Equity and Inclusion


In response to the proposal from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that congregations focus on the dismantling of racism, the Adrian Dominican Sisters began by identifying resources that can assist us in raising our consciousness of white privilege and white supremacy, both personally and systematically.

From January 2021 through June of 2023, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters collaborated on a project to provide information on prominent Black and Indigenous Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.

In May of 2022, Kevin D. Hofmann was named the founding Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Congregation. With the goal of normalizing conversations about race and culture and discussing what it means to feel included and excluded, Kevin began contributing to this blog in June of 2022. He shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit and educates on topics of equity and inclusion.

Equity and Inclusion Project

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Looking at the view finder of a television production camera on a sound stage

by Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

This woman changed the game in journalism. If we are “Celebrating Women who tell our stories,“ we can’t have this conversation without mentioning this woman. Oprah Winfrey gave a platform to the unheard. She created space for all whether she agreed with them or not. She ruled the daytime talk show stage for 25 years and she made us confront things like race, sexuality, culture, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, mental health, finances, relationships, and many other things.

Oprah Winfrey was born Orpah Gail Winfrey. She was named after the biblical character in the book of Ruth. Her name was mispronounced so much that eventually everyone called her Oprah instead of Orpah which is the name on her birth certificate. Oprah was born to a teenage mother in a poor, rural area of Mississippi. Soon after her birth her mother moved to the North and left Winfrey to live with her grandmother. Her grandmother was poor but attentive, teaching Oprah to read by the age of three. She lived with her grandmother until she was six years old. At that time, Oprah moved to Milwaukee to live with her mother. She lived with her mother for two years and during that time her mother gave birth to Oprah’s half sister, Patricia. Her mother was unable to care for both of the girls, so she sent Oprah to live with Vernon Winfrey in Nashville. This is the man Oprah refers to as her father, although he was not her biological father.

Ms. Winfrey was sent back to live with her mother in Milwaukee after a few years and was sexually abused by three family members. At age 13 she ran away from home and by 14 she was pregnant and gave birth to a son. Tragically, the son died soon after birth.  Several years later a family member would sell the story of Oprah’s pregnancy and son to the National Inquirer, leaving Oprah feeling betrayed.

After early academic success in a public high school, Oprah was moved to an affluent high school in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Hoping to fit in, Oprah stole money from her mother to buy nicer clothes for school. When she was caught, she was sent back to Nashville to live with Vernon Winfrey again. Ms. Winfrey would stay with Vernon for good this time. Once in a stable environment, Oprah began to shine. She was an honor student, a member of the speech team, and voted the most popular girl in high school.

At age 17, she competed in the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, and she won. This caught the attention of a local Black radio station whose management  hired her to do the news at age 17! Ms. Winfrey would earn a full scholarship to Tennessee State, a historical Black university. She began working in TV while in college and became the youngest news anchor and the first Black woman news anchor at WLAC-TV in Nashville. Oprah took a job as a co-anchor of a news show in Baltimore and then was recruited to co-host a local talk show. She next moved to Chicago and accepted a position as the host of AM Chicago, a 30-minute failing morning news show. Within months she was outperforming Phil Donahue, the father of daytime talk shows. Two years later she would sign a syndication deal and launch the hour-long Oprah Winfrey show. On September 8, 1986, the show began and for the next 25 years she would rule the afternoon, becoming impossible to beat in the ratings during her time slot.  

Today, Oprah is one of the wealthiest people in the world and one of the most recognized. She exploded the glass ceiling in the daytime talk show field that was dominated by males. She made a living giving a voice to the voiceless in a compassionate, non-exploitive way and we are all richer for it.


A woman with dark hair wearing a red beret and a long gray coat with her back to the camera; the back of the coat says Wild Feminist in white block letters

Gloria Steinem: Defender of Wonder Woman

By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

Growing up my parents were close friends with the Delors: Cal and Joanne. Cal was my father’s best man at his wedding and Joanne was the first feminist I knew. A few times a year we would get together and have dinner and talk and laugh. They would either come to visit us in northwest Detroit or we would go see them at their home in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

Those dinners were great because the Delors would bring a dish to pass and talk about equality and justice. Mrs. Delor saw everything through her feminist mind. No matter the conversation, she would always relate it to the importance of equality for women and I liked that. It just made common sense to me. She was bold about her beliefs and ready to challenge anyone who thought differently. I felt safe around her because she was all about making sure EVERYONE was seen and heard. Long before the word was popular, she was an ally, and I felt the safety that came with that.

I first heard about Gloria Steinem and the Equal Rights Amendment over spaghetti and garlic bread, the kind that came in a loaf sealed in an aluminum foil wrapper that you put directly into the oven. I loved that bread, and I loved hearing my parents and the Delors talk about making the world a better place for people who were overlooked. It is often said that what we talk about around the dinner table affects the angle at which we view the world. Gloria Steinem was presented as a hero, so I saw her as a hero. In celebration of Women’s History month, I wanted to share and learn about this woman I was taught to admire.

Gloria Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1934. Her grandmother is credited for rescuing several of her family members from the horrors of the Holocaust and later became the first woman elected to the Toledo Board of Education and was a prominent member of the National Women Suffrage Association. The genes for social justice run deep in the Steinem family. It appears Ms. Steinem was heavily influenced by the talk around her dinner table, too.

Gloria’s mother suffered from mental illness and often was in and out of the hospital as she struggled with her illness and finding someone to listen. Gloria witnessed how the doctors treated her mother and concluded that the doctors’ apathy toward her was because she was a woman. This would inspire Gloria to fight for equal treatment for women for the rest of her life.

Gloria Steinem was a journalist and activist. One of her first jobs was writing for Esquire magazine. Her first official piece was on how women are often forced to choose between a career and marriage. The controversy around a woman speaking out would get her noticed. A year later she posed as a Playboy bunny and wrote about the conditions and treatment of women inside the Playboy mansion in an article called “Bunny Tales.” Her involvement in this piece, although groundbreaking and eye-opening, would make it hard for her to get further work. It is said, though, that her story caused Hugh Hefner to rethink and improve the working conditions for the women at the mansion.

Eventually, she would land a job at New York Magazine. While working there, she was sent to a church basement to attend a meeting with community organizers. She would later comment that this meeting is where things “clicked” for her and she became a fierce defender of women’s rights.

In 1969, Gloria wrote an article titled “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation.” This article brought her attention and she soon became known as one of the leaders of feminism. She testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment. Her pen and voice were tireless as she protested and wrote about things like apartheid, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the rights of stewardesses, the Clarence Thomas confirmation as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and even the powers and uniform of Wonder Woman.

DC Comics had decided to write into the comic’s storyline that Wonder Woman would lose her powers and uniform to become a special agent. This offended Ms. Steinem and prompted her to protest the removal of Wonder Woman’s powers. The protest led to the firing of writer Samuel “Chip” Delany.

Ms. Steinem changed the landscape of this country by simply creating a space where a more valuable voice could be heard. I now see why Mrs. Delor was such a fan.

Ms. Steinem has done more than I could possibly describe in this blog. Learn more about her here.

 


Black man with extremely short hair smiling and wearing a white shirt with black jacket

Black Catholic Project: Father Clarence Rivers

While the energy to produce the Lead Me, Guide Me hymnal was the energy of Servant of God Thea Bowman, the hymnal itself is dedicated to Father Clarence Rivers, "who paved the way for liturgical inculturation and inspired Black Catholics to bring their artistic genius to Catholic worship."

According to the Lyke Foundation website:

Born September 9, 1931, in Selma, Alabama, into a family that was not Catholic, Clarence Joseph Rufus Rivers was enrolled in the fourth grade at St. Ann School following the family’s move to Cincinnati. Eventually, the entire family became Catholic, and Clarence discerned a call to the priesthood while still in high school. At the time of his ordination in 1956, he was the first Black priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and quickly confronted the reality of racism when the parishioners where he was initially assigned refused to accept him. Following his transfer to St. Joseph Church, the 32-year-old assistant pastor sought a way to promote more active congregational participation in the liturgy.

