him.” In California and Tennessee, people shared that he exuded a special light and was a kind soul. And he was fiercely loved by family, especially his mother, RowVaughn Wells.

Tyre lived with his parents in a modest single-family home in a peaceful Black community. The police who detained him claimed he was driving recklessly in the area leading into his neighborhood. The abuse he suffered by an overly aggressive police officer who used a taser on him despite his efforts to comply with their orders, caused him to flee toward safety. Officers pursued him and savagely attacked him. Tyre Nichols’ thriving life neared its end within earshot of his mother’s home as police, emergency medical technicians, and a firefighter neglected to tend to the trauma he endured just three doors down from her home.

Tyre should be alive today. He should be at his regular Starbucks meet up with friends., He should be in his happy place — skateboarding at Tobey Skate Park and taking pictures of the sunsets he loved. You can see Tyre’s photography here. No traffic stop should end in execution. Tyre Nichols’ life mattered.

We Are Called to Reform Racist Violence, Policies, and Practices

NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda envisions reform to our criminal legal system. Our communities are not helped, but harmed, by military weapons recycled for street use by law enforcement. Violence eclipses the freedom to thrive that all families, men, and women should have in their neighborhoods. We resolve to grieve with purpose and educate all in our political ministry to advocate for the end of dangerous police powers, which has a long history in the United States.

Whether we drive through communities of expensive homes, public housing apartments, or modest single-family communities (like the one in which Tyre lived), we expect to reach our destination safely — even when we interact with police – no matter the color of our skin. Far too often, Black and Brown lives are traumatized by public safety officers who fail to see humanity in Black bodies and inflict harm, and even death.

We know our communities will be safer without militarized police units and the continuation of qualified immunity, but some leaders equate public safety with “tough on crime” police policies and procedures based on racist ideas about Black and Brown bodies. Those who want vengeance, and not justice, point out that more white people are killed by police than Black people. While this is true, the rate at which Black people die at the hands of police is more than double that of whites.

Statistic: Rate of fatal police shootings in the United States from 2015 to December 2022, by ethnicity (per million of the population per year) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

White and well-resourced people of all races gladly cede outsized powers to the police as they carry on with violence and intimidation in Black and Brown communities. But, they would surely balk if chokeholds, excessive taser use, and other overly-aggressive tactics for traffic stops were to happen in their communities.

Last summer, we wrote that hyper-militarized law enforcement can be overly aggressive, and their deadly tactics can harm families and communities. The Memphis police officers who violently attacked Tyre were members of the SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods) unit. SCORPION was created in November 2021 with a mandate to control rising crime in Memphis, and its tactics sadly fit this description. We must end violent policing and make our country a place where our rights are respected and where every one of us can live full and healthy lives.

Building Anew So Everyone Can Thrive

Justice-seekers guided by faith and the common good can do something about the shameful policy policies that must be reformed. We can push Congress to preserve law and order and respect the life and dignity given to us by Our Creator.

After the horrific death of George Floyd in May 2020, calls for justice were heard across our country. Since then, however, the litany of names of those whose lives were taken by police violence, most recently Anthony Lowe Jr. in southern California, have failed to move our country to action. Over the past three years, Congress has not reached agreement on a bill that would protect Black lives and put us on a path to end brutal deaths by law enforcement.

The House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but it failed to pass the Senate during the 117th Congress. While no-knock law enforcement warrants, chokeholds, and other reforms were considered, the Senate could not come to an agreement, in large part because of qualified immunity. There are better, data-driven ways of assuring public safety in the United States. Lawmakers must act to remove military-grade weapons from local law enforcement departments, to train law enforcement with a national standard for appropriate apprehension, restraint, and care for detainees, and to end the policy of qualified immunity, which has shielded police from being held accountable for their actions. Present and future generations depend on community-oriented practices becoming the standard.

