Category Archives: Racism

Peacebuilding in Polarized Times

Peacebuilding in Polarized Times

Claire Guinta
March 15, 2018

In February, Sister Simone came to Marquette University to speak about “21st Century Poverty and the Challenge of Healing Our Nation.” Hearing about current divisions in our country, it struck me how connected polarization is to the isolation between different economic groups and the assumptions we make of “the other.”

During her talk I thought of isolation I see around me. I am a senior at Marquette, a Jesuit University that “strives to develop men and women who will dedicate their lives to the service of others, actively entering into the struggle for a more just society.” Yet, through perceptions of poverty and violence, there is often an “othering” of those who live in the Milwaukee neighborhoods directly surrounding my campus. These assumptions create barriers between us in the “bubble” and those living just a few blocks away.

“Individualism and polarization are driving us apart because we don’t know each other’s stories,” Sister Simone Shared, “And we don’t see this. So, what do we do?”

She proposed four simple ways each of us can be a part of revitalizing community and reclaiming hope:

  • Virtue of curiosity: Have a holy curiosity to build community with folks we don’t know. Listen to other people’s stories.
  • Virtue of sacred gossip: Share those stories that you discovered. It brings us together and spreads knowledge.
  • Virtue of joy: Joy is in the relationship, joy is in the discovery, joy is in being woven together in community.
  • Virtue of doing your part: Don’t try to do it all—we are all one part of the body.

Through my own journey I have seen how these virtues can transform an individual and a community. As a research assistant with the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, I went door-knocking in the neighborhoods surrounding campus to collect survey data used to inform community initiatives. My first day door-knocking, I stepped onto the streets that had been described like the “shadowland from the Lion King.” I wrestled with that image in my head and tried to leave my assumptions behind. Quickly, I realized that the neighborhoods surrounding my campus were home to a diverse group of people (racially, economically, religiously, culturally). People were excited to share their opinions about their community and ready to see new community initiatives. When Sister Simone said that “hope is a communal virtue,” I thought of the people I met door-knocking.

When I returned to campus, I shared the survey results with the data team, but I also shared their stories with my friends. I found joy in making the connection with the neighborhood residents, but also in sharing what I had learned. It didn’t solve any headlining issues, but I was a part of a team working to revitalize a community. By making connections with “the other,” my assumptions faded away and were replaced by stories.

So, when I approach peacebuilding in these polarized times, I will be sure to have some holy curiosity, engage in sacred gossip, practice the virtue of joy, and seek out how I fit in to the greater picture.

Glaire Guinta is a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she studies International Affairs, Spanish, and Peace Studies. Throughout her university career, Claire has been involved in various activities supporting immigrants and refugees, including trips to the borderlands and providing interpretation services in Milwaukee. She currently works at the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking.

A Muslim and Black Woman in the Workplace

A Muslim and Black Woman in the Workplace

Aichetou Waiga
March 12, 2018

It was Saturday afternoon and I was well into my weekend routine of pajamas and catching up on my favorite daytime talk shows on YouTube. The day’s topic of discussion? A recent question posed by The New York Times: “Should you be yourself in the workplace?” I chuckled the moment I heard the question. I’ve never dedicated time to reflect on it, but it was already deeply rooted in me and in most women of color: being yourself in the workplace is simply not an option.

I know it may seem ridiculous to write about racial identity in the workplace in 2018, in a supposedly progressive America where more and more companies are celebrating and embracing diversity. However, I find that diversity in the workplace typically means a two-hour conference on race that leaves white people nervous to offend anyone, and people of color feeling dissatisfied. Diversity is much more complex than that; it should be a long-term commitment to hold people accountable for the ways company cultures lead to a lot of discomfort for the one-in-twenty person of color on the team. We could have endless conversations about what’s offensive and what to avoid saying, but the truth of the matter is that I can’t run to management every time a coworker says something inappropriate or offensive to me; I’d literally never get anything done. Furthermore, I don’t want to reinforce the stereotype of the “angry Black woman.”

