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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.
Tyre Nichols loved photographing sunsets. We share this photo in his memory.
By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion
I didn’t plan on writing a blog this week. I was going to begin Black History Month focusing on Black history, but the Black present seems to be competing with the history to see which can be more traumatic. Last week the present was the clear winner… well, loser.
I haven’t watched the videos yet. It’s part of the process. I must charge myself up to watch it. I must take several days or weeks to prepare myself. I listen to – not watch – the news because I don’t want to be assaulted with the video when I’m not ready. I slowly page through social media keeping one eye out for videos of the beating. If I see something I accelerate past it. I’m not ready yet.
I concentrate on the positive stories (if that is possible after such a brutal tragedy). I like to hear what kind of person they were, what they liked to do, and the food they enjoyed. I listen to family members refer to them in the past tense and I wonder how they did it. How did they come to terms with their loved one that was so recently present but now past?
Through the consistent tragedy of Black lives meeting an early unjustified death, I have come to understand that ancestry has nothing to do with age. I always thought of my ancestors as older folks that are no longer here. I picture white-haired Frederick Douglass or frail little Miss Jane Pittman. Ancestors should never be younger than me. Yet, we keep adding to our ancestors from the same fountain. The fountain that convinces some that the color of our skin makes us a threat and blinds them to the threat that they have become.
The list goes on and on it seems. Emmett Till, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant III, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, and now Tyre Nichols.
I can see each of their faces just like Frederick Douglass or Miss Jane Pittman. They were killed for a number of reasons:
Talking to a white woman
Playing music too loud
Buying a toy
Passing a fake $20 bill
Playing in the park
Carrying a licensed firearm
Asking for directions
Walking in a neighborhood
Jogging in a neighborhood
No matter how I look at them, none of these “offenses” warrant the death penalty. There was a better way to resolve every one of these situations.
I’m tired of adding to the list. What can we do to stop the growth of this list?
In less than a week, we will launch Black History Month. I have mixed feelings about it. Part of me is upset that we have only 28 days to prove Black history is valid and worth studying. Part of me enjoys the attention given to people like me who have made monumental contributions to this country. Then part of me is sick of hearing about Martin, Malcolm, Rosa, Fredrick, James, Barack, Michelle, etc. We hear about the same few every year.
Each year, on February 1, my teacher would roll out the Black History Month kit that flashed bios of the same people, as if only a handful of Black people did anything noteworthy for this country. I would hear Martin’s “I Have a Dream” speech over and over, as if that was the only one he ever gave. I would hear about Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, Malcolm X and why he was a bad leader and a bad human, and of course, sister Rosa would be mentioned.
Then we would move into March and the promise of spring. The blooming of tulips washed away the Black historical figures for the year. We exhausted all the notable Black people in those 28 days, so only a rare few would garner attention outside of February.
As I started to pull out my Black History Month kit this year, I decided to do things a bit differently. I chose to highlight 20 people in U.S. history who happen to be Black. Each working day in February, I will highlight a Black woman who has helped shape this country into what it is today. I choose Black women because we don’t honor them enough. I chose women most of us have never heard of because they have not been honored enough.
It pains me to admit that of the 20 women I chose to highlight, I only know surface-level information on 10 of them. My hope is that we all can learn and be inspired by the contributions these women have made. My ultimate hope is that someday we will no longer need Black History Month because we have grown to understand that Black history is American history and we can study the contributions of Black people all year.
“I’ve written a play and I was hoping you would consider playing a part in the play,” Sister Connie said to me after church one Sunday. She was Sister Connie because that is how we referred to each other at our church. We are all part of the same family. She would call me Brother Kevin. I liked that.
I asked her what the play was about, and she explained the play was called, “A Morsel of Bread: The Coretta Scott King Story.” Sister Connie had reserved the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio, a venue that is used primarily to host traveling Broadway plays. We didn’t have one rehearsal yet and Sister Connie had already booked the venue. She was a talented woman with a clear vision. She wanted me to play Coretta’s husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Before she finished her sentence I had agreed. It was an honor to attempt to play this man, and although these were colossal shoes to fill, I wanted to give it a shot.