We know you, like all of us at NETWORK, grieve with RowVaughn and her family. While she navigates the path to justice for her son, join us as we urge Congress to act to end racist and inhumane policing tactics. We hold Tyre close to our hearts as we continue to hold all who have lost their lives because of racist police violence.

Racism, Reconciliation, and Repair

Racism, Reconciliation, and Repair

Racial Justice is Central to Renewing Society, Politics, and Church

February 1, 2023
On June 15, 2022, NETWORK advocates organized a prayer vigil for reparations at St. Aloysius-St. Agatha Parish in Cleveland, Ohio.
On June 15, 2022, NETWORK advocates organized a prayer vigil for reparations at St. Aloysius-St. Agatha Parish in Cleveland, Ohio.

After a consequential election year, the re-election of Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia finalized the composition of the 118th Congress. His election, in many ways, symbolizes how the U.S. struggle toward progress is bound up in how the country deals with racism, white supremacy, and reparatory justice. The election of a Black man in a former Confederate state, while certainly symbolically powerful, doesn’t capture the work undone in securing racial justice in U.S. politics, including in elections themselves.

The first cornerstone of NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda is “Dismantle Systemic Racism,” and its placement rightly suggests that racism must be confronted at every level of our social structures for economic injustices and other wrongs to be fully addressed. The many in-person and online actions taken by NETWORK in 2022 also reflected the central prioritization of racial justice in Catholic Social Justice.

Talk About White Supremacy

Fr. Bryan Massingale

In the second installment of NETWORK’s  White Supremacy and American Christianity event in October, Fr. Bryan Massingale of Fordham University, author of “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church,” dialogued with Dr. Robert P. Jones, founder and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. They discussed data gathered by Jones that showed almost half of white evangelicals and almost four in 10 white Catholics in the U.S. believe that their country should be a place that privileges people of European descent and that God intends this.

“That attitude has become hardened and more dangerous,” said Massingale. “What we’re seeing now is a willingness among those who hold that ideology to use any means necessary to achieve that end… a country that says only white Americans are true Americans and all others are Americans only by exception or toleration or not really at all.”

Massingale referenced the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, with a growing number of people questioning the legitimacy of elections themselves and adopting the position of “If my candidate loses, then by defi­nition it was an illegitimate election.” This, coupled with very open use of voter restrictions and voter suppression, as well as the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, made clear to Massingale that “any means necessary” includes political violence.

Concerned that the normalization of political violence is the next stage after voter suppression and election denial, Massingale cited the violent attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, drawing a connection to the rhetoric of Christian nationalist rallies across the country in the weeks preceding the attack.

“God’s angel of death is coming,” Massingale noted one rally speaker proclaiming in reference to their political opponents. “Let’s connect the dots here. … One needs to understand that even though people don’t necessarily call for overt political violence, if you say enough about divinely inspired victory and gun rights and God’s angel of death, then we can’t be surprised when people take violent means.”

Massingale also cited the “failure of religious leaders to connect the dots,” noting that Catholic bishops offered only cursory statements in response to the Pelosi attack.

Dr. Ansel Augustine

Massingale’s observations also reflect a Black Catholic doing the work of educating a white, predominately Catholic audience, about the pernicious implications of racism. This is an unfair burden placed on Black people, says Dr. Ansel Augustine — to educate colleagues on racism, while continuing to endure its effects.

Author of the new book, “Leveling the Praying Field: Can the Church We Love, Love Us Back?,” Augustine told Connection, “Ministering in the church, which at times perpetuates this ‘original  sin,’ constantly has us questioning and renewing our commitment to the faith,” Augustine told Connection. “It is tough having to be an ‘expert’ on something that is trying to destroy your dignity as a human being, especially within an institution that is supposed to empower you and be your safe space to simply ‘exist.’”

James Conway, a cradle Catholic in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, notes that the last two years have been different for Black Catholics.

“People no longer seem to be afraid to show any racist tendencies that they may have secretly harbored for years,” he told Connection. “Now it’s just blatant and in your face under the guise of being cultural ignorance.”

