Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

I Am Excited to Educate, Organize, and Lobby with the NETWORK Community

I Am Excited to Educate, Organize, and Lobby with the NETWORK Community

Mary Novak
April 7, 2021
Meet Mary Novak, NETWORK’s new Executive Director
Thursday, April 15 at 4:00 PM Eastern/1:00 PM Pacific.
Register here.

I am honored to be here with all of you as the new Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. As I begin this new adventure, I ask — if you are a praying person — for your prayers as I transition into this Spirit-filled community. The NETWORK community is full of committed justice-seekers and has been for 50 years. I am grateful to join you in building our country anew.

Today, we are facing unprecedented challenges pushed to the crisis point by the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has also brought us together in a shared experience out of which so many are calling for federal approaches to root out injustice.

We need federal policies that name and dismantle systemic racism, eliminate the wealth and income gap, and allow all people to thrive so that we truly are a “more perfect union.” I’m excited to educate, organize, and lobby with you, the NETWORK community.

Read President Biden’s Letter to Sister Simone

Read President Biden’s Letter to Sister Simone

March 31, 2021

Last week, President Joe Biden, our country’s second Catholic president, sent the letter below to Sister Simone Campbell as she prepared to step down as Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby.

In it he wrote, “As Catholics we are called to serve rather than be served, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. You exemplify these tenets of our faith and I am so grateful for the passion you bring to everything you do. Your support and friendship mean the world. God bless you.”

Read more:

Statehood and Self-Determination for Washington, D.C.

Statehood and Self-Determination for Washington, D.C.

Ms. Andrea Renee Reed
March 22, 2021

Ahead of the House Oversight Committee hearing on H.R.51 the Washington, D.C. Admissions Act, I sent the following message to all committee members in a letter asking them to support D.C. statehood.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton and Ms. Andrea Renee Reed, 2010

My name is Ms. Andrea Renee Reed.  I’m a resident and native of DC, a 62 year-old, grateful African-American woman. Growing up in Washington, D.C. was hard. In the 60s there were several assassinations of civil rights leaders such as President John F. Kennedy, then Malcom X, then Martin Luther King Jr., and then Robert Kennedy—all in the prime of their lives. They led with strength, character and faith.  I can remember overhearing adult conversations about events that were filled with disillusionment, hopelessness, and disempowerment.

In the following years, I have witnessed a downward spiral of disenfranchisement and an economic free fall in the District. It felt like our communities were suffering and the politicians were indifferent. Like they were only interested in using the resources of our city without reinvesting them to meet the needs of the community. Which is why I am writing in support of the Washington, D.C. Admission Act (H.R.51/S.51). This legislation guarantees right of voters to participate fully in federal elections. The more than 700,000 D.C. residents, the plurality of which are Black and Brown citizens, deserve full congressional representation and the self-determination that comes with statehood.

I moved around a lot within the District during my younger years but wherever I lived, nobody in the surrounding community owned their own homes. We all lacked ownership in the places we lived.  Every place I stayed, it was a constant struggle for me and for others in these neighborhoods. My entire experience was an attempt to escape.

It was by God’s grace that I met Ms. Carolyn Byrd who supported destitute young Black people by showing curiosity about their dreams and offering encouragement. Ms. Byrd trusted me with the great responsibility of caring for her disabled daughter, LaShonya.  She showed me that I could make choices about the direction of my life and didn’t have to live in a state of reactivity.  I still believe she could have been an effective, powerful community leader or even city council member had she had the resources available to her.  She held a vision for the District and felt ownership of it as a place to grow and to thrive, and she tried to make it better in her own way.

With her encouragement, I realized I could follow my path, so I left the District and lived many places trying to find somewhere that felt like home.  It was also during that time that I slowly and steadily gained independence and confidence.  An awareness of my contributions and capabilities became more clear to me and I also learned that unaddressed, undiagnosed mental illness had contributed to some of my struggles. With a newfound freedom I slowly began to thrive and feel like a whole person with agency. Mental health issues stagnate the abilities of citizens to meet their highest potential for growth and economic development.

Now, many years later, I chose to return to Washington, D.C. looking for healing and to reclaim my roots.  I reside in a safe environment, with a supportive community in the Petworth neighborhood.  It finally feels like home. This community has inspired me to work for change and I can see now where Ms. Byrd found her inspiration to help others. I feel the same call and that’s why I’m writing today.

I can see with new eyes how the District, as a broader community, suffers like I did growing up: discouraged, disempowered, and held down with little control of its path forward.  In addition to many of the same problems I saw growing up, now with gentrification happening, it compounds the lack of ownership for the native population.  Again, a community left out in our own home.