In the U.S. Catholic Historian article "Freeing the Spirit: Very Personal Reflections on One Man's Search for the Spirit in Worship," published by Catholic University of America Press, Father Rivers wrote:

"Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Although some sayings may be hard for us to hear and bear, we have been told to be open to the liberating truth. And the truth is that worship in most of our churches, most of the time, is dull and uninspiring."

He went on to say, given the transformative nature of the faith worshipers should be "exuberant proclaimers of the Joy of Life" and the "congregation a dramatic dance of life."

These insights prompted him in 1963 to develop and record "An American Mass Program," a series of compositions blending the call and response and rhythmic and melodic elements of the Negro spirituals with Gregorian chant. Father Rivers led the singing for the first official high Mass in English in the United States at the National Liturgical Conference in St. Louis in 1964. "God Is Love," which was to become Father Rivers' most beloved hymn, was the communion song for that Mass. The measure of the song's impact was that it received a 10-minute standing ovation. The success of "An American Mass Program" helped spark a liturgical music revolution in American Catholicism, finding acceptance in parishes across the country.

Upon Father Rivers’ death, November 21, 2004, at age 73, then Bishop Wilton Gregory said, through his music, Father Rivers "brought the church closer to African-Americans while at the same time enriching the Catholic church with a spiritual vibrancy and artistic expression that crossed all racial barriers." He characterized Father Rivers as "a pioneer musician, liturgist, and cultural treasure."

Image courtesy of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives

 

Reflection Question

Singing, Dancing, Procession, and Art – How can you use these culturally inclusive elements to help you be "exuberant proclaimers of the Joy of Life" and part of the "dramatic dance of life"?

 

Prayer

Psalm 149:1-4, ESVUK

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.

Amen.

 

Resources

Music on YouTube - Immerse yourself in Father Rivers' soul

God is Love Father Clarence Rivers American Mass Program 1966 (6:36)
https://youtu.be/ZXqfh5KxqYs

Bless The Lord Father Clarence Rivers American Mass Program 1966 (8:08)
https://youtu.be/nOM769nrzrI

American Mass Program (39:45) 
https://youtu.be/VF6R-q_9jmk 

Clarence Rivers, The Feast of Life CBS Special (20:26) 
https://youtu.be/ogKlfTLxI8I

Biographical Resources

Lyke Foundation information on Father Clarence Rivers – The Lyke Foundation cultivates, celebrates, and commissions leadership to develop powerful and effective Black Catholic worship.

Father Clarence Rivers' Obituary, Gilligan Funeral Home

“Freeing the Spirit: Very Personal Reflections on One Man's Search for the Spirit in Worship,” Clarence-Rufus J. Rivers, U.S. Catholic Historian, Vol. 19, No. 2, African American Spirituality and Liturgical Renewal (Spring, 2001), pp. 95-143 (49 pages), Catholic University of America Press

Podcast

Meet Father Rivers - Listen via podcast homepage on Libsyn | ApplePodcasts | Spotify | Amazon | Stitcher

 


image of a stack of newspapers and superimposed on the right is a circular image of a lioness

Lions Who Write

By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

There is a picture in my office of a lion and to the right of his deadly smile is my favorite African Proverb, “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” To me, this simply means we need more voices in the room. The different perspectives that come from many different voices are what make a story more vibrant and complete.  

The theme for this year’s Women’s History month is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” I started researching women journalists. I wanted to highlight those women who choose to no longer glorify the hunter.  

The first verified female journalist was Anna Margareta Momma née von Bragner, commonly referred to as Margareta Momma. She was a Dutch woman who lived in Sweden and is credited (albeit long after the fact) for writing the first female piece of journalism. She wrote a series of anonymous political essays in 1738.  

Prior to this, there were documented female publishers, editors, and owners of printing presses, and it is assumed many of those women were journalists as well. Unfortunately, to be considered relevant, women initially had to write under male pseudonyms, so pinpointing the first woman journalist is impossible, which is why Margareta Momma is considered the “momma” of female journalism.  

Margareta Momma helped build blaze a path that other women would walk, including journalist Jenni Monet. Ms. Monet is an acclaimed journalist who writes from her unique point of view.  She is the founder of the weekly newsletter Indigenously: Decolonizing Your Newsfeed and tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo. She writes fearlessly about Indigenous affairs from a point of view rarely heard.  

Momma and Monet are two trailblazers who understood the value of their voices. They understood the story isn’t complete without their perspective. In honor of these women, let us recognize that all our voices are vital and necessary. Here’s to two women who have used their gifts to give voice to lions. 

To learn more about these journalists, click the links below.

Margareta Momma: Wikipedia 

Jenni Monet: Website, Ms Magazine article


close-up of the astronomical clock in Prague, with colorful curves on its face, brass numerals and symbols, and carvings all around it

A Cheated History

By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

Over this last month, I have learned more about Black History than I ever knew. I loved reading about the strong woman who did so much for so many. It was truly inspiring to see these women excel in countless different areas. Their energy, dedication, intelligence, resistance, and creativity left me awe-struck. Some of the women crammed two or three careers in one lifetime while trying to avoid the many obstacles purposely put in their way. Being heard as a woman in the early 20th Century was an unsurmountable challenge for many. Being heard and seen as a Black woman was almost impossible, yet these women weren’t only successful, they thrived, outperformed others, and changed the world.

As I got the opportunity to study these women, I couldn’t help but think about how we have all been cheated. We were sold a version of American history that is incomplete at best. We were told Rosa Parks was the first, yet Lillie Mae Bradford beat her by four years. We were taught Madam C.J. Walker was the first and only Black female millionaire, yet she was preceded by her mentor and teacher, Annie Turnbo Malone. Mary Ellen Pleasant ear hustled her way to millions long before Madam C.J. Walker as well.

I marveled at the young Amanda Gorman whose pen was kissed by God. Her ability to write, draw us in, and heal us all in one sentence is unmatched, and I am comfortable knowing Ms. Gorman will help lead the next generation.

We should have been taught in grade school about wonderful women of color and how strong they were, how smart they were, and how ferocious they were. I am proud to be a part of their lineage and upset that most of us were deprived of the history of Black women and their contributions to this country.

As we escort Black History Month out and usher in Women’s History Month in March, I am excited to be given the honor of continuing to recognize women. The theme for this Women’s History Month is "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories." As a result, I will be publishing a weekly blog in March celebrating Women who have made a living telling us stories. I am excited about this opportunity to learn and share the stories of more amazing women.

 


Black History Month | Week Four

By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

The theme for this year's Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” I thought there would be no better way to showcase Black resistance than to highlight Black women. They are the backbone of the Black community and have played a monumental role in creating change through their resistance. Each week throughout the month of February we will learn about women who stood up, spoke out, and changed the world. 

֎ Ruth Ellis ֎ Annie Turnbo Malone ֎ Kamala Harris
֎ Dr. Shirley Jackson ֎ Sister Rosetta Tharpe


 


Used with permission from the Ruth Ellis Center

Ruth Ellis
Activist, Trailblazer
1899-2000

Accomplishments:

  • Oldest open lesbian and LGBT rights activist, living to age of 101

  • Co-Founder of Ellis and Franklin Printing Co.

Quote: 
“I never thought about hiding who I was. I guess I didn’t go around telling everybody I was a lesbian, but I wasn’t lying about it either. If anyone asked me, I’d tell them the truth, but it wasn’t the sort of thing people talked about much.”

Biography:
Ruth Ellis was the daughter of enslaved parents and was born in Springfield, Illinois. She is the youngest of four children. Sadly, Ruth’s mother passed away when she was a teenager. Ruth was raised by her father who was the first Black mail carrier in Illinois.

Ruth Ellis was a trailblazer. In 1915, at the age of 16, she came out publicly as a lesbian. Fortunately, her family was very accepting of her and her lifestyle. Her family and friends were so accepting that Ruth has said, "I was always out of the closet. I didn't have to come out." It was this feeling of acceptance by her that led her to be a safe place for many LGBTQ youth in the future. In 1919 she graduated from high school during a time when only about 7% of Blacks graduated. If you think about her also being an openly gay women in the early 1900s, you get a better sense of just what a trailblazer she was.