I wasn’t always so wise though. I was under the impression that workplaces who value diversity would also want diversity of thought. I thought my disdain for Trump would be appreciated, if not celebrated. I thought my mourning of Philando and Trayvon would be understood. But that was not the case. Instead, I was summoned to a meeting with managers who were confused at the idea that someone would want to be themselves–that a person of color would be so bold as to carry their political views and emotions to their desk.  I was equally baffled that a company that celebrated diversity and wanted people of color as part of their culture would expect their workers to be “normal” when something so tragic happens within my community.

That was my awakening. No matter how much a company celebrates diversity, Black women must still water down our identities. These companies want us to be ourselves just enough to add some color, (and to be able to say 6.4% of their employees are African-American) but not so much that white people get uncomfortable. We as Black women have to master the art of code-switching, of learning to speak office language so as not to be deemed “ratchet” or unprofessional. We must know whiteness so well so we can be delicate with it. I find that white women—not all, but many — have mastered the art of crying wolf. As with many other aspects of my life, this is of course deeply rooted in slavery. White women have always been deemed more feminine, and therefore needing more protection from the dangerous Blacks. It’s no surprise that the aftermath of this can still be seen in our daily lives today.

My Muslim identity adds another layer of complexity, so I’ve also learned to hide that as well. For the first week or so at a new position, I always wear a turban, as opposed to my traditional hijab. I do not know how to explain this except that people of color know that everything we do must consider white people’s comfort. Everything I say, wear, and express must be white-washed enough to let white people into my world, but not to the point of shoving my identity in their faces. There’s always been this unspoken vibe that my identity is not the default in the workplace (or anywhere in mainstream culture). So I must know just how Black, just how Muslim, just how feminine I can be in public spaces without further perpetuating the stereotypes associated with these identities.

Black women must show up to work every day knowing that everything we do will be associated with our race. We show up to work knowing that our performance will be used, for better or for worse, in the hiring process of future candidates of color. We come to work every day knowing that we must be someone else for the next eight hours. Being our authentic selves is a privilege most of us will never experience at work.

Aichetou Waiga is a recent college graduate with a B.S. degree in Biology, Spanish and Peace and Justice studies. She is originally from Mauritania, West Africa, but has been living in the U.S. since 2007. She was recently accepted into Ohio University School of Medicine and aspires to be an OB/GYN and work with underrepresented women around the world. Before then, Aichetou is taking advantage of her time off from school by indulging in her hobbies which include her YouTube Channel (Bintou Waiga), reading, traveling and writing for her blog. 

Finding a New Measure of Winning

Finding a New Measure of Winning

Meg Olson
March 8, 2018

There is no doubt about it: 2017 has been a rough year for justice seekers. As I write this, I am sitting with the devastating reality that before leaving on their holiday vacations, Congress passed a bill that will increase taxes for taxpayers in the lowest brackets, cause 13 million people to lose their health insurance, and exacerbate our nation’s already staggering racial wealth gap. And this is just one example of how Congress and the Trump administration are hurting people living in poverty, people of color, immigrants, labor, women, the earth…

Some days I look at my postcard of Dorothy Day’s famous adage and think, “Dorothy, I DO have the right to sit down and feel hopeless! Nothing is working!”

And yet, I know that I need to pursue Gospel justice with joy and persistence and approach situations with hope and welcome. And, as the lead NETWORK organizer, I am called to model this joy, hope, and welcome for you, our members, who reach out on a daily basis, asking what else you can do to pass the Dream Act or save the Affordable Care Act.

If I take a step back from the immediate crisis at hand and look at this past year, I can actually muster up quite a bit of hope. I just have to accept that in these challenging times, I need to adjust my expectations about winning.

In my early days of organizing, I was taught to think of multiple answers to the question, “What does winning look like?” Yes, the ultimate “win” is stopping harmful legislation or passing a bill that supports the common good. However, “winning” also looks like people committing to taking action, strengthening relationships with those who share their values, and building power.

So here’s how I’ve seen NETWORK’s members and activists win in 2017:

  • You’ve committed to taking action by making over 50,000 phone calls to Congress this year; going on more than 40 in-district visits; and attending town halls, rallies, and even protests.
  • You’ve strengthened your relationships with your fellow NETWORK members, with organizations led by Dreamers, and members of other faith based organizations such as Bread for the World and Faith in Indiana.
  • You’re building power in your congressional districts. I know that because our Government Relations team will gleefully tell me when they get back from the Hill, “Congressman Pete King’s Legislative Assistant started our meeting by thanking NETWORK and crediting our members for urging Rep. King to get on Rep. Scott Taylor’s letter to get a solution for Dreamers before the end of the year!” or “Congresswoman Brooks’s staffer said that the Congresswoman told her about the great meeting she had with NETWORK members!”

