How does racism still exist in our country and how can we help bring about racial equity? This was the underlying question at the March 4th event that sought to better understand the US Catholic Bishops pastoral letter on racism called Open Wide Our Hearts. In this pastoral letter the bishops write: “To work at ending racism, we need to engage the world and encounter others- to see, maybe for the first time, those who are on the peripheries of our own limited view. Knowing that the Lord has taken the divine initiative by loving us first, we can boldly go forward, reaching out to others. We must invite into dialogue those we ordinarily would not seek out. We must work to form relationships with those we might regularly try to avoid. This demands that we go beyond ourselves, opening our minds and hearts to value and respect the experiences of those who have been harmed by the evil of racism.” And so a dialogue took place on March 4th, with Lisa Knight from the GR Urban League sharing her perspectives and experiences. The following is a summary of some of her comments:
“We must be willing to make sacrifices and get involved; we must be willing to become uncomfortable when the hard questions are asked.” Lisa recommended that more people attend City Commission Meetings and other public forums that address racial equity.
“Things are continuing to happen that both adversely and disproportionality impact communities of color.” As Scott Bloem, Executive Director of the Other Way Ministries noted, the displacement of the children who currently attend the Steepletown Preschool is considered one more example of that reality.
“Today we poured into the lives of the young black men who were at the African American Male Achievement Conference; we need to help them change their narrative to one that affirms and empowers them.” Rich Liberatore, retired Executive Director from Catholic Charities West Michigan, who was there that evening offers this thought: “The picture the speaker drew for us of 1000 young men from this town gathered together for the day by a group of caring adults “pouring” into them as she described it was quite powerful…all I could think about was how different the possibility of their individual futures and our collective future as a community as a result of caring adults reaching out to them in this way. Hopefully a day like this has given these kids a chance to tell their own stories, to be heard and to feel some sense of affirmation and respect for their personal life story; just think of the number of lives among family and friends that can and will be touched for the better if even a small number of these 1000 young people begin to imagine a better future for themselves. It’s a one day version of what Steepletown is doing in its youth development and outreach to young people 18-24… building a better future for them and the community as a whole which is a wonderful picture to hold on to and share.”
“The system is not broke but is doing exactly what it was intended to do.” Lisa’s call to action is that we need to disrupt the system and that each of us has a unique role in that work. Lisa is also a preacher and was fearless in her reference to the teachings of Jesus: “From a biblical perspective, the gospel of Jesus mandates us to love our neighbor.” The US Catholic Bishops’ offered encouragement in putting this love into action, stating in the pastoral letter: “Love should then move us to take what we learn from our encounters and examine where society continues to fail our brothers and sisters, or where it perpetuates inequity, and seek to address those problems.” (p23) The question remains for our local Catholic leadership why they do not embrace the Steepletown Preschool as a means to address the racial inequity that still exists in Grand Rapids. Their most recent response is that the locks on the doors will be changed on June 30th.