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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.
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?
I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year,
the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”
– Frederick Douglass, New York, July 5, 1852
On July 5, 2016, the day after the Fourth of July, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man was selling CDs outside of his local convenient store. Alton would do this on a regular basis to help provide for his family. He would never make enough to make ends meet but at least this extra income would bring the ends close enough to gaze at each other from a distance.
On July 5, 2016, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a day after our nation celebrated its birthday, the police were called to the convenient store parking lot where Alton was selling his CDs. There was also a report that he had threatened someone with a gun. The store owner would later advise the incident with the gun involved another customer, not Alton. The store owner knew Alton and had no issue with Alton selling CDs in his parking lot.
Two police officers showed up, they wrestled Alton to the ground for selling CDs. While pinning Alton to the concrete, one police officer pulled his weapon and fired a single shot into Alton’s torso. The pop of the gun wasn’t like the boom of a gun in the movies. Just a single “pop” and Alton stopped struggling. The deadly act of selling CDs ended his life. The police said they thought he was reaching for the gun he had in his pocket.
On July 6, 2016, two days after we celebrated the birth of our nation, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old Black man was pulled over for a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. In the vehicle with Philando was his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter. Diamond broadcasted a portion of the traffic stop live on Facebook with her cell phone.
On July 6, 2016, two days after the barbecues and fireworks commemorating our nation’s birth, a police officer approached Philando’s vehicle and asked for his registration and license. As Philando was reaching for his license he advised the officer he had a firearm and a license to carry the firearm. The officer told Philando not to reach for the gun and Philando and his girlfriend told the officer he wasn’t reaching for his gun. The officer pulled his gun and shot seven rounds into the car hitting Philando five times. Philando died 20 minutes later in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter, still being live streamed on Facebook.
On July 7, 2016, three days after children ran through the streets with ice cream and sparklers celebrating the birth of a new nation, I drove to work listening to the radio and thinking about the two young black men who were killed for selling CDs and carrying a legal and licensed firearm. I thought about the image of seeing Philando slumped over in the car laboring to get air into his leaking chest. I thought about the image of Alton being pressed into the parking lot with the two officers on top of him and hearing the single gunshot. I thought about the possibility of the lives of my two black sons ending in a similar fashion. Consumed with grief, amid mourning the loss of two young black lives as if they were in my family, I reached for the radio to distract me. On the radio was Marvin Gaye singing his 1971 song, “What’s Going On.” The reality of the words slapped me across the face.
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here to stay
A few verses down, Marvin continues to sing:
Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
Oh, what’s going on…
These 45-year-old lyrics were so timely and so painful. Forty-five years after he cut this record, we were still dealing with the same senseless targeted violence. Those words smashed the dam in my eyes, and I wept and mourned and grieved.
I pulled up to the small mutual insurance company where I worked; the company that had about 100 employees and I was the only Black employee. I parked my Honda Civic in my usual spot, dried my eyes with my shirt sleeve, checked my face in the rearview mirror and prepared myself to walk into the office. I said a silent prayer, “Lord please don’t let anyone come at me sideways today.”
Eight hours later I returned to my car. I had survived the day. No one said anything and I was devastated. I don’t know which was worse, someone saying something offensive, or no one recognizing this tragic set of events that me and my community knew so well. We had lost two members of our family and not one person at work noticed.
I drove home in silence afraid of the radio and what other decades-old song might come on and shatter me to pieces.
Four years after Alton and Philando took their last breath, many of us watched in horror as Officer Chauvin knelt of the neck of George Floyd. As the crowd pleaded for the officer to get off George’s neck, I will never forget the exact second the soul of this man left his body. In that second George went from pleading for his life to… nothing.
During the trial, I scheduled a meeting with the CEO of the same small mutual insurance company where I still worked. I asked if the company was going to make a statement about the George Floyd murder. I was told the company wanted to make a statement but didn’t know what to say. So, they choose to remain silent. I left that meeting and as I got back in my car I heard Dr. King whisper, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
Six years later, after Alton and Philando took their last breath, a 18-year-old white male walked into a grocery store in Buffalo. He had researched the demographics of the area and settled on this store because it had the highest concentration of Black people. Like a hunter, he looked for the most fertile place to kill his prey. He traveled three hours to stalk, hunt, and kill. In under a minute, he would change the lives of 13 families forever, then be escorted out of the store as if his only crime was shoplifting a Snickers bar.
I still hear Marvin.
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today
My skin is tougher now. My emotions have calluses from the constant rubbing out of Black lives over the last six years. I didn’t weep on the way to work after Buffalo. I didn’t pray when I pulled into my new parking spot at my new job with the Adrian Dominican Sisters, but I wondered if I would hear the silence of my new friends.
By 10:00 a.m. there was statement issued by leadership denouncing white supremacy and the heinous act that occurred in Buffalo. Later in the day, two Sisters from leadership stopped by my office and asked how I was doing, and we talked about what happened and those simple acts of kindness were like balm to my calloused emotions. I felt seen and understood – I no longer must mourn and grieve alone.
Independence Day came early this year.
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