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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.
Since January 2021, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters have 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 and shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit.
In 1990 a large hailstorm hit Denver, Colorado. I was working as a homeowner adjuster for the Allstate Insurance company and trying on my adult shoes. I was less than two years removed from living on the campus of Alma College, in Alma, Michigan as a student protected and guided by real adults. Now I was in the work world living on my own and doing my best to fill the shoes that didn’t quite fit.
The day after the storm hit in Colorado I was called in to my manager’s office in Toledo, Ohio and informed that in less than 12 hours I would be flying to Colorado to help manage the damage sustained by our policy holders from the storm. I was making $19,000 a year, being flown by the company across the country and given an additional $100 a day to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for 30 days straight. If I wasn’t a king, I sure felt like prince at least.
I stopped by the bank to get money for my trip and to say goodbye to my teller and girlfriend, Shilease. Two years after this I would convince this teller to marry me. On this day I had to break the news that I would be gone for 30 days. We hadn’t been dating that long at this point, but we had grown close quickly and I already knew she had wife potential. The question was, could I get my life together enough to be considered husband material? When I told Shilease where I was going, she told me her aunt Deborah lived in Denver and told me I should give Deborah a call when I got there. Politely, I assured her I would but had no intention of contacting a stranger.
After being in Colorado for two weeks working 12 hours a day, going back to my lonely hotel room, getting something to eat, and going to bed only to do the same thing again the next day, I missed companionship. I pulled out Deborah’s number and called her. She invited me out to a Juneteenth celebration. I agreed to go even though I had no idea what Juneteenth was or what we were celebrating but it had to be better than siting in my room alone eating fast food in bed.
On our way downtown, I asked Deborah what Juneteenth was because I had never heard of it. She explained it was a celebration commemorating the end of slavery. The celebration would start with a parade in downtown Denver. At the beginning of the parade each year many Black people would walk side by side shackled to each other. As the parade progressed more and more would remove their shackles and by the end of the parade the shackles were replaced by shouting and dancing and singing and celebrating our freedom. What started out as somber, ended in an amazing celebration of who we were as a people and what we came through as a people. The tears and cheers were pain and joy, energizing and exhausting. It was life lived out loud and so beautiful.
Since its inception, Juneteenth has largely been a celebration restricted to the Black community. Some say Juneteenth is the Black community’s fourth of July, our Black Independence Day. Now that this has been made a federal holiday my hope is it will evolve into a celebration we can all take pride in and celebrate.
I wonder what it must have been like to go to bed on the June 18, 1865, in Texas as a slave and wake up on the 19th a free person. On the 19th there was a promise that the emotional, physical, and psychological trauma of slavery was no longer a threat. On the 19th the ability to dream, the opportunity to plan, and the freedom to hope were all new possibilities. Unfortunately, the future would rename slavery and limit the lives of many with new laws and restrictions under Jim Crow, but for a short time hope made the air smell different. Hope made the world’s colors seem brighter. Hope made the sweet southern tea taste sweeter.
Let’s cling to that hope in a time when it seems there is a new mass shooting every eight hours. Let’s grab on to hope like a life preserver keeping us afloat when it seems like partisanship decides the answers to questions that haven’t been asked yet. Let’s cradle hope knowing we aren’t where we should be but that could change with the dawn of a new day.
By Kevin Hofmann
Director, Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion
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Printable bookmark of African Americans on their Way to Sainthood (PDF)
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