Soon after she graduated, she met Ceciline “Babe” Franklin who would become her partner for over 30 years. Ruth worked for several years in Springfield for a printing company before she and Babe moved to Detroit in 1937 in hopes of getting a better wage. In Detroit she was initially the caregiver for a young boy where she made $7.00 a week. Fortunately, that job was only temporary, and she was able to find a better paying job with Waterfield and Heath Publishing. She worked there until she opened her own printing press out of her West Side home in Detroit. She and Babe ran the Ellis and Franklin Printing Company which was Michigan’s first women-owned printing shop and Detroit’s first offset printing press owned by a Black woman.

The home that Ruth and Babe shared became known as the “gay spot,” a safe place for young members of the LGBTQ community to enjoy a night club atmosphere. This was important because often members of this community were denied entrance into the white gay clubs and Black straight clubs. This was decades before the advances made by the civil rights movement and the Stonewall Riots. Ruth often offered more than just her home. She not only gave support to a community that had little, she also gave food and even assistance with college tuition. Fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ and Black communities became her life’s mission. She worked tirelessly until she passed away at the age of 101. Ruth had a heart attack while on her way to work.

In commemoration of the great work she did, the Ruth Ellis Center was opened in Detroit in 1999. The center honors her work, while also being one of only four centers in the United States that is dedicated to homeless LGBTQ youth and adults. Every year during Black History Month, Detroit celebrates Ruth Ellis Day, a day to celebrate the wonderful work of Ruth Ellis. Learn more about Ruth Ellis.

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Julius F. Taylor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Annie Turnbo Malone
Businesswoman, Inventor, Philanthropist, Entrepreneur
1869-1957

Accomplishments:

  • America’s First Black Woman Millionaire

  • Founder of Poro College

  • Inventor of Wonderful Hair Grower

Superpower: Seeing a future no one else could see.

Biography:
Annie Turnbo was born the tenth of 11 children in Metropolis, Illinois, to parents Robert and Isabella Turnbo – both formerly enslaved. Annie’s father fought for the Union in the Civil War and while away fighting, Annie’s mother took the children and fled from Kentucky to the free state of Illinois. 

Annie attended public school in Illinois but was soon orphaned and forced to move to Peoria to live with an older sister. She began high school and became fascinated with chemistry. Unfortunately, she dropped out of high school after an illness caused her to miss a great deal of school. While away from school, Annie turned her attention to hair and hair care. She began experimenting – combining her two loves, chemistry and hair care. Soon she was making her own Black hair care products to provide an alternative to what Black women were already using. 

At the time, Black women were very limited when it came hair care products. They often had to resort to using household items such as soap, oils, goose fat, harsh chemicals, or bacon grease to care for their hair. Unfortunately, many of these items caused hair and scalp damage. Black women needed a healthier alternative and Annie was determined to provide it. 

In four short years, Annie developed her own line of hair care products. She began manufacturing hair care products to prevent damage as well as products to encourage hair growth. Her product named the Wonderful Hair Grower was bottled and sold door to door. 

Along with three employees, Annie moved to St. Louis, hoping to grow the business. At the time, St. Louis had the fourth largest Black population in the United States. The move allowed her to be closer to her customers and it paid off. Her products became so in demand she was able to open her own store front and began marketing her product in the Black press and recruiting Black woman to sell her products. 

One of her early recruits was Sarah Breedlove. Sarah began selling for Annie in St. Louis and then moved to Denver, Colorado to sell. Sarah left the company due to disagreements with Annie and start her own line of Black hair care products under the name Madam C.J. Walker. Many believe Madame C.J. Walker took Annie’s original formula to create her own brand.

Annie continued to build her empire, opening Poro College, a cosmetology school. In 1918, Annie’s college included a plant to manufacture her line of products, a store, offices, an auditorium that could seat 500 people, a dorm, a gym, a chapel, a bakery, and a roof-top garden. Located in an upper-middle-class Black neighborhood, Poro College was also a gathering place for the local Black community who were often refused service by white owned establishments. The college employed over 200 people, and through the school and business franchises, Annie’s company created over 75,000 jobs in the North and South Americas, Africa, and the Philippines. Annie made sure her Black employees were paid well and made sure there was plenty of room for advancement in the company.

Although Madame C.J. Walker has been heralded as the first Black woman millionaire, it seems Annie beat her to it. Annie was a multi-millionaire by the early 1920s with an estimated worth of $14,000,000. A few years later, her husband filed for divorce and demanded half of the business. The educator Mary Mcleod Bethune, stepped in to help and eventually Annie negotiated a $200,000 settlement to buy out her soon-to-be ex-husband. She was the sole owner of Poro College.

After the divorce, she moved most of the business to Chicago where she was able to purchase an entire city block. (Imagine what that would be worth today!) Unfortunately, in the mid 1930s a former employee filed a suit claiming credit for the success of Poro college. The lawsuits didn’t stop there. The government also got in line and sued Annie several times for unpaid taxes. Eventually, the government seized the Poro College property in St. Louis to pay the debt. 

At the time of her death, she had lost most of her future. Her estate, valued at $100,000, went to her nieces and nephews since she never had children herself. Like many successful Black people in the early 1900s, the wealth they acquired was stripped from them, preventing the possibility of generational wealth that the successful white community amassed.

Annie lived very modestly and choose to give generously to the Black community. She gave to the YMCA, Tuskegee Institute, and Howard University. She also paid for the education of many Black students, including paying for the education of two Black students at every Black college in America. It was said she bought several homes for her relatives and friends. Her generosity carried over to her employees and she often gave out monetary rewards for work, attendance, and performance. She gave of her time as well, serving as the president of the board for St. Louis’ Colored Orphan Home for 24 years, serving children who were beginning life a lot like she did.

What Annie did was amazing for anyone at that time – creating her own haircare line, establishing a college and business, and buying a city block in Chicago were unheard of for women and nearly unimaginable for a Black, orphaned, high school dropout in the early 1900s. Learn more about Annie Turnbo Malone.

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Lawrence Jackson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kamala Harris
Politician
1964-Present

Accomplishments:

  • Vice President

  • First female Vice President

  • Second Vice President who is a person of color

Quotes: 

  • “There will be a resistance to your ambition, there will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane.’ They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what of what has always been instead can be.” 

  • And my personal favorite quote from 2020, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”

Superpower: Unbreakable – The ability to shatter glass ceilings without getting cut.

Biography:
Becoming Vice President of the United States was probably the only way Kamala Harris could out-do her parents. Kamala was born in Oakland, California, in 1964 to her parents, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan and Dr. Donald Harris. Her mother, a Tamil Indian, is a biologist whose research has helped further advances in breast cancer research. Her Jamaican-American father was an Economics professor at Stanford University.

Early in life, Kamala moved around quite a bit while her parents worked at several Midwest universities. Eventually, Kamala, her sister Maya, and mother moved to Berkley, California, into an area known as the “Flatlands.” She sang in the choir at a Black church in Oakland and occasionally participated at the Hindu temple her mother attended. She also spent time in India with her mother’s family and in Jamaica with her father’s family.

At age 12 her family moved to Quebec where Kamala attended a French speaking school. She continued her education going to Howard University (a Historical Black College/University or HBCU) where she graduated with a degree in Political Science and Economics. She went on to graduate from University of California’s Hastings College of Law where she was the president of the Black Law Students Association. 

After law school she held the following positions: 

  • Deputy District Attorney of Alameda County, California

  • Assistant District Attorney of San Francisco

  • Attorney working for San Francisco’s City Attorney

  • District Attorney of San Francisco

  • California Attorney General

  • California U.S. Senator

  • Vice President of the United States

Kamala Harris’ speeches on the Senate Floor questioning fellow Senators during Senate hearings are legendary. Her prosecutorial background made quick work of several Senators she questioned during those hearings. She continued this ability in her debates against Joe Biden and Mike Pence. Her infamous retort to Mike Pence during their debate almost broke the internet when she calmly repeated, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.” So many women who had been shouted down by men in power deeply felt those words.

On January 20, 2021, Senator Harris became Vice President Harris and the glass ceiling shattered. She became the first female Vice President and the first female Vice President who happened to be Black and Indian. Learn more about Kamala Harris.

 

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Shirley_Ann_Jackson_-_Annual_Meeting_of_the_New_Champions_Tianjin_2010.jpg: World Economic Forum (Qilai Shen) derivative work: Gobonobo, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Shirley Jackson
Physicist, Inventor, Philanthropist
1946-Present

Accomplishments:

Quote: 
“Do not be limited by what others expect of you, but reach confidently for the stars.”