Sister Connie asked me to practice one of his speeches and be prepared to “preach,” like the good Reverend had done so many times. She had suggested I do part of the “I Have a Dream” speech and I respectfully declined. As a writer, I really loved the poetic way in which Dr. King’s speeches flowed. His use of imagery combined with his southern preacher’s diction created a visual masterpiece in my head. I wanted to showcase what an amazing orator Dr. King was; I wanted people to hear he was more than just a “Dream.”
I was enthralled when I came across the “I’ve Been to The Mountaintop” speech. The fact that this was the speech he gave the night before he was murdered, the last speech he gave, made it irresistible. Below is my favorite part from that speech:
You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented Black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you, Martin Luther King?”
And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it, I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood–that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me … to read some of the mail that came in … there was another letter that came from a little girl…. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the Whites Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. … If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they go somewhere because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
- Excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” April 3, 1968
The first time I attempted this speech I summoned all the great Baptist preachers that had gone on before me and I poured myself in to the character. The speech calmly and gradually builds to a crescendo with these final powerful words:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
The speech ends in a fiery conclusion and when I stood still, I was dizzy, breathless, and close to passing out. I too was so happy he didn’t sneeze and even happier that I didn’t lose consciousness. Over time I got the breathing down and the rhythm of the speech gave me energy instead of taking it away. We did three shows at the Valentine Theatre, and for three shows I got to take on this man’s amazing life. It was an honor to be him for such a short time.
Through the rehearsals I often wondered what would have happened if he sneezed and we lost this great man so early. Then it became very clear to me why he didn’t sneeze. He didn’t sneeze because his work wasn’t done. He did such great work after the stabbing. He didn’t sneeze because his purpose wasn’t complete. When he felt he led us to the mountaintop he understood intimately that his purpose was to lead us to the promised land even though he might not step foot in the promised land. He understood he wasn’t the movement but simply a gear in the movement that kept things moving forward. He understood the movement was greater than himself.
Dr. King is no bigger than anyone of us. We all have purpose. We all have a job to fulfill. We might be called to be caregivers to patients or children. We may be called to lead co-workers or called to speak for the voiceless. We may be called to protect people or protect this planet. We all have value and worth and Dr. King inspires me to chase my purpose until my last breath. Even though he didn’t get to the promised land he left us a map and our journey is not done.
Thank you to all who completed our survey inviting your feedback on the 25 profiles and contributions of Black Catholics. We value your opinions. Here is a summary of the responses and, because we could not resist, we have included some reflection questions and a prayer at the end of this posting.
Forty-two persons responded; 34 Sisters; five Associates; one “friend” and two unidentified. At the end of the survey, 33 respondents wished the series to continue; five said no to this question.
Forty-three percent of respondents read most if not all the profiles and 75% responded that they learned something new about Black Catholics. Here are some sample responses.
Of the 25 profiles presented over the last two years, respondents were most inspired by Servant of God Thea Bowman but nine other profiles were listed as inspiring, including Kobe Bryant, our own Jamie Phelps, Nicholas Black Elk, Samuel Henderson, and Julia Greeley. Here are some sample comments.
Respondents were most "surprised" by the Kobe Bryant profile. This comment was typical: "Did not know he was Catholic but impressed by his faithfulness and passing on his faith to his children."
Here are a couple answers to the question; "Has the Black Catholic Project impacted your knowledge of Black Catholics?"
To the question, “Has reading the profiles made you feel differently about Black Catholics?” Most said no – 22; 16 said yes. Some comments on the yes-side were:
Those who answered “no” to this question noted that these profiles simply reinforced previous positive experiences.
"The History of Black Catholics in America: The Black Catholic Movement reinvigorated the church, with liturgical innovation, new preaching styles and activist scholarship" by Matthew J. Cressler, Smithsonian Magazine, June 7, 2018 (also published at Zócalo Public Square).
"In the beginning, there were Black Catholics," a US Catholic interview with the late Rev. Cyprian Davis, December 12, 2020.
Black History Timeline, National Black Catholic Congress.
"Black Catholics in America," by Jeff Diamant, Besheer Mohamed and Joshua Alvarado, Pew Research Center, March 15, 2022.
The Overlooked History of Black Catholic Nuns, KETV Omaha, Apr 30, 2022.
The History of the Black Catholic Church in Detroit, American Black Journal, Detroit Public TV, April 26, 2022.