We’ve got a long road ahead of us to mend the wealth, income, and access gaps in our nation, especially for people living in poverty, women, people of color, and those living in the intersections of those realities. But I have hope that in 2018, NETWORK’s members and activists will commit to taking more action, continuing to deepen their relationships with fellow justice-seekers, and building even more power.

And yes, I believe that we will win!

Black Women and the Making of Catholic History

Black Women and the Making of Catholic History

Mehreen Karim
February 28, 2018

This Black History Month, we looked into our shared history to shed light on notable Black women who have influenced the Catholic Church and community. These Black women and others too often go without their due credit for their teaching and the social change they have inspired. The foundational elements of our faith, especially teachings for justice, can be recognized in the work Black women have done to dismantle racism for centuries. Even through devastating periods of racism and oppression, these women have lived out a deep commitment to justice.

Saint Josephine Bakhita,FdCC (1869-1947)

Impact: Born in rural Sudan, kidnapped and sold into slavery, she converted, gained her freedom, and became a Catholic Sister; canonized in 2000 and named patron saint of Sudan.

The life of Saint Josephine Bakhita reflects the resilience she demonstrated in the face of every trial she experienced. Saint Josephine Bakhita was born in western Sudan, native to the Daju people. As a child, she was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and traded between numerous families. After over a decade of being held in slavery, Bakhita was left in the care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice, Italy. Years after being taken to Italy, Bakhita refused to leave the Canossian Sisters’ convent and was found by a court to have been free since arriving in Italy, since slavery was illegal there.  Josephine Bakhita then became a Canossian Sister and spent five decades as a member of the religious community. After her death, Sister Josephine Bakhita was canonized and became the only patron saint of Sudan. Saint Josephine Bakhita has become an inspiration for many who fight for freedom – both physical determination and spiritual liberty.

Sister Antona Ebo, FSM (1924-2017)

Impact: Civil Rights leader

“I’m here because I’m a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness.”

In response to Bloody Sunday, one of history’s most gruesome assaults against Civil Rights activists, Sister Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mary, made her mark as the only Black Catholic sister marching in Selma. Prior to her freedom fighting, Ebo had ambitions to attend nursing school. She was rejected many times until she was the first of three African-American women to enter the St. Mary’s Infirmary School of Nursing in St. Louis, Missouri in 1944. After earning multiple degrees, Sister Antona became a certified chaplain and was a founding member of the National Black Sisters’ Conference in 1968. Her landmark participation in the Civil Rights movement founded the rest of her life’s work in dismantling racism. Sister Antona continued her anti-racism activism for decades after Selma, participating in national movements as recent as the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri before she passed away in 2017.

Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937-1990)

Impact: Nationally-recognized teacher and scholar who promoted education for Black Catholics

“I come to my church fully functioning…I bring my whole history, my tradition, my experience, my culture, my African American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as gift to the church.”

In the heart of protestant Mississippi, a nine year old Thea Bowman converted to Roman Catholicism. As a teen, she joined the Fransiscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Bowman’s parents rightfully feared for their daughter’s ambitions—moving to a white majority city and religious community would prove to be a challenge for any African American, nonetheless a woman religious. Thea would spend years embracing her African American identity, resisting racism, and changing the way African Americans are received in Catholic society. Bowman spent years teaching at schools and universities until she became a consultant for intercultural awareness for the Bishop of Jackson. Here, Bowman spread her wisdom, joy and African American pride through outreach to diverse communities of the Catholic faith. Thea Bowman created and legitimized a way of worship for Black Catholics. Her life’s legacy will live on in the many institutions founded in her name, most relevantly The Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation, which has raised money to put over 150 African Americans through college.

Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP (Present)

Impact: founding Director of Augustus Tolton Program for African American Ministers at Catholic Theological Union

“I became a woman religious but that did not preclude my also being an educator, psychiatric social worker, community organizer, liturgist, choir director, spiritual director, and theologian.”