Superpower: X-ray vision to see the impossible

Biography: 
Dr. Shirley Jackson was born in Washington D.C. in 1946. Upon graduating from high school, she attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she earned a bachelor’s degree in theoretical physics. Shirley remained at MIT to pursue a doctorate, and in 1973 she earned her PhD in nuclear physics. She was the first Black woman to earn a doctorate from MIT in any field. She was the second Black woman in the United States who earn a doctorate in physics.

She said, “I am interested in the electronic, optical, magnetic, and transport properties of novel semiconductor systems. Of special interest are the behavior of magnetic polarons in semi magnetic and dilute magnetic semiconductors, and the optical response properties of semiconductor quantum-wells and superlattices. My interests also include quantum dots, mesoscopic systems, and the role of antiferromagnetic fluctuations in correlated 2D electron systems.”

For most, this quote is a string of words placed together in English, but it appears to be another language. Dr. Jackson is so intelligent you need 20 minutes, a thesaurus, and a dictionary to decipher what she said. 

After earning her PhD, she went to work for AT&T in the Bell Labs researching materials to be used in the semiconductor industry. While still doing research and consulting for AT&T she accepted a position as a professor at Rutgers University. She taught for four years and was asked by President Clinton to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Dr. Jackson was the first Black woman to serve in this position as well. While serving on the NRC she was named chairperson for the International Regulators Association, a group of nuclear regulatory officials from Canada, France, Germany, and Spain.

She remained in her next position as the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for 23 years. During her time at Rensselaer, she helped raise over a billion dollars for philanthropic causes. Her intelligence and ability to raise funds made her invaluable. After serving as President for 10 years, the Rensselaer board approved the construction of a guest house on Dr. Jackson’s property to allow her to “to receive and entertain, appropriately, Rensselaer constituents, donors, and other high-level visitors." When the construction project was completed, the new structure was over 9,500 square feet with enough room to entertain large groups. 

In 2015, Dr. Jackson was the highest paid University President with a salary and incentive package exceeding 1.1 million dollars. She is worth every penny. Learn more about Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson.

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James J. Kriegsmann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Musician
1915-1973

Quote: 
“Oh, these kids and rock and roll — this is just sped up rhythm and blues. I've been doing that forever."

Superpower: The ability to blaze a trail and not get burned

Biography:
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, on March 20, 1915. Her parents were cotton pickers by day and singers by night. Rosetta’s mother was also a women’s speaker for the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) where she also sang. COGIC, unlike many other churches, allowed women to dance, sing, and teach. Rosetta’s mother did all the above. The church encouraged musical expression, and in this space Rosetta flourished. She began singing and playing the guitar at six years old. Soon she performed with her mother as part of a traveling Gospel group. Rosetta was often called a musical prodigy. Her ability to play the guitar better than most men, in a male dominated field, caused her to stand out. 

At age 19 she married Thomas Thorpe, a COGIC preacher who often toured with Rosetta and her mother. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last long. Rosetta performed under the stage name Sister Rosetta Tharpe for the rest of her life. Shortly after she divorced, she and her mother moved to New York, and she began producing Gospel albums. She became an instant success as a Gospel artist and her style of playing the guitar influenced many musical giants such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry. Guitarists Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck also were influenced by her style. Because of her influential style, many referred to her as the “godmother of Rock and Roll.” Listen to some of her music here

She performed in nightclubs all over the world, fusing her Gospel with Blues and Jazz, performing with Cab Calloway, Muddy Waters, and the Jordanaires. The lyrics were Gospel, but the music was secular; combining the two was unheard of at the time. Soon she would fall out of favor with many churchgoers because they felt she was too secular. They did not understand that her star and the light that it cast could not be contained to one genre of music. In 2018, Sister Rosetta was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an institution that might not exist if it weren’t for her contributions. Learn more about Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

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Black man with a bald head, gray beard and moustache, and black glasses wearing a hooded Benedictine robe

Black Catholic Project: Father Cyprian Davis

“In the beginning, there were Black Catholics.” This is how Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis began an interview with the editors of U.S. Catholic to talk about Black Catholic history and the future of the Black Catholic Church.

It is most appropriate that for the month of February, the Black Catholic Project would choose for its subject Cyprian Davis, a Benedictine monk and priest of St. Meinrad Archabbey, a spiritual writer, historian, and advocate for the vibrant presence of African American Catholic leaders. More precisely, Father Cyprian Davis is the foremost historian of the Black Catholic Church in America and his award-winning book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States, is a classic, recognized as the preeminent book on Black Catholic Church history in the United States.

He was born Clarence John Davis on September 9, 1930, in Washington, D.C. As a teenager he converted to Catholicism and became interested in being a priest and monk. Many seminaries and religious orders were not accepting African American candidates at the time, but St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana welcomed him and he became the community’s first Black novice on July 31, 1950, taking the monastic name Cyprian. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1956.

Father Davis received advanced degrees in theology and church history at Catholic University of America and Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, respectively. Returning to the United States in 1963, which was at the time embroiled in the Civil Rights Movement, Father Davis participated in the March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech and later marched with Sister Mary Anton Ebo and others from Selma to Montgomery. These events led Father Davis to speak and write about the place of African Americans in the Catholic Church.

Of this time, Father Davis writes: "All those times were in ferment, especially in regard to civil rights, and that’s when I began to realize its importance. People began to come and ask me about being Black and Catholic. 'What is my place in the church?' That’s when I began to realize that this is important…. That’s when I began to do my own research."

In 1999 Father Davis was interviewed by Catholic News Service (CNS). He said he thought the mentality of many Black Catholics has been that "we are a people who are almost like still on a mission." But he added, "Black Catholics have made significant contributions far beyond having nice music and ... wonderful liturgies." Continuing he said: "We're an integral part of the church, and we're not negligible."

Cyprian Davis wrote a number of books including the definitive biography of Henriette Delille, the black foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family in antebellum New Orleans; Christ's Image in Black: The Black Catholic community before the Civil War; Taking Down Our Harps: Black Catholics in the United States; and Stamped with the Image of God: African Americans as God's Image in Black.

At the time of Father Cyprian Davis’s death in May of 2015, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops described Father Davis in these words: "Most of all, Father Cyprian was a humble child of God who sought in an unassuming way to live a life of holiness and to place his considerable talents at the service of Christ and his church."

 

Reflection Questions

This profile begins with the words, "In the beginning there were Black Catholics." Are you surprised that Blacks have always been members of the Catholic Church and have also been some of the earliest leaders of the Church as bishops (St. Augustine, for example) and popes?

Father Davis, in relation to Black Catholics, said: “We are an integral part of the church … and we are not negligible.” Reflect on what you have learned about Black Catholics that makes Father Davis’ statement true.


Prayer

Lord, Lord, Open Unto Me

Howard Thurman, in Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press, 1999)

Open unto me, light for my darkness
Open unto me, courage for my fear
Open unto me, hope for my despair
Open unto me, peace for my turmoil
Open unto me, joy for my sorrow
Open unto me, strength for my weakness
Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion
Open unto me, forgiveness for my sins
Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness
Open unto me, love for my hates
Open unto me, Thy Self for myself
Lord, Lord, open unto me!

 

Resources

Articles

Interview - "In the Beginning there were Black Catholics," U.S. Catholic, 1993. 

"A History of Black Catholics in the United States" by Cyprian Davis, OSB, America, May 3, 1980. 

"In Memoriam: Cyprian Davis, OSB" American Catholic Studies Newsletter, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame, Fall 2015. 

"Benedictine Fr. Cyprian Davis, top chronicler of black Catholic history, dies" by Catholic News Service, published in National Catholic Reporter, May 20, 2015. 

Take the "Fr. Cyprian Davis Pledge" by Dr. Kimberly Baker, St. Meinrad Seminary Blog, June 11, 2020. 

Videos

"Cheryl Archibald speaking about Fr. Cyprian Davis," St. Francis Xavier College Church, November 14, 2020. 

"November 18th - Fr. Cyprian Davis" by Richard Lane Ministries - Profile of Fr. Cyprian Davis for Black Catholic History Month 2020. 

