News | Live Stream | Contact Us
Employment | Donate
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.
By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion
When my sons were little, we would sit in front of the TV each holding a video game controller. It was a great father and son moment… or so I thought. Once they grabbed the controller, we were no longer related. We were competitors! It was their chance to dominate their father, and they relished the opportunity. I must admit their competitiveness was transferred to them via DNA. I grew up constantly competing with siblings, friends, strangers… anyone who would play any kind of game.
Our playfields were different. I played football outside on our lawn and the lawns of the adjacent neighbors. I played basketball in the backyard where the hoop was installed on top of the garage. The rim was not adjustable, portable, and nowhere near the right height. My opponents were kids from the neighborhood or school.
My sons’ field was a 55” HD TV screen in a dark room with a controller that looked like it could launch nuclear weapons. Their opponents were connected through the internet, using wireless headphones with a microphone. Their opponents came from all over the world.
After a short tutorial from my sons about which button does what and a very brief explanation of the rules, we hit start and the game began. We were playing a racing game called Mario Kart. In the game, the little characters drove small vehicles around a track. The goal was to be in first place after three laps. When my son was going over the buttons, he tried to point out the button for the car’s brake. I told him I didn’t need to know that button because I didn’t plan on using it – I would be full throttle the entire race.
For the first lap my strategy was working: full speed ahead. I was in first place with room to spare. I was feeling good about myself. I thought I was a natural and made sure to let my son know how good I was by coating him in the most trash talk I could summon.
The second lap was going well, and I began to anticipate the upcoming turns and negotiated them even better. First place was mine and my lead was growing. I dispensed another helping of trash talk as I began the third lap still in the first place.
My muscle memory was firing and again I anticipated the left turn coming up and negotiated it better than A.J. Foyt or Dale Earnhardt. The finish line was close, so I eased off the gas to prevent a mistake. My lead was big enough that I could be cautious. I was also trying to see how I could turn my car around and flash across the finish line going backward. A move that would cement in my young child’s mind that Dad was the champ. As I approached the last turn and could see the checkered finish line, a flying turtle shell entered the screen and came right for my vehicle. The shell pushed my car off the track. As I tried to recover, everyone in the race passed me and I limped across the finish line in last place.
My quiet son erupted in non-stop, no-mercy three minutes of trash talk. I very passionately asked where the turtle shell came from and he proudly said, “I shot you with it!” Again, very passionately, I asked why I wasn’t told about this aspect of the game. “I forgot Dad. Next time you will know.” He said with absolutely no remorse.
I learned a few valuable lessons that day. To play the game, you must know all the rules. My son purposely withheld information from me knowing it would give him an advantage. I also learned not to trust my son when we are competing against each other. But that doesn’t mean I can’t trust him in other areas. Trust is foundational for any productive relationship. These two lessons have helped me whenever I conduct a conversation involving race and racism.
A Sister stopped by my office last week and we had a great conversation. At the end of the conversation, she asked me a question that had been bothering her. “How do we talk about race with people of color without offending them?”
The first rule is you can’t! Well, that’s how my son would explain the rule. The complete rule is, that you can’t have a very productive conversation on race with a person you are not in relationship with. If you are not in relationship, there is no desire to protect the relationship. If you don’t care to protect the relationship when the conversation gets difficult, the tongue has no incentive to be kind. This is why the conversations/arguments on social media with people you don’t know are futile. Debating with someone on the internet who doesn’t care about me on hot topics like race is tempting and dangerous. It is merely words without feelings on the internet, and feelings often get sacrificed when a stranger is telling you how wrong you are. Please do not have these deep conversations without first building a relationship with the person.
The second rule is to be generous with grace. The subject of race is often chaperoned by a lot of emotions. Some are very comfortable talking about race, some aren’t comfortable talking about it all, and the rest are somewhere in between. Give the person next to you the grace to say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way.
The third rule is simply listen. Everyone needs to be heard and validated. We all experience this world in different ways, and we can learn so much from each other if we take the time to listen. Most of the issues that come up with the conversation of race can be traced to this one issue. Truly listen as people share their experiences. Resist the urge to formulate an argument against how a person experiences something simply because you do not experience it the same way.
The last rule is without trust, this doesn’t work. This is tough work at times. It requires us to be vulnerable in front of each other. It requires a safe place to do this. We must trust that forgiveness is possible, enlightenment is possible, and we can share space even if we don’t agree.
This is an amazing opportunity for us all and I hope you will join me in this challenging journey. It is hard work, but the results that can come from putting in the work will feel better than beating your child at a video game.