As you reflect on the results of this survey, what questions do you still have? Please feel free to put those questions in the comment box (If you don't see the comment box below, click on the "Read More" link to see it).
God of Diversity,
Help me to be curious;
help me to question what I know;
help me to seek you in faces unlike my own.
Help me to love.
When I think back about my own education, I get a little angry. My curriculum rarely included any mention of people who look like me. One of the only times Black people were brought up in my history classes was when we talked about the enslavement of a race of people, and that history was filtered and bleached. We would talk about a few Black individuals who made contributions to this country, but they were always the same people every year. Eli Whitney and the cotton gin often came up. George Washington Carver and the wonders he could do with peanuts was a yearly lesson. Frederick Douglass and his wild hair would make an appearance. Malcolm X would be mentioned casually, but we couldn’t dive too deep into him because he was "dangerous." Of course, Martin Luther King Jr., was mentioned, but the vitriol that was often directed towards him when he was alive was "forgotten." The poet Gwendolyn Brooks and author James Baldwin (he was dangerous too) appeared as our only literary heroes. I heard more about Black athletes and entertainers, but the pathway to those careers was narrow and treacherous. Nowhere else did I see where people like me contributed to this country’s creation, which made me mad. I felt like valuable information was kept from me, information that would have helped me create a more confident me. I felt cheated.
In the ’90s, long after my elementary school years, it happened again. A friend of mine asked me if I celebrated Kwanzaa and I replied I hadn’t because I didn’t know what it was. He was generous enough to explain it to me and I couldn’t believe this had been around since the '60s and I had never heard about it. No one had ever taught me about Kwanzaa. It has such a rich and powerful message that I wished I had been made aware of it much sooner.
Sister Joan called me a few weeks ago and asked if I was going to do anything with Kwanzaa and I shared candidly that I didn’t know much about it. I was ashamed to admit that, but it was true. Sister Joan was kind enough to share with me a summary of Kwanzaa from the Black Catholic Project, which I have linked below. I hope you will join me in learning about and celebrating such an amazing tradition. Next year I will do more around Kwanzaa, now that I know more about it.
Black Catholic Project: Kwanzaa
By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion
The downtown Detroit air was cold and every time the wind blew it reminded you that it was one week before Christmas. We park the car and the six of us walk against the wind to the Greyhound Bus station. We enter and the terminal is buzzing. Some are waiting to get on a bus and others, like our family, are waiting to greet a loved one.
I was excited to see my grandmother who boarded the bus in Cleveland five hours ago and soon would be with us. My grandmother, Louise Hofmann, was a German immigrant who settled in a German neighborhood in Cleveland. In my head, I was her favorite. I felt like we had a special bond and she always treated me like I was her only grandchild. Years later, I would find out she made all the grandkids feel like I did.
She was a small, thick woman hovering just under five feet tall, with hair the color of Santa’s and a wonderfully calming German accent. She was my favorite grandparent and I treasured her visits.
Over the loudspeaker, they announced that the bus from Cleveland would be late, arriving in 30 minutes. As we waited, I looked for things to keep my mind occupied so I wouldn’t stare at the clock, willing it to move faster. I watched as travelers exited bus after bus and they were greeted by excited friends or relatives. They kissed and hugged and walked out of the bus station with their arms interlocked. I went and played with the seats that had the small TVs attached to them. I merely played with them because to watch the TV you had to insert a quarter and I had no money. Occasionally, someone would put money in the TV and then be called to board a bus or pick up a traveler. I would wait until they were a safe distance away and then I would slide into the warm plastic seat to catch the remaining minutes of TV someone else paid for.
Finally, the announcement came: "Bus now arriving from Cleveland, Ohio. Passengers will enter the station at door three." We assemble as a family and move as one towards door three. Passenger after passenger enter through door three but none are a small German woman. Finally, between two shoulders, I see Grandma’s white hair. My excitement and anticipation catapult me forward, and I run to hug her, almost tackling her. She smiles through her glasses and my impact forces her trademark "Oy" to spill from her lips. I grab her hand; we interlock arms and we walk out of the station.
We arrive home and try to close out the cold as we shut the front door. It is bitterly cold and once again we are on pipe watch at the house. The upstairs bathroom is located directly above the foyer. The foyer has no heating ducts, so cold air gets trapped in the foyer and causes the upstairs bathroom pipes to freeze if not watched.