"Father Cyprian Davis, Church Historian - A Personal Reflection by Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP" - Adrian Dominican Sisters, February 17, 2023.

"Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB Death Toll Bells" by Fr. Simon Herrmann, OSB, May 18, 2015. Listen to the Bells of St. Meinrad Archabbey toll for Father Davis.

 

Feature photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey


Black History Month | Week Three

By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

The theme for this year's Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” I thought there would be no better way to showcase Black resistance than to highlight Black women. They are the backbone of the Black community and have played a monumental role in creating change through their resistance. Each week throughout the month of February we will learn about women who stood up, spoke out, and changed the world. 

֎ Valerie Thomas ֎ Bessie Blount Griffin ֎ Lillie Mae Bradford
֎ Anna Julia Haywood Cooper ֎ Angela Davis


 


NASA, restored by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Valerie Thomas 
Mathematician, Inventor, NASA Scientist
1943-Present

Accomplishments:

  • NASA Scientist

  • Associate Chief of Space Science Data Operations Office

  • Inventor of the Illusion Transmitter (3D/hologram technology)

  • Winner of the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit

  • Winner of NASA Equal Opportunity Medal

  • Project Manager for Space Physics Analysis Network

  • Patent holder

Quote: 
“Hobbies are for wimps who don’t have the guts to follow their passion.”

Superpower: Her brain

Biography:
Valerie Thomas was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and she grew up with a love for math and physics. She decided to pursue that love in college where she majored in physics at Morgan State University. Valerie was only one of two women who majored in physics at Morgan State. She graduated with the highest honors and immediately began her career at NASA as a data analyst. She was tasked with creating real time computer data systems that would help interpret what the satellites were seeing when they looked at Earth. She would later take this technology and lead a team of 50 people, including scientists from NASA, Johnson Space Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They were able to prove that the use of this system could accurately gauge and measure yearly wheat yields. It was an unprecedented accomplishment to bring all these agencies together to collaborate and share information in a field that is very territorial when it comes to information.

While at an exhibition in 1976, she saw an optical illusion that projected a 3D image using light and mirrors. She went home wondering how she could use this technology in her work at NASA. A year later she invented the illusion transmitter. She was able to create a way to send a 3D image of an object across a distance, creating a hologram that allows you to view the object from all angles. This technology is still used today by NASA and is now expanding into the medical field to aid with surgery. This technology is also used in televisions and video screens. She received a patent for this invention in 1980.

In the mid 1980s, Valerie Thomas was project leader of the Space Physics Analysis Network (SPAN). Her job was to create a large computer network that would connect scientists from all over the world to allow more sharing and collaboration. Valerie and SPAN continued to develop this technology which would give way to the beginning of the Internet and networking. Indirectly, we can thank Valerie Thomas for Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and all the hours we have wasted on the Internet.

Valerie Thomas is now retired but spends much of her free time encouraging and mentoring women and girls in the fields of science and math. Learn more about Valerie Thomas.

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"Portable Receptacle Support," B.V. Griffin, April 24, 1951, U.S. Pat. No. 2,550,554 U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Bessie Blount Griffin
Writer, Nurse, Physical Therapist, Inventor, Handwriting Expert
1914-2009

Accomplishments:

  • Inventor of three assistive medical devices

  • First Black woman to be accepted into advanced studies at the Document Division of Scotland Yard

Quote: 
“I’m gonna live just for spite, ’cause my work is not done.”

Superpower: The inability to sit still

Biography:
Bessie Blount Griffin was born in 1914 in Hickory, Virginia. She attended school in a one room schoolhouse that was built by Blacks to educate children of freed enslaved people, enslaved children, and Native Americans. Early in life, when faced with an obstacle, Bessie found a unique solution. While attending school, Bessie, who was left-handed, would get her knuckles slapped with a ruler for using her left hand. Out of defiance and creativity she taught herself to write with the pencil in her right hand, her mouth, and in between her toes. Her resourcefulness would prove helpful later in her career.

By the time she was in sixth grade, she had learned all the schoolhouse had to teach her. She continued to learn on her own and eventually earned her high school diploma. Bessie studied to become a nurse at the Black run Community Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Newark. During her free time while working at Kennedy Memorial, she turned her attention to physical therapy. After earning her degree in physical therapy, she worked as a physical therapist and taught physiotherapy at the same hospital.

After World War II she found her calling when she began working with veterans that had lost limbs or been paralyzed during the war. Remembering back to her school days, she even taught some amputees how use their feet to type. 

She became a huge proponent for the disabled soldiers and worked tirelessly to help them become more self-reliant. While working with the soldiers, a doctor suggested, “If you really want to do something for these boys, why don’t you make something by which they can feed themselves?” So, every morning for the next five years, between 1:00-4:00 a.m. Bessie would sit in her kitchen creating a machine that would feed soldiers who weren’t able to feed themselves. Finally, after investing about $3,000 of her own money, she had created a self-feeding device that dispensed food when the patient would bite down on the feeding tube. Small pieces of food would be fed through the tube and then shut off to allow the patient to chew. She had the device patented and attempted to shop the device to the Veterans Administration (VA). Even after several surgeons praised the invention and what it could do for amputees and quadriplegics, the head of the VA said it was impractical because they had nurses and aids who could feed patients. Bessie would later sign over the patent to the French government who would use it in their military hospitals. When she was asked about not getting any money for her invention, she simply replied that she was contributing to the progress of Black people by “proving that a black woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind.” 

Bessie continued her work as a nurse, a physical therapist, and inventor, yet she desired to do more. She began studying how certain things affected handwriting such as medication, disease, stress, or a person’s physical environment. She went on to publish a paper detailing her research with handwriting. Soon police departments were calling for her expertise as a handwriting expert. She trained at the Document Division of the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory in Scotland Yard. She was the first Black woman given this opportunity. When she returned home, she was often asked to testify in court as an expert where evidentiary handwriting samples were involved.

When she wasn’t a nurse, physical therapist, inventor, or expert witness, she spent her free time building a consulting business that reviewed historical documents relating to slavery, the Civil War, and Native American treaties for their authenticity.

At the age of 94, she took up another project. She wanted to create a museum where her small one room schoolhouse once stood to honor all the students that attended the school and their amazing accomplishments. A year later, she passed away before she could complete this project. What an amazing woman, inventor, nurse, physical therapist, expert witness, and museum curator she was! Learn more about Bessie Blount Griffin. 

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Bradford Arrest Report, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lillie Mae Bradford 
Activist
1928-2017

Accomplishments:

  • A pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement

  • The Original Rosa Parks

  • Pardon recipient

Quote: 
“But that day, I said to myself ‘If you don’t defend your right today, you never will.’” 

Superpower: Courage

Biography:
Four years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, four years before Rosa refused to give up her seat, Lillie Mae had a decision to make that would impact her for the rest of her life. 

When Lillie Mae was 20 years old, she boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to go home. She had just finished a long day as a caregiver for disabled children and was going home to rest. Her bus ride required her to get a transfer so she could catch a second bus to finish her commute. She boarded the bus, gave the driver her fare and requested a transfer. Even though she paid for the transfer, she did not get it. This happened routinely to Blacks who rode the bus. It happened to her before, and she had chosen not to say anything and paid the extra fare. But this day was different. When she noticed the mistake, she approached the driver and requested she get what she paid for knowing the act of her simply questioning a white man could have gotten her killed. When he refused to give her a transfer or a refund, he ordered her to sit down several times. Finally, she sat down right behind the driver, in the section for whites only.

The driver pulled the bus over to make a call and then continued his route. A few moments later, the police stopped the bus, pulled Lillie Mae off the bus, arrested her, and charged her with disorderly conduct. She later would be ordered to pay a small fine to resolve the case, at least she thought.

Over the next several years, she applied for jobs and was denied over and over. Finally, she recalled the small box on each application, the box that asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime. She answered honestly every time and would never get hired. Her quiet act of civil disobedience costed her several jobs and stayed on her record for over 50 years.

Fifty-five years after she sat in the “wrong seat,” the Rosa Parks Act was passed allowing civil rights activists to request a pardon for prior arrests. Although she was now 78 years old and wouldn’t be applying to too many jobs at her age, she requested a pardon because, “I want to have it removed, frame it, and put it on the wall. It will show I was arrested fighting for my rights.” Learn more about Lillie Mae Bradford.