No list, no matter how exhaustive, could cover the depth of Sister Jamie T. Phelps’ impact on Catholic culture, society, and academia. Phelps was a teenager when she unsuccessfully attempted to join a high school run by Adrian Dominican nuns. Phelps explains that they were “concerned how she, as a young black woman, would adjust to living in all-white environment.” Only a few years would pass until Phelps returned to the Adrian Dominicans and became a Dominican sister herself. Sister Jamie Phelps continued to exert her mind and heart as she piled on professional and academic merits. After earning a doctorate from Catholic University of America, Phelps explored the intersection of sexism, racism, and economic disparities in Catholic society. Today, Sister Jamie Phelps studies these topics in her published research and teaching at various universities.

Dr. Diana L. Hayes (Present)

Impact: First Black woman to earn an S.T.D. (Doctorate of Sacred Theology)

“I am because we are—because African Americans, we see ourselves as a family.”

In her life’s work and teachings, Diana L. Hayes deconstructed the nuances of spirituality in African American Catholic culture. Hayes is the first black American woman to earn a Pontifical doctorate, Sacred Theology degree (S.T.D.) from the Catholic University of Louvain in addition to three honorary doctorates. She was a Professor of Systematic Theology in the Theology Department at Georgetown University where she specialized in Womanist Theology, Black Theology, U.S. Liberation Theologies, Contextual Theologies, Religion and Public Life, and African American and Womanist Spirituality.

Sister Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN, (Present)

Impact: Current Executive Director of Pax Christi USA

“I never thought I could be a sister because I had never seen a black sister. I had never seen a sister who looked like me.”

As a child, Sister Patricia Chappell could not imagine she would become not only a Catholic sister, but the Executive Director of a large Catholic organization. Though Sister Patricia has only recently entered the national limelight as Pax Christi USA’s Executive Director, she had always been a mover and shaker working for racial justice in the Catholic sphere. In the eighties, Sister Patricia Chappell worked in vulnerable areas of Philadelphia and delivered substance-abuse intervention services to African-American youth and their families. Sister Patricia was president of the National Black Sister’s Conference in Washington and also the co-coordinator of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur’s Anti-Racism Team. On the ground, she worked as a program specialist at the Takoma Park Recreation Center in Maryland, in youth centers in Hyattsville, Maryland, and as director of youth ministry at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church in Washington. D.C. As the Executive Director of Pax Christi USA, Chappell steers the organization and the community to work for justice by organizing and speaking out on racism and other issues. Sister Patricia hopes her work and leadership will connect to everyday Catholics and bring more people into the movement.

During Black History Month and throughout the entire year, we recall the spirit-filled lives and ministries of these Black Catholic women and many others. Let us follow their example and their guidance as we work for racial justice in our communities, including our faith community, and our country.

Working With White Folks

Working With White Folks

Jeremiah Pennebaker
February 24, 2018

 “The White Man’s Burden”

 “Take up the White Man’s burden—
Have done with childish days—
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!”

-Rudyard Kipling

In the year 2018, in the midst of a glorious Black History Month, and the premiere of Marvel’s Black Panther, I have been thinking a lot about my white friends. This blog is for all my white friends “in the struggle.” The white friends who are “really down” and who really “woke.” Not the, “I would’ve voted for Obama for a 3rd term!” type of woke, but the “How do I become an anti-racist white ally?” woke. I feel like this piece has been written, shared on Facebook, and discussed a million times before, and I’m surely no expert on what it means to white and “woke.” But being who I am, I constantly find myself in places with white people trying to figure it out, or trying to do the right thing, and that’s tough for both parties.

It’s tough because I’m not the friendly neighborhood Black dude who has all the answers to being a good white person as my white friends awkwardly fumble around with a list of Buzzfeed’s “Top 10 Tips to Being a Better Ally!” There’s an ever-present tension that exists in these spaces because racial justice work is messy and vague. There’s a blurred line between Black people not being “teachers” and white people’s inability to do the work themselves because of the privilege of living in a world made for white people. I’m not sure how to resolve or even ease this tension. Mostly because it’s not my fault it’s there nor is it my responsibility to fix.