Approximately one year and nine months ago, on the night after the presidential election, President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris took the stage to give their acceptance speeches. To be honest, I do not remember a thing they said over the two hours they roamed the stage. What I do remember is seeing a very diverse group of people smiling and celebrating.
Vice President-Elect Harris wore a cream-colored pant suit that broadcasted approachable power. Her smile cast light on this night and after the previous four years, we needed light. She stood on stage with her husband and her children, and they danced and laughed. For the first time in a long while, I could breathe. When I finally exhaled, it gave my eyes permission to drain. I cried because I thought of the little Black girls who, up until this night, were not able to ascend the steps to take their rightful place on a stage of this magnitude. It was not that they were not capable, it was simply the fact that the stairs to this stage had been roped off with yellow caution tape and guarded by Cerberus.
Vice President-Elect Harris addressed this historic day and said, “Ladies, be sure to wear your shoes because there is glass everywhere.” Within 24 hours this quote was on t-shirts, glasses, coffee mugs, and other souvenirs. Long after the t-shirts faded and the coffee mugs are discarded (because the coffee has stained the ceramic), the effects of this promotion continue to echo. The echo will whisper to little girls throughout the world that they have value, and no ceiling will limit their trajectory.
In childhood development, children between the ages of two and six are egocentric thinkers. They experience the world only through their eyes. They lack the ability to see another point of view. The world is limited to what they see and experience. It is during this stage of development where a child may say something like, “Women can’t be doctors,” if they have never seen a female doctor. After the 2020 presidential election, there is a generation of children that will never know a time when there wasn’t a female Vice President. They will see a world of new possibilities.
An interesting question for us to ask is, what would a child during this stage of development say about the Adrian Dominican Sisters? What would they say about leadership and who occupies those positions? What would they say about who can lead Co-workers? What would they say about who is welcome on the Motherhouse campus?
Representation matters and part of my job is to make sure we are promoting, hiring, and acknowledging a wide range of folks because their presence makes us stronger. My hope is to create a community that has lofted ceilings with sky lights that say to the everyone, “Here your trajectory is limitless!”
By Kevin Hofmann, Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion
“The trouble is that once people develop an implicit theory,
the confirmation bias kicks in and they stop seeing evidence that doesn’t fit it.”
- Carol Tavris, Author and Social Psychologist
“Well, so we did the audit as you asked, and we found that 90% of the students that were suspended this past year were Black.”
Ninety percent! My mind was moving quickly, very quickly in many directions, and the group was looking for me to respond. We were sitting in the administration building for the school district trying to bring understanding to a school district that for decades chose to ignore color. We were less than 500 yards away from one of the elementary schools in the district, a building in which children were taught how to properly use different colors of crayons. They were taught that zebras are black and white, bears are brown, frogs are green, but we do not see people in color. Color magically leaps over humans and lands on animals… I suppose.
This illogical approach to community was now coming home to roost and nest. The school district sits on the edge of a mid-sized city and over the past few decades white flight had caused the district to “tan.” As white families moved further away from the city, many were replaced with families of color. A district that has historically been 95% white or more had evolved and changed. At this time, about 70% of the student body was white, 20% Black, 7% Hispanic, and 3% Asian. The tanning of a community had begun, and the district failed to assure the teachers, administration, and staff reflected the community. Instead, they chose not to see color. I guess they thought if they ignored it, it would go away and never come back. Wishful thinking for some.
In a perfect school district, the teachers, administration, and staff should reflect the community where they live. In this example, if 20% of the district’s student body is Black, the hope is that those employed by the district match the student body. This district had 300 teachers, faculty, and staff. This meant about 60 employees should be Black. They had two! Their Black representation was less than 3% and a suburban mile from the 20% expected.
As the district was struggling with this issue, my two sons were feeling the effects of the district’s neglect. It all came to a head for us after years of bias. In the span of three days my boys were both called the “n” word and no one at the school did anything to protect them. When I went to complain, I was rerouted to the Diversity Committee. I would later find out the Diversity Committee was made up of parents of color who had lodged complaints against the district for some insensitive actions directed towards their children. The Diversity Committee was purgatory: a place complaining folks go to complain but never resolve their issues. We were exiled to a classroom once a month where our concerns never made it past the threshold of the classroom.
When that did not work for my family, I offered to get more involved. I offered to train the district in the area of Diversity and Inclusion for FREE!
The superintendent liked “Free!” I held several meetings with teachers, faculty, and staff to help them see the world from a different angle. Many were very skeptical and, although polite, didn’t really see the need for such training. At the end of one meeting, I assigned homework, hoping this would bring clarity to some things. I asked each school to do a “diversity audit.” I asked them to go back to their schools and record how many children had been suspended over the school year or sent to detention. I asked them to also record the race of the individual as well. Logically, if we have a district that is 20% Black then only 20% of those being disciplined should be Black. Anything over a 20% representation would mean we have some work to do. I was anxious to see how the district faired.