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C. M. Bell, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper
Educator, Author, Speaker, Activist
1858 –1964

Accomplishments:

  • Received a PhD from the University of Paris

  • President of Frelinghuysen University

  • Adoptive mother of five

  • “Mother of Black Feminism”

Quote: 
“Let our girls feel that we expect something more of them than that they merely look pretty and appear well in society.”

Superpower: The ability to succeed in hostile environments

Biography:
Anna Julia Hayward Cooper and her mother Hanna Hayward were enslaved women owned by George Hayward in North Carolina. Hanna was taken advantage of by either George Hayward or his brother, Dr. Fabius Hayward – or possibly both – and as a result become pregnant with Anna.

At nine years old, Anna began her education. She was the recipient of a scholarship to St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute in Raleigh. The institute was founded to help train and graduate teachers who would go on to help educate former enslaved families. While at St. Augustine’s she studied math, science, Latin, French, Greek, and literature. This was part of the “Ladies Course,” a track for women that also discouraged them from pursuing higher education. There she successfully argued for the right to take a course reserved only for men. She met and married her husband, George Cooper, at St. Augustine’s. Sadly, George died two years after they married.

Upon graduation, Anna remained at St. Augustine’s as an instructor but soon left to pursue her studies at Oberlin College in Ohio and continued taking courses reserved for men. She earned her bachelor’s degree in two years and went on to get a master’s degree in mathematics. She, along with fellow classmate Mary Church Terrell, were the first two Black woman to receive a master’s degree. Two years after graduation she wrote and published her essay, “Higher Education of Women." In her essay, she argued the importance of access to education for Black women. Almost ten years later, W.E.B. Du Bois, wrote a similar essay, “Of the Training of Black Men.” In a field designed and dominated by men, Anna not only competed with but out-performed the men in her field. 

Anna become a high school teacher, principal, and author on the side. She wrote a critically acclaimed book, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South. In her book of essays, she spoke about race, racism, gender, and the socioeconomics of Black families. She also wrote about the duty of successful Black women to assist those after them.

At 56, she began to work toward her doctorate degree at Columbia but was forced to postpone her studies a year later when she adopted her five orphaned nieces and nephews. She returned to pursue her doctorate at the University of Paris, but unfortunately, they did not accept the thesis she started at Columbia. Finally, at age 65 she become the fourth Black woman in America to earn a PhD.

After retiring as a high school teacher and principal, she became the President of Frelinghuysen University where stayed for another 30 years before retiring again. She lived to be 105 and remained an active writer and speaker. Learn more about Anna Julia Haywood Cooper. 

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Philippe Halsman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Angela Davis
Activist, Politician, Professor, Author
1944-Present

Accomplishments:

Quote: 
“We know the road to freedom has always been stalked by death.”

Superpower: The ability to speak up for those who can’t

Biography:
Angela Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and grew up in the Black middleclass neighborhood known as “Dynamite Hill.” It was coined this nickname in the 1950s when several homes were bombed to scare Blacks from buying homes in this area. Angela’s mother, Sallye Belle Davis was a leader in the Southern Negro Youth Congress, an organization that had roots in Communism. Her senior year in high school she accepted a scholarship and attended Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York. While at Elisabeth Irwin, Angela was recruited by the Communist group, Advance.

Upon graduating from high school, Angela was awarded a scholarship from Brandeis University in Massachusetts. The summer after her freshman year, she attended the World Festival of Youth and Students in Finland, a communist-sponsored festival. When she returned to the United States, she was approached by the FBI and questioned about her presence at the festival. This would be the beginning of a long relationship between Angela and the FBI.

She studied abroad in France her junior year, and it was here where she heard about the bombing of a church in her hometown Birmingham, Alabama. Angela knew the families of the four girls killed in the bombing. Angela graduated magna cum laude, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and left to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Frankfurt. After studying abroad for two years, she returned to finish her master's degree at the University of California, San Diego. She went on to complete her Doctor of Philosophy in East Berlin at the Humboldt University.

She began her professional career when she accepted the position of assistant professor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She was also recruited by Princeton and Swarthmore in Pennsylvania but chose UCLA because of its urban location. Soon after her arrival she joined the Black Panther Party. Her affiliation with the Communist Party and the Black Panthers concerned those in leadership and they began targeting her. The then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, urged UCLA to take a hard line against communism and as a result later that same year, she was fired. A judge would later rule they could not fire Angela Davis simply because of her connection to the Communist Party. She was reinstated only to be fired at the end of the next school year for using “inflammatory language,” in several speeches.

A few months after she was fired, an armed 17-year-old walked into a court room in California, gave weapons to the defendants on trial, and took the prosecutor, judge, and three jurors as hostages. The 17-year-old was the brother of one of the defendants in the Soledad Brother’s case who was in jail charged with the murder of a prison guard. It is assumed the brother was trying to use this takeover as leverage to free his brother. During the escape attempt, shots were exchanged, and the three defendants and judge were killed. The prosecutor and a juror were injured as well. The guns used in the failed takeover attempt were owned by Angela Davis. The weapon used to kill the judge was said to have been purchased by her a few days before the murder. The police also said she had connections with those behind the escape attempt through the Black Panther party. Angela Davis was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder of the judge. For several months, she refused to turn herself in and as a result was added to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted fugitives list. She was eventually found and arrested. 

Several groups across the country began organizing and working to gain her release as soon as they heard of her arrest. A month after she was arrested and charged, over 200 communities in the United States and 67 in other countries were fighting for her release. Many public figures joined in the fight including musicians John Lennon and Yoko Ono who wrote the song “Angela” to bring attention to her story. The Rolling Stones also penned a song after Angela, called “Sweet Black Angel.” When the trial ended, Angela Davis was acquitted by an all-white jury. They found no evidence she played a role in the planning of the takeover.

Angela Davis continued to teach and speak all over the world. She clearly expressed her opposition to racism, sexism, the prison-industrial complex, and the Vietnam war. She lent her support to many social justice movements, including fighting for the rights of LBGTQIA+ community. Learn more about Angela Davis.

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Black History Month | Week Two

By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

The theme for this year's Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” I thought there would be no better way to showcase Black resistance than to highlight Black women. They are the backbone of the Black community and have played a monumental role in creating change through their resistance. Each week throughout the month of February we will learn about women who stood up, spoke out, and changed the world. 

֎ Mary McLeod Bethune ֎ Amanda Gorman ֎ Kimberly Jones
֎ Madam C.J. Walker ֎ Mary Ellen Pleasant


 


Carl Van Vechten, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mary McLeod Bethune
Educator, Woman Rights Activist, Civil Rights Activist
1875-1955

Accomplishments: 

Quote:

“If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs.”

Superpower: The energy of 1,000 men

Biography:
Mary McLeod Bethune was the daughter of parents who had been enslaved. She came from a large family. She was the 15th of 17 children born to Sam and Patsy McLeod. They all lived in a small cabin on a rice and cotton farm in Mayesville, South Carolina. Sam McLeod was a cotton farmer and by age five Mary was working in the fields alongside her father. Her mother worked for her former owner and would often take Mary with her to deliver the clothes Patsy had washed for several white families in the area. On one visit, Mary was playing with a white girl in the girl’s nursery. Mary picked up a book and the little girl ordered her to put it down because Mary didn’t know how to read. This interaction inspired Mary to not only learn how to read but to make sure more Black people could read and write.

Mary was the only child in her family to attend school. Every day Mary would walk five miles to school. Each night she would teach the rest of the family what she learned that day. Her calling to be an educator was loud and started early.

She received a scholarship to attend Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College), a school for girls in Concord, North Carolina. After graduating from the seminary in 1893, she went to the Dwight Moody's Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (also known as Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago. She had hope of becoming an African missionary. Bethune completed her studies there two years later but was told there was no room for Black missionaries. Returning to the South, she began her career as a teacher believing education was the key to Black advancement.

After teaching for a decade, she started a school for African American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. It later merged with a private institute for African American boys and was known as the Bethune-Cookman School. She was the president of Bethune-Cookman School for almost 20 years.