The problem is that white people are more or less going to be in the wrong when it comes to a lot of racial justice work. No matter how many times you watch “MTV Decoded” or how often you retweet @deray you’re going to show up in places as a white person. The impact of the white gaze on racial justice work and allyship is one that I believe that many of my white friends/ allies may not understand. I don’t fully understand either, but I recognize my feelings around white people as they practice allyship.

I admit I often get frustrated discussing race and racism with my white friends because it begins to feel like my emotions and experiences are being appropriated. Even when the topics don’t necessarily pertain to personal experiences, it still feels as if people are talking about me like I’m not there. I recognize that my white friends mean no harm and that they are trying to be good white people, but I often feel like I’m put on display as they decide the best way to fix my problems.

Now the reason that I write this is not to tell my white friends to back off or to stop doing the racial work that they’re doing. I write this to say that even though there are wounds and you will make mistakes, you must continue to do the work. I write this to tell my white friends to recognize how much space you take up in racial justice spaces. I write this to tell my white friends that just because your name tag says “ally” that it’s not an all-access pass to Blackness. I feel that this is partially my fault because of how many “cookout” invites or pats on the back that were handed out for the most miniscule displays of humanity.

I greatly appreciate the work that is being done, and history has shown that unless we find Wakanda, “progress” is dependent on how much white people are willing to budge. Just recognize that the work being done is just meeting the basic levels of humanity. Malcolm X said something along the lines of, “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

Ultimately, I urge you to take up the white man’s (or woman’s or gender non-conforming person’s) burden and gain the “cold, edged, dear bought wisdom.” What Kipling originally intended as a racist call to colonization is now being thrust back upon you, my white friends, as a call to hold and for you to fully recognize that history and how it impacts the way the People of Color you work with may feel your gaze and your presence. The history, the tension, the anger, and frustration that your peers feel are your crosses to bear, but that does not absolve you of doing the work because at the end of the day it is the right thing to do and working through the tension may just help to ease it.

 

Honoring Melba Pattillo Beals

Honoring Melba Pattillo Beals

Mary Cunningham
February 9, 2018

“The task that remains is to cope with our interdependence – to see ourselves reflected in every other human being and to respect and honor our differences.”-Melba Pattillo Beals

Two years ago a friend and I got into a deep conversation about faith. We navigated the winding roads of what it means to believe in God, where we felt God’s presence, and how to maintain our faith when met with resistance. After our conversation my friend recommended a book to me – Warriors Don’t Cry, a memoir written by Melba Pattillo Beals about her experience integrating Little Rock High in Arkansas.

A few months later, I bought the book and was ready to delve in. As I sat down to read, Melba’s words washed heavy over me. I was pulled out of my own world of petty fears into the sharp reality of a young girl who feared for her life because of the color of her skin; at age 14, Melba was forced to grow up fast, saddened by the childhood experiences she never got to have. My friend and I talked about how to maintain faith during moments of resistance, but this was on a whole other level.

Melba Pattillo Beals was one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students chosen to integrate the all-white Central High in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957 following the Brown v. Board decision in 1954. Upon entering Little Rock High School on the first day of classes, a huge white mob shouting racial slurs and threats greeted Melba and the other students. Melba and her mom barely escaped. Even when the students were finally able to enter the school, they were harassed and condemned by white peers, teachers and staff members. Melba had peanut and glass smeared on her seat, she was tripped, pushed, and almost blinded by a student who threw acid into her eyes. President Eisenhower sent in members of the 101st Airborne Division to accompany the students to and from their classes just because the violence was so bad. Physically and mentally tormented, Melba’s faith and her family support remained her inner strength. Despite all the hatred around her, she continued to push forward, paving the way for women and men of color who came after her.

Warriors Don’t Cry woke me up. It made me realize how powerful it is when men and women – particularly people of color — are brave enough to go against the grain to fight for their rights and whose inner strength defies the often negative, hateful world we live in. They are the ones pushing against, resisting, and reshaping our society. I am inspired by Melba who despite all the negative energy around her, not only managed to persist, but managed to trust in God and to forgive. Even when she was stripped down to survival mode, she prevailed.