The meeting began and I asked each school to present their findings. When I asked the high school to report, they responded with 90%. They were suspending and disciplining the Black students 4.5 times what was expected. 90%! As I sat in the meeting wrestling with 90% in the silence, a teacher stood up. “Those numbers are due primarily to the fact that the Black students are consistently late, so they are sent to detention and after being sent to detention three times they are suspended,” the teacher responded confidently. Many nodded in support of his statement.
He was defending the indefensible and suddenly my thoughts came back to me. “So, are you telling me that there is something about Black students that makes them susceptible to being late, much more so than the white students?” I asked.
“The Black students encourage each other to be late,” another teacher fired back. I could not believe I was arguing with a group of teachers about objective information that was painting a very clear picture of their district. The numbers were crystal clear, yet the district chose to ignore this picture being painted.
What was going on in the district could have made a great case study for implicit bias. Implicit bias starts as a stereotype, and then our minds search for information that supports the stereotype to reconcile the stereotype in our minds. The two stereotypes that were causing this issue were the stereotypes that Black people are always late and Black children lack discipline. These stereotypes caused some teachers to be hyper vigilant towards one group when it came to noticing when they arrived at class. The Black students stood out more than the white students they walked into class with. The Black students did not have DNA that encoded them to be late more than white students. Simply, the mind likes to be right, so when it finds information to support its beliefs, that information becomes more important, more noticeable. The aligning of stereotypes with supporting information melded into fact.
When combined with the stereotype that Black students lack discipline, this ushers in an unconscious need to correct and discipline students more severely. The research of race and discipline in schools has been very clear. Children of color are disciplined more harshly than white students committing the same offense (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/research-highlights/2022/study-furthers-understanding-of-disparities-in-school-discipline), yet this district was afraid to admit they might be in line with the research. Instead, they listened politely, pushed back when I got too close, and walked me to the door and never asked me back.
My eldest son graduated from the district, and he would agree this was one of the most difficult times of his life. Every day there was a possibility that someone would say something offensive to him and he knew the school would not protect him. We transferred our youngest to a more racially diverse school for high school. The school celebrated their differences instead of ignoring them, and it was a great four years for him. His school was safe and he felt protected.
The most difficult challenge in working with diversity and inclusion is the invisible monster we are fighting. When I was young, I remember having a tough time sleeping and my mind began to wonder. I began to hear what was not there and see shadows that weren’t. My mind was playing tricks on me. I was convinced something was in the room with me and would soon come to draw all the life out of me. As I got older, I learned to control my thoughts before they created a reality that was not there. It was a much better way to deal with my monster – I refused to give him energy to grow.
We all have biases. They will try to paint a reality that isn’t real. Be open to the fact that others may experience life differently… and that’s okay. Be diligent, guard your mind, and don’t let it play tricks on you.
By Kevin Hofmann
Director, Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion
When Erin, the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Director of Human Resources, called and told me I got the job of Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion, I envisioned myself setting up shop in a cafeteria or public area, anxious to meet all the Sisters. I thought I would set up a post armed with my warm cup of cream and sugar (with a pinch of coffee) listening to the Sisters share where in the world their life’s commitment had taken them. I looked forward to working at a table during lunch to be available to socialize and learn. So much of this job is relationship building and I was excited about that opportunity. So much of this job is listening, sharing, and connecting. Again, I was excited about that – coming from the student in me whose report card and parent-teacher conferences always centered around my need to socialize. Many teachers wrote something like, “Kevin needs to spend more time studying and less time socializing.” They were right, but creating relationships was always more important to me than doing well on a history test.
During my first day, Erin explained that the building’s cafeteria was another victim of COVID-19. On my first day, my plan was changed. I love my office – it’s quiet and my window overlooks the circular driveway outside of Weber Retreat and Conference Center. It is a great space, but much removed. Over the first few weeks, I looked for a good place to interact with Sisters and Co-workers. One morning while making my coffee run to Weber Center, I found my spot. The chairs just outside the elevator and to the right of the coffee stand is where I set up shop. Each day I make sure to grab my laptop and station myself in my satellite office. I pound away on my laptop and greet everyone who passes by.