Mary McLeod Bethune also became very active in civic organization for women and became nationally known. After working on the presidential campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt, he invited her as a member of his “Black Cabinet.” She advised him on issues with the Black community and help share his messages with Blacks. Roosevelt would make her his director of The Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. Her relationship with the President and First Lady evolved and she was considered a close friend and advisor to them both.

She also worked on child welfare with President Coolidge and with President Hoover; she began serving on the Commission on Home Building and Home Ownership in 1931. Learn more about Mary McLeod Bethune.

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Amanda Gorman
Poet, Author, Activist
1998-Present

Accomplishments:

Quote: 

“There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” - The Hill We Climb

Superpower: The ability to see and speak about the invisible

Biography:

Amanda Gorman was born in Los Angeles and raised Catholic by her single mother who was a sixth grade English teacher. It seems greatness comes in twos in the Gorman family. Amanda’s twin sister is also an activist and a filmmaker.

Amanda was born with several challenges. She has an auditory processing disorder, and a speech impediment and spent a lot of time in speech therapy to overcome those challenges. As a result, Amanda spent a lot of time reading and writing. What began as a deficit fed her greatest assets: her gift of writing and speaking. She writes well beyond her years and her cadence calls back to Dr. Martin Luther King’s rhythm when he spoke. Her class and elegance remind us of a young Maya Angelou, yet she is clearly Amanda Gorman.

Amanda attended and graduated with honors from Harvard. Her writing often focuses on oppression, racism, feminism, marginalization, and the Black experience. She is also known for her sense of fashion. She has said, "Fashion brings a distinct visual aesthetic to language. When I'm performing on stage, I'm not just thinking about my clothing, but what my Wakanda Forever t-shirt and yellow skirt is saying about my identity as a poet.”

The future is bright for this young game changer, and I can’t wait to see what she can do. Learn more about Amanda Gorman.


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Frypie, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kimberly Jones
Author, Activist, Filmmaker
1976-Present

Accomplishments:

Quote:
“They are lucky that what Black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.” 

Superpower: Passion

About:
Kimberly Jones spoke for millions during the summer of 2020. While still in lock down from the pandemic, sequestered to our homes as the video of George Floyd’s murder played on a loop, Kimberly spoke from the front lines of a protest that some were calling a riot. Her passion, pain, frustration, anger, and determination grabbed at you from the start of her video “How Can We Win.” She made so much sense. She spoke for me, my community, and this country. The video went viral. In six minutes and 46 seconds she taught me more than any history class I ever attended.

In 2020, Kimberly Jones signed a television deal with Warner Bros. Television Group, so we will be seeing more of her. I think she has the potential to be this generation’s Angela Davis. Kimberly’s role in Black history is just a foot note today, but she is the Black future. Learn more about Kimberly Jones

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Addison N. Scurlock, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Madam C.J. Walker
Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Activist

1867-1919

Accomplishments:

Quote:
“As I bent over the washboard and looked at my arms buried in soapsuds, I said to myself, 'What are you going to do when you grow old and your back gets stiff?' This set me to thinking, but with all my thinking I couldn't see how a poor washerwoman was going to better my condition.”

Superpower: Entrepreneurial spirit

Biography: 
Madame Walker was the fifth child born to sharecroppers Owen and Minerva Breedlove. She was born Sarah Breedlove, the first of the Breedlove children to be born and not enslaved. Her early life was challenging. She was an orphan by seven and married by 14. She gave birth to her daughter A’Lelia at 19-years-old and a widow at age 20. Soon after, she relocated to St. Louis where she met Charles J. Walker, for whom her business was later named. They were married for a short period of time and divorced after only a few years together. She then moved to Pittsburgh where she opened a school to train her “Beauty Culturalists,” her female workforce.

Madame Walker began creating her empire when she started losing her hair due to a scalp disorder. She became obsessed with creating better hair care products for Black women. Her products were all homemade and sold directly to Black women. At the height of her business, she employed over 3,000 people, most of those women.

Giving back to the community was very important to Madame Walker. She often gave bonuses to her employees who also did work in the community. She became one of the first Black woman millionaires and an inspiration to generations to come. Learn more about Madam C.J. Walker.

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Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Ellen Pleasant
Entrepreneur, Activist, Black Freedom Fighter, Philanthropist
1815-1904

Accomplishments:

  • First self-made Black female millionaire

  • Nicknamed “The mother of Civil Rights in California”

Quote: 

“You know my cause well. My cause was the cause of freedom and equality for myself and for my people and I’d rather be a corpse than a coward.”

Superpower: Ability to listen

Biography:
Mary Ellen Pleasant began as a mystery and remained that way throughout her life. There is some discrepancy about where she was born and if she was born enslaved or not. There is not much known about her parents. As an adolescent, she went to live with a family other than her biological family. The Williams family took her in and cared for her, yet then gave her to a family in Massachusetts to be their indentured servant. She lived with the Hussey-Gardner family who were Quakers, abolitionists, and store owners. On top of being their servant, she also worked in the family store. It is here where she learned to listen. She would learn a great deal just from listening to others converse around her as if she wasn’t there. While working at the store she learned about business and how to talk with people.

Her first husband, James Smith from Boston, was an abolitionist who worked to move enslaved people from the South up to the North and into Nova Scotia. After four years of marriage James died, leaving his estate to Mary Ellen. Soon after his death, she left to travel out West to take advantage of the freedom and the gold rush. She understood she could make a living cooking and providing lodging for the miners. She used some of her inheritance from her late husband to buy a boarding house and then rented out rooms to miners. She also worked to bring more enslaved people out West. 

Mary Ellen began to invest in property and gold and silver, buying low and selling high, exchanging cash for silver or gold at the bank to sell high. She maintained a low profile and still worked as a domestic worker where she would listen to her wealthy bosses talk about investing. She would then invest according to what the men spoke about. 

Mary Ellen used her wealth to help fund the Underground Railroad. She taught investing and business to other women of color while playing matchmaker, finding wealthy businessmen for her “trainees.” She kept detailed notes of who was with who, who had children outside of their marriages, and financial and political secrets. It is thought she used this information to blackmail the wealthy men.

To help keep her fortune a secret as her empire grew, Mary Ellen partnered with a white banker and investor, Mr. James Bell. At the time, a Black woman with a large amount of property and investments would garner attention she did not want. Together, through their investments and properties, their fortune was thought to be about $30 million (the equivalent of ~$740 million in 2021). Unfortunately, when Thomas Bell died, his widow contested their partnership, and the widow convinced the court that Mary Ellen had no rights to the money. 

Mary Ellen Pleasant died poor, but through her service, financial savvy, and strategic mind, she helped many gain physical and financial freedom. Learn more about Mary Ellen Pleasant.

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Black History Month | Week One

By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion

The theme for this year's Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” I thought there would be no better way to showcase Black resistance than to highlight Black women. They are the backbone of the Black community and have played a monumental role in creating change through their resistance. Each week throughout the month of February we will learn about women who stood up, spoke out, and changed the world. 

֎ Fannie Lou Hamer ֎ Ida B. Wells-Barnett ֎ Stacey Abrams
֎ The Founders of Black Lives Matter ֎ Afeni Shakur


 

Fannie Lou Hamer
Voting Rights Activist
1917–1977

Accomplishments:

Quote: 
“I don’t want to hear you say, ‘Honey, I’m behind you.’ Well, move. I don’t want you back there because you could be 200 miles behind. I want you to say, ‘I’m with you.’ And we’ll go up this freedom road together.” 

Superpower: Resilience

Biography:
Fannie Lou Townsend was born in 1917, the last of 20 children to be born to Ella and James Lee Townsend, sharecroppers in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She began picking cotton at age six and by age 13 she was able to pick up to 300 pounds of cotton each day while fighting the effects of polio. During the winter months, when not picking cotton, she attended a one-room schoolhouse on the plantation where she worked. She excelled in reading, spelling, and reciting poetry. Unfortunately, by age 12 she had to leave school to pick cotton to help support the family.

In 1944 she married Perry Hamer and the couple continued their plantation work. In 1962, Fannie Lou was fired from the plantation when the owner discovered she tried to vote. Once the harvest was complete, her husband, Perry, was fired as well.