He also sees “an uptick in instances of racial aggression and microaggressions against minorities in the church.” He was told by a now former member of his parish that, because they sing gospel music, she would be taking her money and her family elsewhere, and that the parish would be closed within six months without her fi­nancial support. Two years later, the parish is still open.

Focus on Reparations

Sr. Patricia Rogers, OP

The church not living up to its own teaching on human dignity when it comes to race is a problem that goes back centuries, Sr. Patricia Rogers, OP shared in a conversation on NETWORK’s “Just Politics” podcast in November.

She asked, “Why is it that Black Catholic children were denied a Catholic education before the Civil Rights Movement? I never saw a Black nun, and then I learned that the first Black nuns had to establish their own congregations because they were not welcome. And it still makes me wonder, what happened to the dignity of all humans? You just don’t know what to do with that sometimes.”

This raises the question of reparatory justice for harm inflicted over generations and the need for reparations in the U.S. today. In that area, NETWORK has hosted and participated in numerous events, including a June action near the White House calling on President Biden to take executive action to set up a commission on reparations, as called for in H.R. 40, a bill first introduced in Congress in 1989.

Cleo and Yvonne Nettles speak at the June 15 prayer vigil for reparations at St.
Aloysius-St. Agatha Parish in Cleveland.

In June, NETWORK also helped organize an in-person event Repair and Redress: A Vigil for Reparations at St. Aloysius-St. Agatha Parish in Cleveland.  The parish and school community, Sisters, the Cleveland NETWORK Advocates Team, justice-seekers, and NETWORK staff together made a stand for reparations for Black Americans and called for a reparations commission by Juneteenth.

Rev. Traci Blackmon of The United Church of Christ spoke to the theological call to repair a society broken by the sin of chattel slavery and the racism that has followed in its wake, as well as of the need to atone and provide redress.

Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate General
Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries
for The United Church of Christ, speaks at
NETWORK‘s reparations vigil in Cleveland.

“The reason we have not reckoned with racism in this country,” she said, is that “decision-makers have decided that God cannot be Black, that God cannot be Brown, that God indeed must be white. And therefore we have created a fractured… society.”

NETWORK continued the push to set up a reparations commission by executive action following the November elections with the event Faith in Reparations.”

“I’m so sick of living in a nation that treats white rage as a sacrament and black grief as a threat,” Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church, said at that event.

“White rage is why we had Jim Crow. White rage is why we had redlining. All of the structures in our nation are built around white rage’s disdain for Black people’s beauty and body and joy,” she continued. “I’m so tired of the permanent pernicious nature of white supremacy in this nation that is now in a wicked dance with Christianity, blessing with Jesus’s name and in the name of God this vile hatred that is always directed to my people.”

Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

Sr. Anita Baird, DHM, founding director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Racial Justice, said:

“Reparations are…about America fulfilling her promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of justice for all. And until this injustice is acknowledged and rectified, there can be no healing and no moving forward. The Biden administration must uphold its promise to African Americans. It is a matter of justice. It is a matter of life. Now is time.”

The NETWORK community will continue calling on Congress and President Biden to act on their commitments to dismantle racist laws, policies and frameworks, and advance racial equity.

Leticia Ochoa Adams and Elissa Hackerson contributed to this feature.

This story was originally published in the 1st Quarter issue of Connection. Download the full issue here.

The National Black Sisters’ Conference Calls for “Justice for Tyre!”

The National Black Sisters’ Conference Calls for “Justice for Tyre!”

Mary J. Novak and Joan F. Neal
January 31, 2023

On January 30, the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC) published a powerful statement addressing the murder of 29-year old Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers. We join the NBSC in grieving the loss of Tyre Nichols’ life and calling for the immediate passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and reforms to policing at all levels.