When it got this cold, we would set up the kerosene heater in the foyer to avoid the freeze and the ensuing mess that accompanies frozen pipes. We light the heater and pray that we will avoid the mess. Dad is especially stressed, constantly checking to make sure the heater is still on and functioning. Frozen pipes and the money it will cost to clean up a damaged ceiling could literally cancel Christmas.
We let Grandma get settled into her room and my brother announces the toilet in the upstairs bathroom is clogged. Dad responds by heading upstairs to see if he can make the toilet cough up the clog. Dad grabs the plunger and off he goes pumping feverishly. From the bathroom there is a chorus of water splashing and Dad cussing. Then Dad chooses to waste his time by yelling down to us in the living room, “Who did this?” As usual, no one fesses up to the crime. It doesn’t take the skills of Sherlock Holmes to understand the child who reported the clog is most likely the child who caused the clog. My brother was infamous for using a generous portion of toilet paper about the size of my head. Frustrated with the lack of empathy and concern from the rest of the family, Dad goes back to fighting with the toilet. Splashing and cussing continue to harmonize as Dad’s frustration grows when the toilet won’t release the clog.
Dad yells down to me to run across the street to the neighbors and ask to borrow a snake. I have no idea how a reptile will help in this situation, but I am not about to question Dad while he is at war with pipes and clogged toilets
I throw on my coat and slide my feet into my snowmobile boots. I run across the street and ask to borrow a snake. I am handed an object I don’t recognize, and since I don’t know what a snake is I accept the item I am given as a "snake." I inspect the item as I walk back home and what I see is a small piece of hose, duct taped to a large funnel. Looks like a snake to me! I run inside past the kerosene heater and up the stairs to the bathroom where Dad is in the second hour of his brutal battle. He is plunging and yelling and cussing and I don’t dare step one foot in the bathroom. Dad looks my way as I stand in the doorway of the bathroom. I extend the item towards my father who looks disgusted. "What the hell is that?" Dad asks. I respond confidently, "A snake."
I thought Dad’s head was going to explode. The cussing becomes more intense, and Dad orders me to exit the bathroom and take my "damn snake" with me. I run downstairs to the living room, feeling like I let my dad down, and sit next to Grandma.
She has a strange smile on her face, and she puts her arm around me. She asks to see “the snake,” and I hold it up. She starts to laugh and in between her chuckles she explains to me what a snake or toilet auger is. What I am holding is NOT a snake. She asks me what I said to the neighbor, and I explain I asked for a snake to unclog the toilet. We all then start to envision how the neighbor got this so confused. Did he even know what a snake was, or did he just give us the closest item he had to get rid of us? As we spin possible scenarios that led to this misunderstanding, we laugh even more. Tears are rolling down my cheeks and as we laugh, the kind of laughs that steal your breath. Dad is still upstairs sloshing in the toilet, cussing, and cursing the neighbor. The background input from Dad only makes this funnier and we begin to howl.
Grandma joins us in laughing at the situation and it feels so delicious to be given permission, from the only person in the world that can offer permission, to make fun of my father. It feels wrong and so so right, but his own mother started it. Dad wasn’t going to spank Grandma, so I felt safe.
This is one of my most cherished Christmas memories. The time I spent in her lap while she encouraged us to make fun of my father was priceless. I remember the white sweater she wore and that she smelled like Icy Hot which she used to quiet her arthritis. I remember her pure white hair and how she styled it. I remember the feeling of being her most special grandchild. What I don’t remember about that Christmas was what we talked about or argued about at the Christmas table. I don’t remember who believed what, or whom they voted for in the most recent election.
A few years later, Grandma’s decades of cigarette smoking placed a call, and it was time for Grandma to settle her debt. Grandma was diagnosed with cancer and in two weeks the wonderful German grandmother was gone.
If you choose to gather with loved ones over this holiday season, create memories with family and friends, not arguments. Show grace to those who say the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong way. Simply choose to love and be kind over proving your point. In the end, who won the argument just doesn’t matter.
Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, is a time for families and communities to come together to remember the past and to celebrate African American culture. Created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan African holiday that incorporates history, values, family, community, and culture. The ideas and concepts of Kwanzaa are expressed in the Swahili language, one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Ron Karenga, an active participant in the Black Power Movement in the 1960s, conceived Kwanzaa in the aftermath of the Watts riots in Oakland, California. He described Kwanzaa as a way for African Americans to celebrate themselves and their history. By the end of the 1970s Kwanzaa began to move into mainstream America with the publication of an article in Essence Magazine in 1979, followed by articles in Jet and Ebony Magazines in 1983. The Smithsonian Museum hosted its first Kwanzaa celebration in 1988 while some school systems, including the Catholic School system in Chicago, began to develop curriculums to teach students about Kwanzaa.
In the 1990s Kwanzaa became more widespread especially when, in 1997, President Bill Clinton gave the first declaration marking the holiday. The United States Post Office issued the first Kwanzaa stamp in 1997 and a second stamp was issued in 2004. Although Kwanzaa is primarily an African American holiday, it is also celebrated outside the United States, especially in Caribbean countries. Kwanzaa is not a religion, but was conceived as a nonpolitical and non-religious holiday and it is not a substitute for Christmas.
Dr. Karenga created seven guiding principles to be discussed during the week of Kwanzaa. The seven principles represent seven values of African culture that help build and reinforce community among African Americans. Each day a different principle is discussed, and each day a candle is lit on the kinara (candleholder). On the first night, the center black candle is lit, and the principle of umoja, or unity, is discussed. On the final day of Kwanzaa, families enjoy an African feast, called karamu.
The seven principles are:
World’s Largest Kwanzaa Kinara to be in Downtown Detroit during celebration by ClickOnDetroit Local 4 News. The Kwanzaa Kinara is set to be unveiled during the Motor City Kwanzaa Kinara Lighting at Campus Martius on December 26, 2022.
What is Kwanzaa and How is It Celebrated? - Video by Inside Edition
A Brief History of the Kwanzaa Holiday and Six Amazing Facts - Video by Matter of Factx
Christianity and Kwanzaa by Professor Adam Clark, December 30, 2011 on KineticsLive.com
Official Kwanzaa Website
Have you ever had the opportunity to experience a Kwanzaa celebration? What did you find most meaningful?
Kwanzaa is rich in ritual, symbols, and values embraced by the African American community. As you reflect on this (if you identify as white), what can you and your community learn from our African American brothers and sisters?
A Prayer for Kwanzaa by Rev. Addae Ama Kraba
Used with permission
O come all you faithful, rejoicing and victorious.
Come, let us embrace the mystery in the spirit of life, as we celebrate the goodness of Kwanzaa and the the African American heritage.
Come and give thanks for companions on the journey in the struggle for freedom and justice.
Our roots in the soil and soul of Mother Africa reach far and wide.
Creator of all, lead us to be true to our nature with respect and dignity for life, from conception to its natural end at death.
Bless and keep us in solidarity one to another.
During the pandemic, after we realized we would be sheltered in place for the summer of 2020, my wife and I decided to purchase and install an above-ground pool. We went with the pool with the saltwater filter. The process is an interesting one. When the pool is set up and filled, we add about 240 pounds of salt to the pool. The filter pulls the salt water out of the pool and through a chemical reaction converts it to chlorine and then forces it back into the pool. The water tastes slightly like salt water and is better for your skin and the environment. It also means once the pool is up and running it maintains itself. The work to keep the water clear is minimal.
The pool gave us a safe place to relax and it slowed down the world that had been invaded by a virus. We spent hours in the pool sipping on drinks and ignoring the world that seemed more fragile than I had ever experienced. Floating in the pool helped drown out the world that seemed so unpredictable and dangerous. Shortly after we set the pool up our neighbors tried to get the same pool and they couldn’t. It appeared many other people were trying to use aquatic adventures to shut out the world, too. The waiting period for pools was a minimum of six months. We were fortunate that we got in on this way of escape right before the rest of the world went looking for it.
