Opening the door to racial unity

Saint Bridget Catholic Community hosted a forum on racial unity on February 28. Approximately 200 people attended, including members of local and area churches, church leaders and members of the community-at-large.

The event, “Opening the Door to Racial Unity,” presented by the parish social justice committee, was planned to join people in conversation to further understanding and to foster reconciliation. As Parish Council President John Joyce put it, “North Minneapolis is ground zero for race relations. This could be Los Angeles, Chicago or Washington, D.C. People are losing hope,” he said, while craving peace. In other words, we need this.

Father Anthony Criscitelli, Pastor of St. Bridget’s, opened the program by welcoming everyone and offering a prayer, quoting Mother Theresa, “If we have not peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another; if we have not unity, it is because we have forgotten that we are brothers and sisters.” A pasta dinner followed, compliments of the parish, along with presentations by a panel of speakers and discussions among guests at each table.

The Reverend Arthur Agnew of Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church led the panel. He is the founder of Discussions That Encounter, a conversation platform “for those concerned about injustices related to perceptions of ‘race,’ … to open minds and hearts to new possibilities and actions through interaction…” Agnew told the audience that all must examine entrenched and inherited mindsets and come together, “because there is so much to be done.”

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman from Temple Israel, and Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of the Center on American Islamic Relations also presented. Themes included: spiritual love enables relationships with people beyond our comfort level; and everyone deserves love, acceptance and respect. Faith communities, said one speaker, have been responsible for the “big conversations” in history, and for driving important change in society, and must come forward. “We must not be silent,” he said.

Guests at each table reflected on the panel’s comments. They also received discussion points about white privilege, costs of being white, and how people learn to be white, for example: “With exceptions that remain very rare, I can be fairly certain that if I demand to speak with the highest authority in an institution, I will be facing a person of my own race;” “Authentic inter-racial relationships are often hard to build;” “Until we demonstrate otherwise, we are inherently seen as ‘the oppressor’ by people not defined as ‘white;” and “Learning to be white as children, from the words or behavior of respected adults, to fear darker-skinned people, or at least, see them as so different you should not relate to them.”

The evening concluded with questions, answers and comments. A white mother said she was uncomfortable asking questions of other races, fearing it would be impolite, and thought it better to ask, “What questions do you want to be asked?” A dad originally from Mexico asked, “Why aren’t you all marching in in protest against injustices suffered by people of color?”  A black man commented, “Our youth are going to “Lucifer” and the side of evil, like barrels over Niagara Falls.” He asked the audience to come together for our children’s sake. A  St. Olaf parishioner, regularly involved in Discussions that Encounter, said that achieving racial harmony is not an easy task, and it has to be done intentionally with the mindset of forgiveness and service to others. John Joyce asked, “What will come of this; what will happen after this night?”

The conversation is expected to continue at other faith venues, and it is hoped that individually, starting now, we each commit to speak to each other respectfully, and to listen without judgment. The Camden News welcomes comments and thoughts from its readers on racial unity.