Read the National Black Sisters’ Conference Statement on the murder of Tyre Nichols:

NETWORK Welcomes H.R.51 for D.C. Statehood Re-Introduction

NETWORK Welcomes H.R.51 for D.C. Statehood Re-Introduction 

Update:

On January 24, 2023, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, led a group of Senate Democrats in reintroducing S.51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, to make Washington, D.C. the 51st state and give Washington D.C. citizens full representation in Congress. This legislation is the Senate companion to H.R.51, introduced by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.

Minister Christian Watkins
January 18, 2023

On January 9, 2023, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) introduced H.R.51, the Washington D.C. Admission Act, to the 118th Congress. The bill was introduced with 165 original cosponsors, which Rep. Norton noted was the most cosponsors of any bill introduced that day.

Rep. Norton has introduced this bill on the first day of every Congress for decades. Each time it has gained more support. In June 2019, the D.C. Statehood Bill passed the House for the first time and it passed again in April 2021, with NETWORK Spirit-filled justice-seekers adding their voices to the call for D.C. Statehood.

NETWORK strongly supports the movement for D.C. statehood to uphold every citizen’s right and responsibility to participate in the political process as an expression of their inherent human dignity.

D.C. Statehood is a Racial Justice Issue

Voting representation is the foundation of our democracy, and if passed into law, this legislation would finally extend it to the people of D.C. With a majority Black and brown politically active population currently disenfranchised from representation, D.C. statehood is a racial justice issue.

The District houses nearly 700,000 citizens, a larger population than states like Wyoming and Vermont. All D.C. residents pay federal taxes and fulfill all other obligations of American citizenship and yet are denied full representation in our Congress and full local self-government.

As Rep. Norton noted when introducing the bill, “The United States was founded on the principles of no taxation without representation and consent of the governed, but D.C. residents are taxed without representation and cannot vote on the laws under which they, as American citizens, must live.” Many believe that establishing The District as a state will abolish the permanent seat of the federal government. But H.R. 51 does not abolish the national capital — it only shrinks it, making a new state of the District’s non-federal area.

Last year, the Biden administration committed its “strong support” for H.R.51 in a statement of administration policy and President Biden has promised to sign it into law if passed by Congress. Ending the continued disenfranchisement of a non-minority Black jurisdiction that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans without representation in Congress must become a reality. Congress must take this opportunity to correct this injustice and pass D.C. Statehood in both the House and the Senate during the 118th Congress.

 

* Currently, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton serves as a delegate, a non-voting representative to the United States House of Representatives. In the 118th Congress, the House has six non-voting members: a delegate representing the District of Columbia, a resident commissioner representing Puerto Rico, as well as one delegate for American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Delegates can introduce legislation and vote in committee, but generally cannot vote the passage of legislation in the full House.

Take Action for Justice in Drug Sentencing (The EQUAL Act)

It's time for cocaine sentencing policy justice

The 117th Congressional session ends this month. Legislation that we have lobbied for, the EQUAL Act (which would bring equity in crack and powder cocaine sentencing), has a chance to pass — if the Senate can be persuaded to take bold action before the end of the year. LEARN MORE.

Call the Senate NOW: 1-888-436-6478

Tell them to support the EQUAL Act by the end of the year.
When you call, here’s what you might say: 

“Hello, I am [YOUR NAME], a constituent of Senator [SENATOR’S NAME] from [YOUR TOWN]. As your constituent and a NETWORK Lobby advocate, I am calling to ask that you support including the EQUAL Act by the end of the year. The disparity in the lengths of sentences for crack and powder cocaine crimes has led to an immorally high mass incarceration rate in our country. And, the people that are most severely impacted are Black and Brown people. Families and communities have suffered long enough–now is the time for fair, equitable sentencing reform. Will the Senator support passing the EQUAL Act before the end of the year and affirm that every person is entitled to equal justice under law?”