I must admit I’m struggling with names, and I feel horrible about that. Each day I am greeted with hellos personalized with my name. I am trying to learn names and eventually I will know everyone, but right now I search for name tags or badges to make note of names. The other challenge is masks. I never realized how different people look with or without a mask. My mind usually takes a mental picture of a person’s cheeks and eyes and then fills in the blank area of the face covered with a mask. To date, my fabricated and disjointed picture created in my mind has yet to be correct. The good news: I know exactly when the masks will be lifted and the protocols will ease – it’ll be the day after I recognize everyone in a mask. I will have to start over the next day when the removal of masks reveals an employee’s cheek bones, nose, and chin that are no where close to how I assumed they would look.
I ask for grace both now and when the masks are (someday) put away. Until then, stop by and introduce yourself over and over. Sit down, let’s talk and get to know each other.
We always just called them “the nuns.” They were two Sisters, two Sisters of Mercy, who were like family members to my best friend’s family. They were a package deal. I never saw one without the other. I had to call my best friend this week and ask him their names because I never knew their individual names. Sister Celeste and Sister Gina Mary were their names.
In 1975 my family and I moved to North Rosedale Park, a nice, beautiful, quiet, and predominantly white neighborhood in Detroit. I was self-conscious and very anxious about being the first Black child on our block. No one else looked like me and in every group, I was unique. As an eight-year-old I wanted to be more like a chameleon, tip toeing through life without being noticed.
I became very aware of my surroundings, constantly looking for a safe place to land. I returned to the neighborhood a few years ago and as I drove down the street that I barely recognized now, I could point out what was safe and what wasn’t. I remember the houses that were safe for me as a child of color, and I remember the houses and families that were not safe. I realized I spent a lot of time as a child searching for a safe harbor.
Fortunately, directly across the street from my new house, there was a safe harbor for me. My soon-to-be best friend, Mike Tenbusch (pictured with Kevin above) and his family lived across the street. I knew while in their home I was safe. I was safe from the ignorant comments, safe from the slights, and safe from the noise that often comes with my skin tone.
About once a month, the nuns would come over to Mike’s house for dinner, cards, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. I quickly became part of the Tenbusch family and would look forward to the visit from the nuns. It was an honor to be included in the festivities and enjoyed quite a few hands of Crazy Eights or Rummy with them. The nuns were especially patient with me as I struggled to hold the cards in my small hands often losing a few cards under the kitchen table during every hand.
The nuns and the Tenbuschs introduced me to Catholicism. I often would spend the night over at Mike’s on Friday or Saturday. If it was a Saturday, we would stay up late, watching The Love Boat and Fantasy Island on TV and wake up to go to church at St. Scholastica. It was a large, ornate, church that was very impressive. Father Livi would say the Mass and I would struggle to make sense of his words though his thick Italian accent.
My father was a Lutheran minister, so I was comfortable in church. The Mass was easy to follow because so much was like the Lutheran church services I knew. Several times a year, the Tenbuschs would have a full Mass in their living room. Another close friend of the family, Father Frank Canfield, would say Mass and give communion in front of the fireplace. I enjoyed talking to Father Frank who has this calm metered way of talking. He talks like every word is important. Father Frank had an Obama-like ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room. He showed me compassion and gave me positive attention.
But, there was always something uncomfortable about Mass that I did not like. I remember there was a shift in the 1980s, I think. When communion was announced there was new verbiage that came with it. Now the instructions were clear. If you were not Catholic, you were not allowed to take communion. A sacrament that signified community was now exclusive and I was not allowed to participate. As all the Tenbuschs stepped out into the center aisle to take communion, I stayed in the pew looking down. I didn’t want to get the “heathen stares” from those who were allowed to partake. I sat alone in the pew feeling like I had broken every commandment and committed five of the seven deadly sins.
It was uncomfortable because I felt singled out. Jesus himself was looking down on me from the cross in the back of the beautiful alter. I was convinced if any non-Catholic made their way towards the chalice, Jesus would elevate himself off the cross and strike them down at Father Livi’s feet.
This was a confusing process to me. I remember thinking in my adolescent mind this was unfair. Jesus shared his last supper with Judas, but I couldn’t get a wafer and a sip of wine any longer at St. Scholastica. Judas was on the guest list before me!
It felt like occasionally I was allowed to come in to church. I was able to get the day pass, but my day pass did not include all the thrills. After a few years I stopped going with the family to St. Scholastica. The call to communion made me feel like an outsider. It told me I was not welcome.
I always thought we should always invite everyone to the table. The meal we are offering may be just what that person needs.
