Tag Archives: racial justice

Jarrett Smith, NETWORK Government Relations Advocate, is pictured at a June 16 reparations event near the White House alongside Nkechi Taifa.

The Moral Imperative of Reparations

The Moral Imperative of Reparations

Movement on H.R. 40 is an Act of Justice for Black Americans

Jarrett Smith
November 15, 2022
Jarrett Smith, NETWORK Government Relations Advocate, is pictured at a June 16 reparations event near the White House alongside Nkechi Taifa.

Jarrett Smith, NETWORK Government Relations Advocate, is pictured at a June 16 reparations event near the White House alongside Nkechi Taifa.

Last year, the U.S. government honored Juneteenth as a federal holiday. This recognition came 155 years after the first celebration marked the anniversary of formerly enslaved people and families learning of their liberation in Texas. While the majority of Congress voted in favor of commemorating this day, more is required to fully incorporate the formally enslaved into the American project following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Our national will to act and repair must not end there.

It is time to create a system that protects Black people by putting an end to economic and employment inequality, a failing healthcare system, housing segregation, and state-sanctioned police violence. The passage of H.R. 40, a bill first proposed by Rep. John Conyers in 1989, could put the nation on solid footing toward such a process. The bill would create a commission to research and quantify the persistent economic disparities that Black people continue to suffer due to slavery and the discriminatory federal laws and regulatory practices that followed in its wake, and develop reparations proposals for African Americans.

The passage of H.R. 40 would be the first accounting of the role of the federal government and U.S. institutions in the atrocity of slavery, the legalized discrimination that followed, and action needed for atonement. Despite widespread and growing support to reckon with the legacy of systemic racism, H.R. 40 has not been brought to the House floor for a vote.

This reality calls to mind how much who we elect matters. It’s also why NETWORK Lobby calls on President Biden, as a Catholic Christian and U.S. president committed to justice, to sign an executive order to enact H.R. 40 now. It is a moral imperative.

There are precedents for federal-level repair. The federal government has examined and honored claims for reparation from other communities in the past — in 1946 to federally recognized Native American tribes, and in 1981 for Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

Federal financial support to residents following a natural disaster is an example of reparations. This action happens every year. FEMA is the government’s reparations arbitrator. Repair was made because of a harm suffered. As people of all races and backgrounds grapple with the question of what our country’s history means for us, people of faith have shown up repeatedly to drive this point home. Last year, over 200 faith organizations and leaders, including the African American Ministers in Action, the American Muslim Empowerment Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the Union for Reform Judaism, signed a letter to House leadership asking for legislation to study redress. In May 2022, dozens of secular and faith-based organizations and racial justice advocates sent a letter to the White House urging President Biden to sign an executive order that would create a federal commission by June 19.

Supporting such proposals should be second-nature to Catholics, whose faith believes in reparatory justice in pursuit of reconciliation. We saw this lived out boldly with Pope Francis’ visit to Canada in late July, in which he met with Indigenous people and apologized repeatedly for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.

Dr. Ron Daniels, Amara Enyia, Bishop Paul Tighe, Nikole Hanna-Jones, and Kamm Howard meet at the Vatican's Dicastery for Culture and Education on July 18 to share ideas regarding reparations for Black people in the U.S.

Dr. Ron Daniels, Amara Enyia, Bishop Paul Tighe, Nikole Hanna-Jones, and Kamm Howard meet at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education on July 18 to share ideas regarding reparations for Black people in the U.S.

That same month, a delegation from the Global Circle for Reparations and Healing met in Rome with Bishop Paul Tighe, an official of the Dicastery for Culture and Education. A leader in the Vatican’s efforts to grapple with emerging issues, including social media and artificial intelligence, Bishop Tighe suggested the time is “ripe” for the church to consider these issues and agreed to share the delegation’s findings with others.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted that America had given Black people a bad check “which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Wide support from faith-based and secular organizations today demonstrates the conviction of people in the U.S. that our country must address its original sin of slavery.