ACT NOW for Other Policy Areas

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Advent 2022: Better Neighbors Set the Oppressed Free

NETWORK Lobby offers Advent reflections

Advent 2022: Better Neighbors Set The Oppressed Free

Min. Christian Watkins
December 5, 2022

Reflection:

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims the words of the prophet Isaiah and in doing so, makes very clear why he’s been sent among us:

“…to proclaim liberty to captives and to set the oppressed free…”

During Advent, as we prepare to welcome him with the observance of Christmas, these words should challenge us still. If Jesus is sent to proclaim liberty to people in captivity and freedom for those oppressed, how can we claim that he is with us in the U.S. today?

In a culture that seeks to denigrate and ignore entire groups of people, including the elderly and the sick, the U.S. holds some especially dubious distinctions when it comes to incarcerated people. With over 2 million of our people in prisons, the U.S. is the most incarcerated country in the world – not only in raw numbers of people behind bars but also our incarceration rate (639 per 100,000 people, according to the World Prison Brief).

Is this really the land of the free?

It’s even worse when race is taken into account. Despite being only 12 percent of the adult population, Black people account for over a third of those incarcerated in the U.S. That number climbs to over half when Black and Latinx people are counted together. The horrible combination of overly punitive drug policy, excessive sentencing, and the use of for-profit prisons makes for, in many ways, a form of legal slavery. It’s so bad that reform of the U.S. criminal legal system actually enjoys some bipartisan support.

Emmanuel means “God with us,” so for us to gather near to Jesus this Christmas season, we should remember the “with us” that Jesus himself said he came to proclaim his Good News to. Jesus is our melaninated Savior from the southern part of Jerusalem who was unjustly imprisoned shortly before having his life snuffed out in a shameful, public, state-sponsored execution. However, as his followers comprise the Body of Christ still in the world today, we can cooperate in his saving work by helping bring “liberty to captives and freedom from oppression.

Call to Action:

The EQUAL Act is bipartisan legislation that seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, a major contributor to mass incarceration. It would apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced. As people of faith, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, brutality and hyper-militarization in policing, the loss of future generations to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. We affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equitable justice under law.

Help us ensure that the EQUAL Act is included in the Senate’s must-pass legislation by the end of this year.

Sr. Cora Marie Billings, RSM

Black Sisters Testify: The Real Work of Belonging

Black Sisters Testify: The Real Work of Belonging


November 29, 2022
Sr. Cora Marie Billings, RSM

Sr. Cora Marie Billings, RSM

Sr. Cora Marie Billings, RSM, has spent her life knowing the weight of being the “first” or the “only.” The first Black Sister to join her religious community and the first Black Sister to lead a U.S. parish, to name only two such distinctions, she is also a co-founder of the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

Living in Richmond since the early ’80s, Sr. Cora Marie has served as a campus minister at Virginia State, as head of the diocesan office of Black Catholics, and for 14 years as the pastoral coordinator of St. Elizabeth’s parish, where she still attends.

Sr. Cora Marie shared with NETWORK her reflections on what it means to be a Black Sisters serving in the U.S., with all of the history and cultural proclivities wrapped up in that.

Sr. Sandra Helton, SSND

Black Sisters Testify: Live the Call To Be Authentically You

Black Sisters Testify: Live the Call To Be Authentically You

Nora Bradbury-Haehl
November 23, 2022
Sr. Sandra Helton, SSND

Sr. Sandra Helton, SSND

Sr. Sandra Helton entered her community, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, when she was in her early 30s. She already had two college degrees and had done post-graduate work. The child of a couple of generations of Baptist ministers, she was raised learning the Scriptures.

“From the time I could barely be seen. They’d stand you on the table to recite Bible verses,” she says.

Growing up as a PK (preacher’s kid), she came into religious life with an extremely strong prayer life. “I brought that with me. It’s not something I had to get when I got here,” she says.

She was attracted to life as a sister “because I had this call and I knew the type of service that God was calling me to could not happen in the Baptist Church.” As a convert to Catholicism. some people tell her she came in through the back door.
She says, “No. I came in through the door that God opened.”