In early October we closed the pool for the season. We drained the water just below the filter ports, covered it with two tarps, and said goodnight for seven months. The filter had done its work and I attempted to disconnect it from the pool and move the filter inside for the winter. What I didn’t realize was how heavy the filter was going to be. In the spring I had added 40 pounds of fine glass. It was ground so fine it looked like sand. The glass cleans the water as it passes through and sends it back to the pool. As I attempted to move the filter, I assumed 40 pounds shouldn’t be too hard to move. What I didn’t figure out was that water mixed with the glass and stayed in the filter; now it weighed over 300 pounds and was difficult to move. I figured I had about 100 steps to the house and another 100 steps to the basement where the filter would hibernate until the spring.
Initially, I grabbed the top of the filter preparing and expecting to be moving about 40 pounds. As I pulled the filter my hands slipped off and the filter did not move. It felt like someone had secured the filter to the ground with cement. That plan was not going to work. I tried draining the filter of all the water. That helped to a point. Pulling all of the water out of the glass and sand-like mixture was impossible. The material held on to the water and did not want to let go. I managed to siphon away maybe 30 to 40 pounds of water weight. The next plan was to use both hands, lift with my legs and walk slowly toward the back door. I was able to lift the filter and began the slow process to the back door. I concentrated on each step counting them off to distract myself from the difficulty and pain of trying to move this object that was happy to spend the winter next to the pool.
“One, two, three, four, five …” Rest. “One, two, three, four, five …” Rest. The back door was getting closer and closer. Slowly, I could see progress and that inspired me to keep going. Each step was monumental and necessary to accomplish this difficult task.
I was recently asked about my plans for the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the coming year. I shared some of the things I have planned and some things I would like to implement. I thought about what that really meant. How will we know at the end of 2023 that we were successful? After tossing it around in my head, I decided having a theme or area of concentration for this next year would help us stay focused. I began to knead some ideas in my head. Then I moved to fold them over and over and I like the product that was created.
In 2023 I want to concentrate on simply moving information 4.5 to 6.5 feet south. What I find most impressive about working at Adrian Dominican Sisters (ADS) is how educated and committed the Sisters are to social justice. When I first arrived on campus and started studying the work that has been done, I noticed all the current books on racial injustice have been read, all the top articles and Ted Talks on racial inequality have been watched, debated, and digested by many of the Sisters. I’ve noticed complex concepts around race and racism are understood and accepted as fact. Concepts like White Privilege (one of the more difficult topics to discuss with white people) or the need for Affirmative Action are accepted as common knowledge. Intellectually, very few can rival the knowledge base here. Our heads are full of knowledge, so what is next?
"And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day." My hope is we can push the knowledge in our heads slightly south, cramming it into our hearts and forcing it to mimic the Grinch’s heart. My hope is by stuffing it and testing the elasticity of our chambered walls that our hearts will expand to accommodate our need for extra space. This year, the hope is that we, too, will gain more compassion for those NOT like us.
Once the hypertrophy of our hearts is accomplished, we will move forward, taking the knowledge and increased compassion and driving it further south to our feet where we will walk out what we know and what we feel. If we can move from head to heart to feet, we can create lasting, measurable, significant change.
Every step I took to put the filter away was painful. My hands ached, my shoulders were on fire, and I was counting EVERY step. I felt each step throughout my whole central nervous system and I couldn’t wait to be done with this horrible task. I tried every trick I knew to block out the pain and yet I still failed.
I invited resignation to sit down with me and I put the filter down. My pride was busy nursing my wounds when I asked my eldest son for help and found a dolly to help us roll the filter toward its final winter home. The steps were impossible when I tried them on my own. The filter outweighed me, and it was winning. The task was too much for me, BUT when I asked for help and used some tools I had on hand I was able to attain my goal.
In this next year, we will be reaching out and asking others to share how they experience the world, and we will give them a safe place to do it. In this next year, we will be looking for opportunities to listen and learn from a broader population and looking to lend our knowledge and compassion to create change. It simply starts with one awkward, uncomfortable step.
Photo: St. Anthony Padua Parish Church in the Philippines decorated for Simbang Gabi, by Patpat nava, CC BY-SA 4.0.
As Christmas draws closer, I thought it would be great to hear from one of our international Sisters on how she and her family celebrate Christmas in their country. Sister Bless Colasito from the Philippines was kind enough to share. Wouldn’t it be great to incorporate some of her traditions here in Adrian?
If anyone else would like to share their international Christmas traditions, please let me know. I would love to include your stories.