It is 2021, we are tired of being marginalized and having others dictate our path and our goals. Those of us who call the District home refuse to have our choices undermined or overruled by politicians from other states, some with fewer residents than Washington, D.C. We deserve to have statehood status, with proper representation and agency over our own affairs. I believe DC statehood would improve all aspects of residents’ lives including addressing homelessness and the psychological condition of the broader community, generally uplifting our spirits.

We are ready to claim our home—to TRULY take ownership—and be properly represented in Congress. We are capable of managing our own affairs just like other states. It is time to give us our agency and give the power of the vote to courageous heroes like Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton who has been speaking truth to power for 30 years.

Ms. Andrea Renee Reed is a member of the Assisi Community, an intentional community in Washington, D.C. committed to living simply and working for social justice.

The Black Church: This is Our Story, This Is Our Song

The Black Church: This is Our Story, This Is Our Song

Taylor Miller
March 9, 2021

In celebration of Black History Month, NETWORK staff took the time to watch and reflect on the 2-part PBS Documentary Series: The Black Church: This is Our Story, This Is Our Song. Below are some of the staff’s responses to the documentary.

What did you think of the documentary?

“The Black Church was interesting and informative; not only did it tell the the history of Black Christian churches in the U.S., but it also told the story of segregation, terror, and economic oppression experienced by Black people throughout history and the Black-led freedom movements that pushed back against white supremacy.” –Colleen Ross, Communications Director

“I think it was powerful, educational and pushed you to learn more about the Black church. What really struck me was that there is a black church quite separate to that of denomination –Black saints, and a Black form of worship which is overarching identity of Blackness/African American Culture regardless of denomination and this has not been celebrated or nurtured enough.” –Ronnate Asirwatham, Government Relations Director

Did any quotes in the film stand out to you? What were the quotes and why?

“In our experience there is no separation between Church and state.” – This stood out to me because the documentary explains that “politics” was at the heart of the Black Church since its inception. That can still be seen today and is a powerful force for justice. –Lee Morrow, Press Secretary/Elections Manager

“[Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King] used the genius of the Gospel not to make this a Christian nation, but to use his Christianity to make this a just nation” -Michael Eric Dyson
I think this quote instructs us still today about how to use faith to work for justice in diverse coalitions.” –Colleen Ross, Communications Director

Would you recommend our members watch this film? Why or Why not?

“Yes. It was great learning and very important for my personal growth.” –Laura Peralta-Schulte, Chief Lobbyist

“Absolutely. I think it provides important historical understanding for how Christian Nationalism became so embedded in white churches and also how spirituality and resistance and music/art all developed side-by-side in the Black church.” –Sister Emily TeKolste, SP, Grassroots Mobilization

“Yes. I believe our members are hungry for more information on racial justice.” –June Martin, Annual Giving Manager

“Yes, because it is a celebration of the Black Church. It informs our white membership without asking our Black membership to endure something unnecessary, like reading White Fragility. From what I’ve seen, I think everyone can learn from and enjoy this program.” –Lee Morrow, Press Secretary/Elections Manager

What questions should have been asked?

“More focus on the Black Catholic story and key issues.” –Laura Peralta-Schulte, Chief Lobbyist

“Why did the slave owners allow praise houses? There was a part of the film which shows slave owners didn’t allow any praise houses or organizing in any manner and then it shows praise houses. So I would like to know how this came about. B) I think there was a misconception in the film that Arabic is only connected to Islam. In the five minutes that they say they discovered Arabic in the church they talk about Islam in the church. But Arabic is a language not a religion and there are many Christians who worship in Arabic (I myself have attended Catholic mass said in Arabic in South Sudan) so the writings in the church could be from a Christian who wrote something in his native tongue.” –Ronnate Asirwatham, Government Relations Director

Have you watched the Black Church yet? Let us know what you thought, or visit to watch.

How To Write A Letter to the Editor

How To Write A Letter to the Editor

Audrey Carroll
March 1, 2021

When you want to make your voice heard on an issue, writing a letter to the editor is a very effective advocacy practice. Letters to the editor work because they are widely read local content, Members of Congress pay attention to them, and LTE campaigns help create movements.

To learn how to write a letter to the editor, watch this training from NETWORK Press Secretary Lee Morrow and follow the tips below.


Writing Your LTE:

Start with your qualifications.

“As a multi-issue Catholic voter, I cannot stay silent while Congressman Jones vilifies our immigrant neighbors in his Feb. 10th op-ed “Illegal Immigrants Don’t Deserve Handouts.”

Tell them what you think!

“Dreamers and undocumented immigrants are essential workers who have helped keep this community running during the pandemic. They deserve access to COVIDD relief and citizenship.”

Bring it together with a legislative ask.