As an African-American woman religious, Sr. Sandra’s vocation story, and her experience of life in a predominantly white religious community, is different from that of most sisters in the U.S. Out of 40,000 or so Catholic Sisters in the U.S. only about 400 of them are Black. The National Black Sisters’ Conference has 104 members.

In their September 2020 statement “Hold Up the Light” the NBSC declared, “We must hold up the Light of Christ against the sin of racism. We must speak the truth not only in love but we must speak the truth forthrightly about the complicit, systemic, and structural racism that continues to exist in the American Catholic Church today.”

For Sr. Sandra, living the countercultural witness of a Black Catholic Sister carries both challenges and graces.

“I think for me, being a Black woman in America today means that you basically live in a dual society. I live in a world where I have the norms that are set for the dominant culture. And so I have to follow those norms, even though that may not be the norm that I would typically go to within my own culture,” she says.

“Particularly here in American society, most of the norms are set by the dominant culture without reference to other cultures. … I get up every day and I have to think, ‘What position will I find myself in today?’ I have to always think twice. ‘OK, where am I? And what’s the situation here?’ … It’s a dual setting for me. Most people don’t have to get up and think like that, other than people of color. So it’s not that it’s something that I’m begrudging to do. It’s not something that I dwell on. But it’s an ‘is-ness’ that I have to be conscious of.”

Sr. Sandra gives the example of driving in St. Louis over 20 years ago.

“I was stopped by the police. I was told that the car didn’t belong to me because it belonged to the School Sisters of Notre Dame. I was told I stole the car because there are no Black Sisters. I was made to place my hands on the hood, all of these things that I know that would not have happened had it been someone else, particularly to a woman.”

When she communicates this disparity to white people – that her experience is that of being harassed, rather than protected, by police – she notes, “Some won’t even accept, nor do they understand. Some understand, but there’s always a little caveat, ‘Oh that was happening long ago. That doesn’t happen now.’ That totally is not correct. So there are all of these other things, excuses that come up. Their response is, ‘No, and it’s certainly not talking about me.’”

Conversely, when Sr. Sandra discusses religious life with young people of color, she gets questions that are highly attuned to these realities:

“Are you okay living with whites? That’s one of the questions that comes up a lot. The other one: Can be yourself? And I think the last thing, more importantly, is: Do you feel that what you’re doing is the best thing that you can do in order to help your people?”

“I speak to them of my real experience. I don’t sugarcoat anything,” she says. “I try to answer their questions as honestly as I possibly can.”

Sr. Sandra sees the outreach to young people, especially young people of color, as essential for women religious, that it’s not an attraction to the lifestyle of Sisters that is lacking, but simply the invitations are.

“There are younger people who are very serious about their faith walks and very serious about how they want to spend their lives in terms of their calls as well, and you know it may look different than most people who are in religious communities now,” she says.

While older sisters might question tattoos or other aspects of a young person’s lifestyle, Sr. Sandra counsels, “So what? Let’s go a little bit deeper than that, and it’s not about what you look at and see. It’s when you start getting to the heart, and the gut of who a person is.”

But the vocation to religious life is something Sr. Sandra cherishes and welcomes others to consider.

“It’s a wonderful lifestyle,” she says. “There’s nothing else that I would have done. I know that that’s what God wants me to do, and for whatever reason he’s chosen – and I said yes to it – that I live it out in this particular situation.”

In addition to being lived in the particular, it’s a call that must be lived with authenticity.

“You have to be who you are. No matter what, and even if it’s different,” says Sr. Sandra. “It doesn’t have to be popular. It doesn’t have to be what everybody else is doing. It doesn’t even have to be something your best friend or your family may like. But here’s the thing: It’s going to be where your call is, and that’s where you’re going to live your best life.”

Nora Bradbury-Haehl is the author of “The Twentysomething Handbook” and “The Freshman Survival Guide.”

Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS

Black Sisters Testify: Example of Love and Healing

Black Sisters Testify: Example of Love and Healing

Briana Jansky
November 20, 2022

Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS

When LaKesha Church was a young girl, she had a close relationship with God. As a convert to the Catholic faith and temporarily professed with the Sisters of the Precious Blood, her relationship with God is stronger than ever. For Sr. LaKesha, maintaining her close, personal relationship with God and serving others has always been central to discerning God’s will for her life.

Growing up in the Missionary Baptist church, she quickly found that she had a servant’s heart. She was heavily involved in youth ministry. Encouraged by her mother, she became involved in church ministry and worship services regularly and grew in her faith. Later, she volunteered with the Peace Corps, serving in Botswana, Africa.

This knack for service and willingness to follow God led Sr. LaKesha to begin discerning her vocation early on, even before she became Catholic. Now, as a fourth-grade teacher St. Adelaide Academy in Highland, California, she carries her servant’s heart into the classroom daily with her students to show them Christ and to help them become competent citizens.

Like most African American sisters, Sr. LaKesha experienced her fair share of rejection during the discernment process. Historically, Black Sisters have faced difficulty and resistance to professing vows within the church. Many sisters, such as Henriette Delille and Mary Lange, founded their unique religious orders after being rejected by all-white communities, and today, less than 3 percent of Catholic Sisters are African American. Most of them still experience racism, discrimination, and rejection.

Sr. LaKesha had a similar experience that led to a turning point in her discernment process. After one particularly hurtful experience at a “come and see” event, she found herself ready to throw in the towel. Although she felt discouraged, she still felt led to pray to God.

“I think I’m done, Lord. But if you’re not done, then let me know,” she prayed. No sooner than she uttered those words, she received a phone call from the Sisters of the Precious Blood inviting her to come and discern with them.

Sr LaKesha Church, CPPS, stands in front of St. Boniface Church, a place where she finds herself often praying with the saints.

While discerning one’s vocation can often be confusing, Sr. LaKesha has found ways to help with clarity. Along with meeting with a spiritual director and learning the language of discernment, Sr. LaKesha believes in the power of prayer and the intercession of the saints.

“I believe in the power of continual prayer, especially before the Eucharist,” she says. “Through those channels I have been able to hear God’s voice.”

For Black women considering discerning religious life, Sr. LaKesha confidently recommends finding support with the National Black Sisters’ Conference. Founded in 1968 by Sr. Martin de Porres Grey (Patricia Grey Ph.D.), the NBSC has offered education and support to African American religious sisters. The NBSC has extended valuable support to Sr. LaKesha during her discernment.

Sister LaKesha says that living in community “can be a challenge and a struggle, but also a gift.” As she spent time in various congregational houses, she learned more about herself and how to live in community with others. She says, “I’m still learning! Relationship building is a lifelong process.”

In addition to the National Black Sisters’ Conference and the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Sr. LaKesha has also found strength in the saints. She likes to ask for intercession from St. Teresa of Ávila and Mary Undoer of Knots.

As she continues to discern religious life, Sr. Lakesha has a few goals in mind. First, she wants to be herself fully, united through vows. In terms of being herself, she means her authentically Black self and all that her experience as a Black sister has to offer to the life of the church and others. These experiences include her suffering, joy, intelligence, wit, and culture.

Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS, distributes ashes to her students.

Sr. LaKesha Church, CPPS, distributes ashes to her students.

She also wants to continue teaching her students what it means to be a life-giving, reconciling presence in the church. As the church grapples with issues such as racism and division, she wants to teach them integrity, unity, and what it means to respect the human person. She understands that part of her mission and calling to serve is to help guide her students along the path as they journey their way closer to Christ and with others.

For Sr. LaKesha, a healed church looks like the communion of saints: “Jesus did not judge or cast the first stone. He loved everyone. If we can truly imitate him, we will be healed.”

For her, it’s crucial to be this example of love and healing to her students. In her words, it is essential to be a life-giving example of what it means to imitate Christ. “I have to teach my students about Christ and his love. He encountered people with love, and he dignified them.”

Briana Jansky is a freelance writer and author from Texas.