The Filipino tradition of celebrating Christmas starts when the "Ber" months come. When the calendar turns to September 1, Filipino homes, malls, stores, and institutions will be playing Christmas carols. As we engagingly say, "Christmas is on the air" and people start to plan for Christmas; godparents prepare Christmas presents for their godchildren when they come on Christmas day for a visit, families start to set up Christmas decorations on their homes, and streets are lit up with Christmas lanterns. Television and radio stations will engage in a 100-day countdown till Christmas Day. This Filipino way of Christmas preparation can be unusually long. However, as a people, we just enjoy the spirit of Christmas from September to December, long as it may be. Besides the abovementioned preparations, we Filipinos also engage in other traditional practices as part of our preparation for the Christmas season.
Simbang Gabi is the traditional nine-day novena of masses before Christmas. For nine days, Filipinos attend Mass in churches closest to them. The whole family attends this Mass and in case parents are not available, the younger members of the family will come to church with their friends. Simbang Gabi is also a time for older people to come to church in groups or as individuals. Simbang Gabi may start either the eve of December 15 as an anticipated Mass or at a dawn Mass on December 16. The Mass celebrated on December 15 will end as a nine-day novena on the eve of December 23, while the dawn Mass that starts on December 16 will complete the nine-day novena on the morning of December 24. Filipino has always had the intention to finish the nine-day novena as it promises a "wish come true" if one completes the novena Masses.
Simbang Gabi also serves as an occasion for the renewal of relationships and friendships among families with other families, among family members, and among friends. Simbang Gabi has a healing effect in broken relations among family members, individuals, and the community.
During the nine-day novena Masses, after the Eucharistic celebration, people go out from the Church to find a variety of food – mostly sweets like puto-bumbong, bibingka, and tsokolate and other delicacies, which are usually available in the area from local food vendors who sell these foods until the streaks of dawn or until they sell out of everything. Below are the foods available for sale during the nine-day novena masses.
"puto bumbong" by tacit requiem (joanneQEscober ) is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"Bibingka" by georgeparrilla is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"Kutsinta" by Herbertkikoy is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
"duman in tsokolate" by chotda is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
"PANDESAL" by whologwhy is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"Ibos Suman" by Kguirnela is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Caroling was one of my happy memories of Christmas as a child. As children, my sisters and I will go with our friends to sing carols in the neighborhood. While some groups of Filipinos would go caroling during the season for fund-raising purposes, for us, we just did it for fun. After caroling, we would run to the store and buy ourselves candies or anything we want if our funds allowed. Caroling was also an occasion for me and my sisters to bond with the other girls in the neighborhood.
Noche Buena is the most awaited meal of the year for us Filipinos. This is the meal on the eve of Christmas where the whole family – and visitors if there are any – gather to share a meal together accompanied by laughter and merrymaking. The members of the family are all involved in the preparation for this evening meal, usually eaten after the Christmas eve Mass. Every Filipino family, poor and rich, prepares Noche Buena more than the usual food families prepare daily during the year, including the lechon or roasted pig. Workplaces before they take a break for Christmas will also prepare a feast for their employees as a sign of gratitude and goodwill.
Aguinaldo means gift giving and receiving. Christmas is the most awaited season of the year for everybody. During this season, employees get their bonuses and Christmas presents from their employers. Children await Christmas gifts from their parents, siblings, godparents, and friends. Everybody gets a present during Christmas no matter how meager the resources are in the family..
Monita or Monito, which is equivalent to Kris Kringle in other cultures, is also a fun thing for us Filipinos. Weeks before Christmas, families and workplaces engage in drawing names of a family member or an officemate. The name of the person that somebody picked is secret until the time of the revelation when everybody will know who Monita or Monito is. An amount decided by the group is set as a limit (can be more but not less) to buy a gift for whomever one has picked. This trick of fun always stimulates joy and excitement during the Christmas season.
Media Noche is the meal on New Year’s Eve that carries so many beliefs and superstitions among Filipinos. For example, members of the family will gather twelve kinds of round fruits to symbolize financial prosperity and abundant food on the table ensures an abundant year. Like the Christmas Eve food served on tables, Media Noche also highlights so much food at every Filipino table during the celebration of the New Year.