The book also forced me to identify and confront my own white privilege. Melba and other women and men of color have made sacrifices and continue to make sacrifices that I know as a white woman I will never have to face. I will never undergo racial discrimination, physical attacks, or fear for my life because of the color of my skin. Instances of racism like the ones in Melba’s story may seem less prevalent in today’s society. However, they still exist – just in varying forms. Racism is entrenched in our society, its practices, its institutions. And white privilege continues to inform our outlook and our actions. In order to truly confront these issues, we need to go beyond our comfort zones, educate ourselves, and truly confront our own white privilege if we are not men and women of color. Black History Month is a great time to start this journey. I am honored to share Melba’s story in hopes that others will take the time to learn about the amazing African American men and women who have moved our nation forward and made us more racially accountable.

Powerful Young Voices for Justice

Powerful Young Voices for Justice

Emma Tacke
November 21, 2017

In early November I had the pleasure and honor of emceeing the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ).  This was a weekend where over 2,000 students from Jesuit affiliated high schools and colleges gathered in Washington D.C. to learn, celebrate, pray, and challenge one another to “row into the deep,” the theme for the conference. At a time when those in power continue to espouse prejudice, violence, and hate, the need for weekends such as these feel all the more necessary. It was restorative to spend time with such an energetic group of people who shared a common desire to build a more just world with fairer policies and a more empathetic and inclusive culture.

Let me be clear: this weekend was not reduced to a self-congratulatory party where we affirmed each other for being good socially and politically conscious people. This annual gathering was a chance for all who attended to put faith into action. It was a reminder that our commitment to God requires us to be resilient and dogged in the face of injustice.  The call of this year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In beckoned us to “Wake ourselves and others from dormancy” and to not “accept the status quo in either ourselves or our surrounding world . . . we will row into unfamiliar waters that will stretch and challenge us, but ultimately move us to magis, a greater, stronger, and more enduring love of justice.”

This theme of challenging ourselves to be courageous and work for justice was threaded throughout the conference’s breakout sessions. The narrative that we are powerless in the face of systemic injustices such as racism, classism, and institutionalized violence was rejected and tossed aside by dynamic and influential keynote speakers such as Father Bryan Massingale, Sister Patricia Chappell, and Dr. Maria Stephan. The weekend ended with a day of advocacy on Monday when over 1,400 IFTJ participants went to Capitol Hill to advocate for bills promoting criminal justice and immigration reform.

The students I met were engaged, smart, empathetic, and ready to talk about what they could do to be better advocates for justice. They queued up for a chance to speak with Jesuit priest Father James Martin, a celebrity in the Ignatian community. They packed crowded conference rooms to learn about the racial wealth gap, ending the death penalty, changing the civil discourse on immigration, and dozens of other topics. Hundreds of students made their way through the hall to visit the myriad of faith-based organizations that passed out information and advocacy tools.

Millennials are often dismissed as a self-absorbed, politically disengaged generation. As a millennial myself, it’s difficult for me to be objective, but what I witnessed at IFTJ and what I often see from my peers is anything but self-absorption and political apathy.  The momentum and energy generated by the 2,000 students at IFTJ wouldn’t have been possible if this group of young people were not aching to change the world. This desire to make a difference is not limited to IFTJ participants, nor should it be reduced to naiveté or foolish optimism. I am inspired by my peers to seek the truth and confront systemic and social injustice.  When working for justice, progress is often slow and pushing back against oppressive institutions is exhausting. It is not work that can be done alone. This year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In was a call to action many responded to wholeheartedly.

I want to bottle the collective energy I experienced throughout the IFTJ weekend and take a swig any time I feel lacking in courage to continue challenging myself to advocate for justice. There is strength in numbers and the Igantian Family Teach-In is an example of the power collective faith in action can have in the march towards a better future.

Emma Tacke is a former NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Associate. She currently works as the Associate Director of Community Engagement at Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) in Washington D.C.

The Importance of Intentionality

The Importance of Intentionality

Jeremiah Pennebaker
November 15, 2017

What do I owe to the generations coming after me?

I was always taught to “reach back as I forge ahead” in my life and that nobody gets to where they’re going without some help and guidance from those who came before them. So I try and take that to heart, especially when I’m in a position where I can speak about my experiences and expertise.