“I pray that Congressman Jones opens his heart and listens to his constituents. Undocumented people are our neighbors, community members, friends, and family. Catholic voters like me expect Congressman Jones to support the Dream Act.”

Find submission guidelines on your local paper’s website and send.

  • Found on the same page where you found length rules.
  • Submission will either be to an email address or online form.

Quick Tips:

  • You can write to multiple local papers.
  • It helps to tie your LTE into a recent story run by the paper.
  • Wait three weeks before repeating.

We Cannot Sit on the Sidelines

We Cannot Sit on the Sidelines

Colleen Ross
February 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Racism and the Church: A Black History Month Community Conversation

Racism and the Church: A Black History Month Community Conversation

Audrey Carroll
February 25, 2021

On February 18, NETWORK hosted a community conversation in honor of Black History Month. At the event, NETWORK members discussed racism in the Church and our role in naming it and ending it. Board member Leslye Colvin shared her reflection on racism in the Catholic Church. Watch the conversation below, and read more reflections from Leslye on her blog Leslye’s Labyrinth

Black History Month – and Beyond – Watch List

Black History Month – and Beyond – Watch List

Audrey Carroll
February 11, 2021 

During Black History Month, we honor and celebrate the history and contributions of Black people in our country. Whether in politics, art, sports, or pop culture, Black people have continually overcome racism and bigotry to become national heroes and international icons. These films recognize the central role of Black Americans in U.S. history during Black history month and beyond:

American Masters: How It Feels to Be Free

This PBS documentary tells the stories of trailblazing Black female entertainers Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson, and Pam Grier. The film explores how the women overcame racism and sexism in their careers and has commentary from contemporary Black entertainers such as Halle Berry, Lena Waithe, and Alicia Keys. Available for free on PBS until February 16, 2021.


Partly based on her memoir, Becoming is an intimate look at the life of former first last Michelle Obama. The documentary follows Obama on her book tour and features footage of her travels, talk-show appearances, and work during her eight years as First Lady. Streaming on Netflix.

Black Art: In the Absence of Light

Inspired by the 1976 exhibition “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” this documentary explores the erasure and exclusion of Black artists. Despite making some of the most captivating, conceptual American art, Black artists are rarely featured in major museums and exhibitions. The film includes interviews with artists and showcases their work and stories. Streaming on HBO Max.

Black Is King

This visual album by Beyoncé reimagines the morals from Disney’s The Lion King. The film tells the story of a young African prince who is exiled after his father’s death. The prince’s journey is an allegory for the African diaspora, reclaiming culture and heritage, and explores Black identity. Streaming on Disney+.


From director Spike Lee and producer Jordan Peele, Ron Stallworth, the first Black police officer in Colorado Springs, infiltrates the local Ku Klux Klan group in with the help of his Jewish counterpart. Together, they attempt to take down the hate group from the inside-out. Based on a true story. Stream on Hulu or Amazon Prime Video.

Black Panther

Based on the Marvel comics, Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa, played by the late Chadwick Boseman, who is crowned king of Wakanda after his father’s death and is challenged to abandon the country’s isolationism and begin a revolution. Black Panther earned seven Oscar nominations and is the third highest-grossing film by a Black director. Streaming on Disney+.

I Am Not Your Negro

Filmmaker Raoul Peck looks at modern institutionalized racism through the lens of the James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript of a personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends — Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. Stream on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Kanopy.

Judas and the Black Messiah

Starring Daniel Kaluuya, this film tells the story of the betrayal of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s by William O’Neal, an informant for the FBI. The long awaited Hampton biopic explores the themes of oppression and revolution with a stark relevancy to present day America. Based on a true story. Streaming on HBO Max.

Just Mercy

Young lawyer Bryan Stevenson moves to Alabama to represent people who have been wrongfully condemned. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, an innocent man on death row. Despite enduring racism in America’s justice system, Stevenson perseveres with the McMillian case and goes on to found the iconic Equal Justice Initiative. Based on a true story. Streaming on HBO Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. The Equal Justice Initiative also has a discussion guide for the film available to download.


Disney and Pixar’s Soul follows the journey of Joe Gardner, a middle school jazz teacher whose soul becomes separated from his body on the day he lands the gig of a lifetime. Soul explores what it means to be human and find your “spark” in life.  This is the first Pixar film to feature a Black protagonist. Streaming now on Disney+.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

Nobel-prize winning writer Toni Morrison reflects on her life and journey in publishing some of the most important books in history such as “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon.” The film features interviews with Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sanchez, and more. Streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

This series reveals the 400+ year history of the Black church and discusses its role as the bedrock of African American survival, resilience, and freedom. The series includes interviews with faith leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. William Barber II, Pastor Shirley Caesar, and more. Premieres February 16, 2021 on PBS.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

After sitting in the basement of a Swedish television studio for 30 years, some of the most iconic footage and material of the Black Power movement was recovered and compiled. The documentary contains some of the most candid interviews ever given by thought leaders such as Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, Kathleen Cleaver, and Bobby Seale. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

The Hate U Give

Based on the Angie Thomas novel, The Hate U Give tells the story of teenager Starr Carter, who lives in a poor, Black neighborhood but attends a mostly-white, wealthy prep school. The worlds collide when Starr witnesses her best friend get fatally shot by a police officer. Available on Hulu and YouTube Movie.