Feast of the Three Kings or the Feast of Epiphany is a celebration that signals we are nearing the end of the season of Christmas, though liturgically the season of Christmas ends only after the Sunday celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. In the Philippines, there are Churches that reenact the appearance of the Three Wise Men by dressing children in different costumes representing countries in the world. I remember as a child I always joined the United Nations group and dressed up in either Chinese or Japanese attire. For us children then, it was really fun dressing up as somebody who is coming from another country.
The Pan-Philippine Highway in Angeles City decorated for Christmas
(photo by Ramon FVelasquez, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The last weekend in November was a tense time for my family growing up. My father was raised in Cleveland and was an Ohio State fan. My siblings and I grew up in Detroit; most of us were Michigan fans. My father was able to find an ally in one of my brothers, so we were a house divided, assuring that every Saturday after Thanksgiving someone in our household would be disappointed and someone would be pointing out just how bad the losing team played.
Rarely was there any control applied by the winning team. The win meant you owned bragging rights for an entire year. It also meant if your team won, you were given the gift of the ability to end every argument and/or conversation with, "Well, it doesn’t matter because my team won in November."
The rest of the year was easy to manage for mother, who tried to keep the peace between the two sides. The most difficult peace-keeping time came immediately after the last whistle of the game. The winners were humble initially, saying how competitive the losing team was and how it was a hard-fought game. Then slowly the boasting would begin, and the joy held by the winning team would erupt into a trash-talking tirade that felt like a thousand tiny arrows shot at your heart if you were on the losing end. The joy would be confronted by anger in the middle of our living room, and anything not cemented to the floor could and was used to make a point. One year when Ohio State lost, my brother chose to make his point by flipping over the coffee table in the middle of the room. The coffee table doubled as a library for our monthly periodicals. So when the table was overturned issues of Reader Digest, Sports Illustrated, Jet, Ebony and the Detroit Free Press rained down on the room. It wasn’t a complete Thanksgiving holiday until something like this occurred.
I still live in a house divided. My wife grew up in Toledo and is a big Buckeye fan. She managed to lure away our youngest. Our eldest is a very smart young man who happens to also be a Wolverine fan, so I too have an ally. My wife doesn’t share my mother’s passion for allowing people to express themselves, so our home isn’t an environment where tables and magazines are overturned. So, on the big weekend, I usually work out in the yard or in the garage while my wife and youngest cheer on the Buckeyes. We respectfully give each other the space we need and don’t speak much about it. It is what we must do to stay family.
The holidays can be very stressful times because of similar relationships; people may not see eye to eye on college teams, political parties, religion, economics, beliefs, etc. Many folks want to know how they can socialize with others who don’t see the world as they do and remain civil. Better yet, many want to know how we make sure the holiday gatherings don’t end with broken furniture and a living room full of destroyed periodicals.
The solution is much simpler than most think. The question to ask before educating your cousin Eugene from Virginia on reproductive rights is, “Is my desire to prove my point more valuable than my relationship with cousin Eugene?” If the answer is yes, then maybe you could spend more time nurturing your relationship with Eugene.
I have a good friend I have known for over 40 years. We grew up together and for most of that time whom we voted for and what we valued were very similar. In 2016 we voted for two different candidates, and I was devastated. I took whom he voted for personally because his candidate said and did things that were in direct conflict with how I wanted to be treated in this life. I was angry and sad initially, but when I asked myself the question above the answer was simple. The relationship was far more valuable than me "showing him the light." Instead, we talk about other things, family, kids, our jobs, the Detroit Lions, or the Michigan Wolverines. I’m so thankful my friend was raised to cheer for the right college football and pro football teams.
If they persist in talking about volatile issues, don’t take the bait. If they continue, simply let them know that you value their relationship and talking about this type of thing may put your relationship at risk, so it is best you find something else to discuss.
At times, it is a tightrope walk but it is necessary and worthwhile. Saturday, I came inside with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. God had returned balance to the world and the Wolverines were leading the Buckeyes. The rightful king returned to his throne and the Wolverines planted their flag at the 50-yard line in the middle of the big "O" on Ohio State’s field and the world seemed perfect. I quietly watched the last of the game and then went back outside to finish taking down the Thanksgiving decorations. There was no boasting, no bragging, no rubbing anyone’s face in it. I understood for the betterment of our family a silent victory is best. By the way, a silent victory still tastes better than turkey.
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