People of faith are called to carry on the legacy of working for civil rights and to use their collective power to call on leaders in Congress and the Biden administration to make good on their pledge to tackle systemic racism. Bypassing the opportunity to understand, analyze, and financially quantify this devastation would be more than a missed opportunity; it would be a moral failure.

Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS

Black Sisters Testify: To Oppressed People, Let Us Bring New Life

Black Sisters Testify: To Oppressed People, Let Us Bring New Life

Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS
November 1, 2022
Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS

Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS

When I think about my own story and the story of every Black woman religious, there is a unifying theme, whatever the congregation we have membership in: We all testify that we have experienced the hand of God laid on us and a strong invitation to follow, to surrender to being loved by God and called to love and serve God’s people and to live together in a way that generates life.

The power of God’s call has been, and continues to be, the “why” and the “how” behind the determination and courage to move into the storm, whatever it feels like, whatever its form.

I often fall back to the beautiful lyrics by Curtis Burrell:

“I don’t feel no ways tired.

Come too far from where I started from.

Nobody told me that the road would be easy.

I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.”

In 1968, when the National Black Sisters’ Conference was founded, I was 30 years old and had been perpetually professed for three years. For that first meeting I traveled from Denver to Pittsburgh, to the Mercy Sisters’ campus to meet about 100 of myself! Although I had not seen many other Black Sisters before, I knew immediately the feeling of home.

Sister Martin De Porres Grey, RSM, was the woman of vision who convened us. Together we reclaimed (or reaffirmed) our identity, with the realization that Blackness is Gift to ourselves, our people, our congregations, the church, and beyond. From that first meeting until now, I have seen NBSC as a support and resource for the continuing growth of Black women religious, an advocate for justice for all people and a voice of conscience within the structure of the Catholic Church.

Nearly 40 years after the founding of NBSC, in 2007, Dr. Shannen Dee Williams stumbled upon an old news article, with a photo of four smiling African-American nuns at the first NBSC meeting. Dr. Williams was intrigued to discover that Black Catholic Sisters existed, not to mention that this large group of them had met to strategize on how to strengthen their impact for the sake of the liberation of their people.

As historian and educator, Dr. Williams knew she needed to find out more about these women, but little did she know that her own life would be radically changed by the work she was about to undertake. Her research led her to locate and interview the hidden storytellers who knew the story of the foundation of NBSC and wanted to share it.

Dr. Williams eventually tracked down Dr. Patricia Grey, formerly Sr. Martin De Porres, founder of NBSC. Dr. Grey’s prophetic words to Shannen were: If you can, tell the whole story of Black nuns in the United States. “Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Struggle for Freedom” did indeed tell the whole story.

As I read the book, what stirred a strong and painful reaction in me was the narrative of the foundation of the three Black religious Orders: the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the Sisters of the Holy Family, and the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary. No doubt it would be terribly difficult for small bands of Black women doing works of mercy on behalf of oppressed people. To those served by the Sisters, education, health care, social services, and advocacy would serve as lights on the path to a new life.

What was so deeply painful was the description of the outrage and resistance by white nuns to the mere thought of African-American women becoming consecrated religious in the Catholic Church and offering the ministry they were called to give. That the three Black Congregations are alive today gives witness to the mighty power of God’s Spirit ablaze within these faith-filled women.

I am profoundly grateful that this book about Black Sisters has been written. Dr. Williams did more than full justice by chronicling so magnificently what has been achieved, at what cost, and that the struggle goes on.

I venture to think that most/many congregations would welcome the gifts of Black recruits. There is awareness that each congregation has an obligation to support and encourage the culture of the persons who enter, a new level of responsibility on the side of the religious communities these young people come into. Like their predecessors in religious life, I pray that young religious today feel God’s hand firmly upon them and know in their hearts that God is and ever will be a Promise-Keeper.

Sr. Barbara Beasley, RGS, is a Sister of the Good Shepherd and a founding member of the National Black Sisters’ Conference.

This November, NETWORK observes Black Catholic History Month in collaboration with the National Black Sisters Conference, centering the voices of Black Sisters and sharing their testimonies with our spirit-filled network of justice-seekers.