I had an opportunity to do just that this past weekend at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ),  a conference for members of the Ignatian network  to come together to reflect and advocate for justice. Overall, it was a rewarding weekend of teaching, reflecting and discerning. My fellow NETWORK Associate Claudia Brock and I were tasked with educating various high school and college groups. We had the chance to talk to a multitude of young people who are motivated by their faith and values to engage in the political process throughout the weekend. Seeing their passion to learn about and do justice was very inspiring. At times I really felt that I was living up to that idea of helping those after me to move forward. I shared my knowledge and experience, provided them with insight on my position at NETWORK and told them how they can become NETWORK Associates one day.

What I failed to realize is that I would learn more from them than they would learn from me. The students at IFTJ taught me valuable lessons and inspired me to be a better pioneer for justice. I was particularly inspired at a session on what it means to be a feminist. I saw a big group of Black boys walk in, something I would have thought to be impossible, as it took me until my senior year of college to grasp the importance of feminism. So often I had heard and witnessed the lack of respect that men have for women — specifically in my friend circles– but to see a group of Black high school boys interested in feminism gave me some hope. I listened to a panel on immigration and heard one of the most heartbreaking stories of my life about a woman who lost her family to insidious immigration policies and procedures. I watched as the woman regained her resolve and spoke about how she continues to push forward even in the most daunting of situations.

I learned not only from hearing the experiences of others, but also by presenting at the conference. After my session on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap, I was critiqued by a young group of Black and brown students. Their feedback made me realize that I need to do better job of being intentional when I am attempting to “reach back as I forge ahead.” While presenting on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap, I made the mistake of only thinking about how my message impacts the white students in the audience. In my mind, I had only considered how the white students needed to learn about the horrific sins of the past and how the subject of racism is woven into our federal policies. I failed to account for the experiences of those who are too often the only person of color in the room.

I forgot about the times when I wished I wasn’t in history class surrounded by pale faces talking about how their ancestors didn’t think mine were people. I forgot what it felt like to feel singled out because slavery this and redlining that. I forgot that for the select few in the audience this was their daily experience and not just some educational exercise. I forgot maybe because I had become numb to being the token, a position I was placed so often. I realized that does not mean that I should irresponsibly place others in that position. I owed it to these students. They shouldn’t be forced to deal with both the reality of their situations and the potential condescension and or guilt of their white counterparts. I realized that it was my burden to bear as a facilitator to try and alleviate them from that difficult position in whatever way that I can. I realized that I need to hold myself more accountable to the people who look like me because I know they already have it hard enough.

I learned a lot from IFTJ. I learned what I could do to be a better example for the generations after me. I learned that as hopeless as the media may make the world look, there are too many people of all ages working for justice that I refuse to believe it.

Being a Woman of Color in the Trump Era

Being a Woman of Color in the Trump Era

LaTreviette Matthews
November 8, 2017

Historically our country has viewed women and people of color –especially those on the low end of the socio-economic scale– as second-class citizens.  Never before, however, had I experienced so many emotions for just being me than I did after the 2016 election. The first thing I felt was a tremendous amount of fear. After the election, there seemed to be a rise in hate crimes and attacks on unarmed men and women of color. I did not want to leave my house. Subsequently the fear left me and I turned to anger. I felt angry that after having an African American president for two terms, now in the year 2017, people of color were still being treated like they are less deserving of being in this country than everyone else. I felt the pain of my ancestors and was ready for war against white supremacy and white privilege.

When fighting for the right to self-determination, people of color have endured pain and resistance. I did not want to do things the old fashion way by engaging in non-violent protests, boycotts, demonstrations, and marches. I vacillated between fight and flight, all the while determined to protect myself and my family at all costs. My emotions were beginning to change again. I was in limbo. I was still angry but now angry with a purpose. I wanted to do something. For centuries people of color have tried many forms of fighting back against racism and injustice. I wanted to do something that was going to make a difference. This presidential election was the catalyst for my ferocity. Uncertain of my future and armed with a fierce determination, I sought community support.

Before last year, I did not consider myself a political person. I did vote in the last five presidential elections; I felt it was important for my vote to be counted. However, for presidential elections held before then, I was uninterested in social political activism and did not understand the importance of having my voice heard through voting. Although I was aware that people fought very hard in this country for African Americans to vote, it did not dawn on me that my voice would make a difference today. Growing up as a young woman of color, I did not have someone like Sister Simone at my high school or college to discuss my political views, encourage me to go to a protest, or show me how joining a political group could make a difference. I thought the political stuff was best left up to the adults.

