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.

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.

 

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All Dad Wanted for Christmas Was a Snake

A pink-gloved hand sprays disinfectant into an open toilet bowl

All Dad Wanted for Christmas Was a Snake

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.

 

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