March 10, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – “Good and gracious God, we are grateful for this space for remembering stories of Black and African American members throughout our history that have shaped and informed our lives as the community of Adrian. Now help us to recognize that Black history is all of our histories. … We pray and acknowledge where our community has fallen short of where we are called to be inclusive and diverse in community.”
That opening prayer by Pastor April Gutierrez, chaplain at Adrian College, captured the spirit and intent of the annual Together We Stand Black History Community Celebration, held at Christ Temple Church in Adrian on February 23, 2020, the last Sunday of Black History Month.
Together We Stand gave Lenawee County Christians from a variety of denominations and people of good will a special opportunity to gather and honor the contributions of African Americans of the past and of the present – and to inspire one another to continue efforts to appreciate other cultures and to work together for unity.
Among those in attendance were seven Adrian Dominican Sisters: Jamie Phelps, OP, Kathleen Nolan, OP, Suzanne Schreiber, OP, Sharon Weber, OP, Joan Baustian, OP, Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Barbara Kelley, OP.
“Let us honor those whose shoulders we stand on today,” said Jeanette Henagan, President of the Lenawee County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP. “And let us continue our learning about each other’s heritages and understand and acknowledge each other for all of the contributions that have been made here in this country.”
The Together We Stand celebration received proclamations affirming Black History Month and the Lenawee County celebration of the African American heritage from Angela Sword-Heath, Mayor of Adrian, and State Senator Dale Zorn, who offered a proclamation from the State Senate and from the State House of Representatives on behalf of Rep. Bronna Kahle.
Members of Christ Temple Ministries International Youth, under the direction of Minister Liz Turgeon, gave brief presentations on the lives and contributions of Rosa Parks, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Harriet Tubman. Other community members spoke on what they had learned about the accomplishments of specific African Americans in the past.
Lenawee County Sheriff Troy Bevier lifted up the work of Bass Reeves (1838-1910), the first Black U.S. deputy Marshal to serve west of the Mississippi River. “It was phenomenal…to see a law man who really pioneered the way for all of us, and it was amazing – 3,000 arrests he made,” Sheriff Bevier said.
Vincent Emrick, Adrian Chief of Police, gave a presentation on Charles Jackson French, a mess officer on the U.S.S. Gregory in 1942. While positioned near Guadalcanal, The Gregory was attacked by a group of Japanese warships and began to sink. Mr. French tied a rope around his waist and swam for two to six hours, pulling 25 sailors in a life raft to the safety of their allies in Guadalcanal. “If he hadn’t, the raft would have drifted right toward the warships and they all would have been taken prisoner,” Chief Emrick said.
Kevin Grayer, Chief of Police of Raisin Township, spoke of his own experience as an African American and the message he received when, after his service in the Marine Corps, he returned to the area to serve in the police department. “I just heard this all the time: ‘You’re not going to do it. You’re not going to make it,’” he recalled. He encouraged the young members of the community not to listen to those messages. “I don’t care where you go, what state, what country. People are going to have a perception about you, what you can, what you can’t do,” Chief Grayer said. “You have to know within your heart what you want to do and what you’re going to do and how you’re going to achieve it. … Take the [road] less traveled. Make your own path. Make your own place.”
The celebration also included the presentation of community service certificates to two women from the community. Kasey Merillat-White and her husband recovered from drug addiction and went on to become involved in service to the Lenawee County community. Kasey became a Realtor and, with her association with the reality business and the NAACP, led her real estate agency and the Real Estate Council to work toward greater diversity.
Minister Eugenia McClain, a member of the Together We Stand Committee, was recognized for her faithful service in Lenawee County through the years. “She may be in the background, but she stands tall among the people in this community,” said Pastor Andre’a Benard of Christ Temple Ministries. “We say thank you for your service and dedication to our Lenawee community.”
Pastor Andre’a also paid tribute to members of the assembly: civic officials, Human Relations Commissioners, pastors, leaders, church members, and Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Interspersed with the words of inspiration, challenge, and appreciation were moments of musical performances and dances in praise of God as the community celebrated the sense of unity in the community. The praise sessions were led by Bethel AME Church [Adrian] Singers and the Christ Temple Ministries International Praising Angels.
The celebration concluded with the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – and the challenge to those in the assembly to memorize the words of this Black National Anthem by the 2021 Together We Stand celebration.