The Tuskegee Airmen

In 1942, a group of Black college graduates were selected to train as pilots in the Army Air Corps in Tuskegee. Despite facing racism and prejudice from their peers and the general population, the Tuskegee Airmen would go on to become the first African-American pilots in the US military, flying missions in Europe. Based on a true story. Available on HBO Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.

Whose Streets?

This documentary tells the story of the murder of Michael Brown and the Ferguson uprising. The film is composed of interviews with activists and community leaders who played key roles in the Ferguson protests and explore what needs to happen next in the movement for justice. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Kanopy.

Black Immigrants are People Too

Black Immigrants are People Too

Joan Neal
February 9, 2021

Black Lives Matter and that includes the lives of Black immigrants. In the United States, the narrative around immigration usually focuses on Latinx people coming across the southern border from Mexico and Central America, but Black immigrants from these countries, from the Caribbean, and from Africa comprise a significant and growing part of the story of our immigration story. Black History Month provides an important opportunity to learn about stories and struggles of Black immigrants.

There has long been a large population of Black immigrants in this country since the sixteenth-century slave trade began. This should not be surprising to Americans. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. Of the 10.7 million who survived the Middle Passage, 388,000 disembarked in North America. The rest ended up in the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Over time, many of the descendants of those enslaved persons migrated to the United States seeking asylum, family reunification, work, or higher education. Today, about 50% of all Black immigrants come from the Caribbean region, around 4% from South America, and nearly 45% from the African continent, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa.

Moreover, Black people are a growing segment of the immigrant population in the U.S. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in 1980 there were 816,000 Black immigrants. By 2000, the number of Black immigrants in the country had risen 71% to 2.4 million. Six years later in 2016, that number had increased to 4.2 million, meaning nearly 10% of all Black people living in the U.S. were foreign born . Such rapid growth in the Black immigrant population is expected to continue, especially in large metropolitan areas. According to the Census Bureau, by 2060 16.5% of all Black people in the U.S. will be immigrants.

But these statistics are not the whole story. With few exceptions, the lived experience of Black immigrants very much mirrors the experience of U.S.-born Black people. Black immigrants encounter anti-Black discrimination and racial prejudice because of the color of their skin. Similar to U.S.-born Black people, they are often subject to the same risks of poverty, lack of access to quality health care or affordable housing, over-policing, and increasing incarceration.

More than other immigrant groups, undocumented Black foreign-born people find themselves caught in the prison to deportation pipeline. In fact, Black immigrants account for a disproportionate number of criminal-based deportations. Guilt or innocence aside, 76% of Black immigrants are deported on criminal grounds compared to 45% of all immigrants. Like the prevailing experience of U.S.-born Black people, there is no other explanation for these statistics than that it is because they are Black. When they arrive in the U.S., Black immigrants are no longer Ghanaian, South African, Jamaican, Haitian, or Nicaraguan. They are simply Black, and in this society, their lives do not matter.

Anti-Black racism has been present in this country since its founding. Despite the fact that Black people were forcibly brought here, when it came time to answer the question ‘who belongs in this nation’, the country’s overwhelming answer was only white people. History and our founding documents show that anyone who was not considered white was not meant to be a citizen. This was quickly incorporated into the immigration system where it persists even today. Despite the words that are etched on the Statue of Liberty –“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”, the United States continues to demonstrate it is unwelcoming to Black people, citizen or not.

Whatever it was about the murder of George Floyd last year that opened America’s eyes, indeed the eyes of the world, about the enduring persistence of systemic racism, the fact is that there is no going back from that realization. As a people, we must deal with it. The fundamental question before the United States, indeed before the world since anti-Black racism is global, is what is to be done about it?

This moment in our history invites us to finally address the issue of pervasive, instututionalized anti-Black racism. It calls us to transform our society, our laws, our systems, including the immigration system, to ensure that all lives matter equally. No exceptions. Time will tell if we are up to the challenge.


Trans-Atlantic Database,, David Eltis, David Richardson, ed.

U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey, March 2016

US Immigrant Population Projected to Rise Even as Share Falls Among Hispanics and Asians, Anna Brown, Pew Research Center, 03/09/2015; “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850-2000” and 2014 population projections, U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook and Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, 2000