I believe everything happens for a reason. I am convinced that this backlash against Obama’s presidency happened in order to shake things up and to awaken people to the injustices happening in this country; injustices that have gone on for far too long. Aside from racism, sexual harassment and assault, just to name a few, are issues that have impacted me the most following the 2016 election. Over the past five years working at NETWORK, I have become more political in my views, more involved, and more “WOKE.”  As a woman of faith, I know that life and death are in the power of the tongue. As a woman of color, I know the double standard that comes with freedom of speech.

Today, social media and “fake news” seem to have surpassed the reach of traditional media. In spite of its limitations, social media has become a platform for getting voices heard. To that end, I commit to using my platforms to hold people accountable for their actions. I have joined racial justice groups and forums in hopes to educate myself and others about racism and the challenges that people of color face in the United States. Today I am more hopeful and more connected. Women of all races are rising up and raising their voices. This makes me proud to be a woman of color in the fight for racial justice and social justice.

Finding Beauty in Difference

Finding Beauty in Difference

Caitlin Wright
November 3, 2017

Everything is so…white, I couldn’t help but think as I emerged from the 72nd Street Broadway metro station on the Upper West Side. Not only were the people strikingly white, but the buildings, the sidewalks, everything was gleamingly ivory. The streets of Brooklyn that I had grown accustomed to were far away, both in distance and memory, as I converged with the other white women of one of the wealthiest areas of Manhattan. Though I was not sporting Givenchy or Prada, it was odd to think that superficially, I had much more in common with these people than with residents of the other boroughs. Yet I felt the most uncomfortable I had since moving to Bedford-Stuyvescent, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, as a Jesuit Volunteer a month and a half prior. I pounded the pavement — my attempts to look like a native New Yorker typically consist of me walking quickly in a distinct direction — toward the Church of the Blessed Sacrament to see a talk with a Jesuit priest that others and I admire very much: Father James Martin.

In his talk, Father Martin spoke about his most recent publication, Building a Bridge, a monumental piece of literature for the Catholic Church. In Building a Bridge, Father Martin reflects on the essential bond the Church must nurture between members of the Catholic faith and the LGBT community. After the lecture, I could not stop thinking about the discussion surrounding the concept of “the other”. Jesus calls us toward the marginalized, toward the oppressed, and toward those in need. He calls us not toward ignorance, nor denial, nor pity for those who are different, but toward solidarity; toward true empathy that we are unified as children of God. Your neighbor, whoever he/she/they may be, is inextricably bound to you through God’s love. As Father Martin said that night, “There is no ‘other’ for Jesus. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is only us.”

In no way am I disregarding the essential recognition of those who are different from you or me, but we must see the beauty in these differences rather than allowing them to become divisive. It is far too easy to allow ourselves to see each person superficially, especially in this political climate. Even Jesuit juggernauts like Father Martin are facing massive backlash for efforts toward unification that are manipulated into cruelty and spite. Class consciousness only prevails in the greatest efforts toward understanding, when we ask a question and sincerely listen to the answer without malice. And it is only with this class consciousness that we can achieve a faith that does justice.

I thought about this as I exited the church back into the Upper East Side, questioning the judgements I had held about the diverse neighborhoods of the largest city in the world. On my train back to Brooklyn, I asked myself, had I been too self-righteous in thinking that I already knew it all? Was I inserting myself into a community with preconceived assumptions, allowing existence of the “other” to remain? When I arrived in Bed-Stuy, I promised myself that I would ask more of these questions, and challenge myself to see beyond. I am called to act with justice, not only as a Jesuit Volunteer, but as a child of God, and this call asks me to love and serve by being with others, side by side, in solidarity. Whether I am with my clients, my housemates, my neighbors, the people in my subway car, or even the Upper East Siders, the matter remains: there is no “us” and “them”. There is only us.

Caitlin Wright is a Jesuit Volunteer serving at Catholic Migration Services in Brooklyn. She is originally from Prior Lake, MN and graduated from Creighton University in May of 2017.