In 1961, she found out she had a uterine tumor. She scheduled the procedure to have the tumor removed but when the doctor went to remove the tumor, he chose to give Fannie Lou a “Mississippi Appendectomy” – the forcible removal of a Black women’s uterus without the woman’s consent to control the “spread” of Black people. Although Fannie Lou was unable to have children, she and Perry eventually became parents to two adopted girls.

In June 1963, after successfully completing a voter registration program in Charleston, South Carolina, Fannie Lou and several other Black women were arrested for sitting in a “whites only” bus station restaurant in Winona, Mississippi. At the Winona jailhouse, she and several of the women were brutally beaten, leaving Fannie Lou with lifelong injuries – a blood clot in her eye, kidney damage, and leg damage.

In 1964, Fannie Lou helped organize Freedom Summer, which brought hundreds of college students, Black and white, to help with African American voter registration in the segregated South.

Frustrated by the political process, Fannie Lou turned to economics as a strategy for greater racial equality. In 1968, she began a “pig bank” to provide free pigs for Black farmers to breed, raise, and slaughter. A year later she launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative, buying up land that Blacks could own and farm collectively. With the assistance of donors (including famed singer Harry Belafonte), she purchased 640 acres and launched a co-op store, boutique, and sewing enterprise. In 1977, Fannie Lou died of breast cancer at age 59.

Despite all that happened to her she never stayed down. Hardship, disease, racism, malpractice, and violence never stopped her from achieving what she was called to do. Learn more about Fannie Lou Hamer.

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Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Investigative Journalist, Educator, Civil Rights Leader
1862–1931

Accomplishments:

Quote: 
“I am only a mouthpiece through which to tell the story of lynching and I have told it so often that I know it by heart. I do not have to embellish; it makes its own way.”

Superpower: Courage

Biography:
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born into slavery in Holly Springs Mississippi, and at age three she was declared free by the Emancipation Proclamation. At age 14 she went to visit relatives; while away from home her parents and a sibling contracted yellow fever and died soon after. Ida was left to raise herself and her surviving siblings. She found a better paying job as a teacher and moved the family to Memphis.

It was in Memphis where she co-founded the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper where she was also an investigative reporter. Ida chose to expose the truth behind white mob violence and lynching. The white media continued to report that those getting lynched were criminals and those doing the lynching were the real victims. Ida’s articles showed the brutality of the lynching and how they were used to intimidate and control Blacks who were gaining power and prominence in society.

Ida became a trusted and needed voice in the struggle for civil rights. Soon her articles were being carried nationally by other Black newspapers and as her readership spread, she became a target. Her presses in Memphis were destroyed by an angry white mob and she and her family were forced to flee to Chicago for safety.

She continued to write and speak both nationally and internationally, pointing out the realities of racism in America and the brutality of lynching. She also became a leader for women’s rights and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. She was present during the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) but is rarely listed as one of the founders.

In 2020, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was awarded a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for her investigative writing. Learn more about Ida B. Wells-Barnett.

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Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stacey Abrams
Politician, Lawyer, Voting Rights Activist, Author
1973–Present

Accomplishments:

  • Founder of Fair Fight Action

  • Democratic Georgia gubernatorial nominee 2018 and 2022

  • Co-founder of NOWaccount Network, a financial services firm

  • First African American woman to give a response to the Presidential State of the Union address

  • New York Times best-selling author (twice)

  • CEO of Sage Works, a legal consulting firm that has represented clients including the Atlanta Dream of the Women's National Basketball Association

Quote: 
“Our ability to participate in government, to elect our leaders and to improve our lives is contingent upon our ability to access the ballot. We know in our heart of hearts that voting is a sacred right – the fount from which all other rights flow.”

Superpower: The ability to organize
 
Biography:
Stacey Yvonne Abrams was born to Robert and Carolyn Abrams in 1973 in Madison, Wisconsin, and raised in Gulfport, Mississippi. In 1989, the family moved to Atlanta where both her parents pursued graduate degrees in Divinity from Emory University.

While still in high school, Stacey was hired to work on a congressional campaign where she was given the opportunity to be a speechwriter. She continued her education after college and graduated magna cum laude from Spellman University in 1995. Her post-graduate work was done at the University of Texas in Austin, and she graduated with a Master of Public Affairs degree in 1998. Stacey continued to law school and earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Yale Law School.

In 2018, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, an organization to address voter suppression. She has been widely credited with boosting voter turnout in Georgia, including in the 2020 presidential election, when Joe Biden narrowly won the state, and in Georgia's 2020–21 regularly scheduled and special U.S. Senate elections, which gave Democrats control of the Senate. Learn more about Stacey Abrams.

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Left: Patrisse Cullors on Ashley Graham, Pretty Big Deal with Ashley Graham, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons | Center: Alicia Garza, Citizen University, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons | Right: Ayọ Tometi, Web Summit, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Founders of Black Lives Matter
Patrisse Cullors: Activist, Organizer, Civil Rights Champion (1983-Present)
Alicia Garza: Activist, Organizer, Civil Rights Champion (1981-Present)
Ayọ Tometi: Activist, Organizer, Civil Rights Champion (1984-Present)

Superpower: Their ability to create change

About:
In 2013, in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Ayọ Tometi (formerly Opal Tometi) created Black Lives Matter (BLM). There has been so much misinformation about this group, so it is important to hear directly from the founders about the inspiration behind this movement.

Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.

As organizers who work with everyday people, BLM members see and understand significant gaps in movement spaces and leadership. Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men — leaving women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition. As a network, we have always recognized the need to center the leadership of women and queer and trans people. To maximize our movement muscle, and to be intentional about not replicating harmful practices that excluded so many in past movements for liberation, we made a commitment to placing those at the margins closer to the center. (Source: https://blacklivesmatter.com/herstory/)

BLM is unique is so many ways. It appears the founders looked to the successes and failures of the past civil rights groups to guide them. As stated above, they wanted to create a more inclusive group that honors women, queer, and transgender people as leaders and show all are integral in creating real change. Learn more about Black Lives Matter.

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University of Central ArkansasCC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr

Afeni Shakur
Activist, Black Panther, Mother, Litigator
1947–2016

Accomplishments:

Quote: 
“Trust me, you can't change anything without causing some degree of disruption. It's impossible, that is exactly what change is. Some people are uncomfortable with the disruption that change causes, but the disruption is necessary if anything is going to change.”

Superpower: Fierce litigator

Biography:
When Afeni Shakur, born Alice Faye Williams, was 21 years old, she heard Black Panther Bobby Seale speak. When the Black Panther Party opened an office close to her home in Harlem she joined right away. She would soon meet and marry fellow Black Panther Lumumba Shakur. She changed her name to Afeni Shakur and became a section leader of the Harlem chapter for Black Panthers.

Six months after she joined the Black Panther Party, Afeni was arrested along with 20 other members, accused of plotting to bomb several New York police stations. During the trial she represented herself and described it in her autobiography, “I was young. I was arrogant. And I was brilliant in court... because I thought this was the last time I could speak. The last time before they locked me up forever... I was writing my own obituary." Her work in the trial is credited for getting her and the 20 others acquitted. 

In total, Afeni spent two years in jail. During that time, she had the opportunity to get to know several Gay inmates who helped her to see the oppression the gay community was experiencing and how similar their fight was to the Black community’s fight. After her release, Afeni participated in the Gay Liberation Front and continued to fight for gay rights and the fight against homophobia within the Black Panthers.

On June 16, 1971, she welcomed son Lesane Parish Crooks. She would later rename him Tupac Amaru Shakur. Tupac grew up to be a gifted rapper and a critically acclaimed actor before being murdered in Las Vegas by a drive-by shooter. His murder is still unsolved. Learn more about Afeni Shakur.

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People of African Descent on the Path to Sainthood

Printable bookmark of African Americans on their Way to Sainthood (PDF)

U.S. Black Catholic History Links

Black Catholic History page by Seattle University

Timeline from the National Black Catholic Congress

Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP, discusses Black Catholics in America with Dr. Paul Lakeland for Fairfield University's "Voices of Others" video series

News report on one of the oldest Black Catholic parishes in the U.S., St. Elizabeth Catholic Church (formerly St. Monica) in Chicago, Illinois