Feature photo (top): Members of the Christ Temple Ministries International Praising Angels perform a dance of praise during the Black History Month celebration, Together We Stand.
Adrian Dominican Sisters Joan Baustian, OP, left, and Jamie Phelps, OP, admire a display of African-American heritage in the hall of Christ Temple Church.
Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates join in the 2017 Climate March.
February 20, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – As we celebrate World Day of Social Justice on February 20, 2020, a number of Adrian Dominican Sisters reflect on their call as Christians and as Dominicans to work toward social justice and to advocate for those who are denied it in any way.
“Our commitment to peace and social justice is very Dominican,” said Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office for Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation. “It’s part of our DNA because of our charism of searching for truth and speaking truth – veritas. There’s no greater truth than the Gospel call to justice and following in the Gospel values.”
Members of the Dominican Order work together to respond to social justice issues. The International Dominican Commission for Justice and Peace is made up of Justice and Peace Promoters of the world’s regions and continents. Each of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Mission Chapters has a Justice and Peace Promoter to help coordinate the efforts of the Chapter in various issues of peace and justice.
Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter, said the Florida Mission Chapter has worked for years advocating for the repeal of the death penalty in their state. Sister Patricia has also been very active in working toward a just immigration reform and just treatment of immigrants. A nurse practitioner, she serves every Saturday at clinics in Mexico for people who live in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings in the United States.
The Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago, has been working on immigration issues for years. Sisters and Associates “respond to the social, educational, legal, and spiritual needs of documented or undocumented immigrants” through service such as weekly prayer at a detention center for immigrants, observing and reporting on court procedures for detainees, and serving as literacy tutors.
Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, participates in a monthly public witness in Chicago with Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants. “The mission is to have a collective voice seeking justice for immigrants,” she said. “We respond to the Gospel mandate to uphold the dignity of each person.”
Sister Judy Byron, OP, Program Director for the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (ICPJ) based in Seattle, Washington, said much of the organization’s work deals with justice for women, such as those who work in agriculture and are subjected to sexual abuse. The ICPJ also offers programs to educate the public about human trafficking and, from its beginnings in the 1990s, with the housing issue.
Sister Virginia King, OP – Justice and Peace Promoter for the Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter based in Detroit – has focused on climate change since she ministered in California. Climate change “is aggravated by our use of coal and gas,” she said. “Green energy is where I’ve put some energy and focus to address climate change, to use less of the polluting energies and more of the green energies.”
Sister May Cano, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter for Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter based in the Philippines, deals with a variety of issues in her work with the Diocese of Kalookan. She also has a unique focus, working with family members of victims of extrajudicial killings – people killed, with the permission of the government, because they are suspected of being drug dealers or users.
While the Sisters and Associates might focus on different specific justice issues, they see those issues as connected. “They’re all part of the whole,” Sister Kathleen said. “We need to see those [issues] as connected, as respect for life – all life, not just human life. All life is the issue.”
Sister Janice Holkup, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter for the Dominican West Mission Chapter said justice work is “all about values. My values are human values, values that support justice for all.”
The Sisters also recognize their justice work as rooted in the Gospel and their faith. “Since from initial formation and as a young religious, I was exposed and had worked for justice and peace,” Sister May said. “I am inspired by the Gospel of truth, to proclaim the Gospel to the lowly, free the prisoners, and so on.”
Sister Patricia agrees. “My faith life is based on the Gospel, and that’s where I learned what justice and peace means – through what I read and through what Jesus teaches me through the Gospel,” she said.
Many of the Sisters said their justice ministry is a challenge because there is widespread injustice. “You have to figure out where you’re going to put your energies,” said Sister Virginia. Sister Judy said added challenges are the need to raise funds for resources and the political environment.
But the Sisters also find hope as they continue in their justice advocacy. Sister Patricia finds hope in the immigrants and asylum seekers. “The people are in such dire circumstances,” she said. But “along with their faith, they have hope that things will be better for them.” She is also encouraged by the number of younger people who are becoming involved in work for social justice.
“If enough people come together, we can make a difference for the common good,” Sister Janice said.
More information on how Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates are involved in justice issues can be found on the Congregation’s Engaged in the Mission page. The website also offers opportunities to advocate for justice and peace through its action alert page.