13C, 14C 15C, 16C, 17C. 17C was the seat on my ticket. I had requested the aisle seat because I don’t like climbing over people to use the bathroom. I was the first to arrive in my row. 17A was the window seat. 17B the middle seat is reserved for the poor soul who doesn’t like comfort. It seems like you pay to sit at the window. I like the freedom and space of the aisle seat but the payment for the less restrictive seat is that you may have to sacrifice a shoulder, or knee, or foot. The aisle seat is where you are constantly assaulted by passengers walking down the aisle. You must be on the look out for free swinging arms, hips, elbows, or a bag thrown over the shoulder. The most dangerous is a bag carried by a passenger who is paying more attention to seat numbers than the devastation they are causing by clobbering every aisle passenger as they descend the aisle. In between the violence of passengers boarding, I watch each person walking towards me as I silently pray asking God to show mercy and not put anyone next to me. The young woman with the three-year-old is approaching and my prayer becomes more fervent. They pass me by. “Thank you, Jesus,” I whisper.
People come and go, and I continue to thank the Lord. Then a young man with brown skin, a long beard, wearing a Kufi on his head approaches me. He smiles at me with his eyes and the tops of his cheeks. His mouth is covered by a black N-95 mask. He quietly asks, “Is this 17B?” He had purchased the dreaded middle seat. The tight space makes breathing a conscious act.
My seat mate secures his carry-on above me, and I point my knees towards the aisle so he can sneak by me to get to his middle seat. The only talking we do is with the tops of our cheeks and eyes. He settles in and I go about making myself appear busy, so my new friend doesn’t try to talk to me. I direct my eyes and attention to my phone as he situates himself in his seat and fastens his seat belt.
We take off and about half an hour into our flight the arm rest between us is still empty. Instead of assuming we have a right to the arm rest we resolve to no one using it. An hour into the flight I shift my weight in the seat and we bump elbows as they pass over the empty arm rest. We both politely apologize, and my friend speaks up.
“Please take the arm rest, my friend.” His tone is welcoming, and his eyes are soft and sincere. I thank him and my comfort level immediately gets upgraded to what feels like first class.
I place my arm on the arm rest and expand my chest taking in a larger volume of oxygen. This simple gesture gives me permission to relax. The invitation into my new friend’s space makes me feel welcome. The invitation tells me this is a safe place. Feeling safe, I turn to him and ask if he is a Detroit Lions fan. It is a safe question because his carry-on luggage had the familiar Lion’s logo on it. We were flying out of Detroit too.
“Yes, yes I am. You?” He asks politely.
“Yep, they have disappointed me my whole life, but I can’t let them go.” I say with a smile. We bond over the pain of team.
The conversation is easy for the rest of the trip. We talk about the Detroit Pistons and Tigers, our favorite Detroit athletes, American or Lafayette coney dogs, and we talk about how the city has changed. We also talk about Jesus. He shares with me that he and many of his Muslim friends admire Jesus. He speaks very knowledgeably about Jesus and with much respect. I ask him questions about Islam and the Quran and he asks me questions about the Bible. We understand our beliefs are different but the conversation about our beliefs is respectful and curious. He teaches me more than I teach him. His understanding of Christianity is impressive. I learn he is married with two children and lives in Dearborn. We bond over both living in Dearborn at one time in our lives.
The flight ends quicker than it began. As we collect our things and prepare to exit the plane, we say our goodbyes. We shake hand and he pulls me and gives me a welcomed hug. We break COVID protocol, but between Allah and Jesus I think we are covered.
We walk down the exit ramp together and when we enter the airport, he goes left to catch a connecting flight and I go right to claim my bags. I take a few steps and turn around. “Hey Karem! Thanks for sharing the arm rest.”
“My pleasure, my friend. May God bless you and your family,” Karem says.
“You too,” I yell back.
I was so glad to have met Karem and I know I will probably never see him again, but I will remember him. I will remember the man who was courageous enough to invite me into his space.
Invite someone into your space this week. Welcome into your space someone who thinks or believes different than you. What you will get out of it is more valuable than an empty armrest on a crowded plane.
By Kevin Hofmann, Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion
When I turned down the long school hallway where the meeting was, I could hear the students before I knew which class they were in. Ahead of me, halfway down the 100-yard hall on the right, was an open classroom door. I could hear music and laughter and activity. The meeting was taking place after school, after most of the students went home to homework, video games, family and social media. We had this wing of the high school to ourselves. As I stepped closer, I could make out conversations that were playful, awkward at times, but familiar. Before I walked through the door I could tell this group was comfortable.
The desks that were once in nice, ordered rows were pushed to the outside of the room and a large open circle was created in the center of the room. In the circle stood 10-15 students dancing and swirling and spinning and existing and exhaling. They were dancing as if no one was watching because I think that is how they felt. In this small classroom, there were no judgmental eyes, no skeptical side glances, no one waiting to pounce. This room and this ground was sacred, and safe and calm.
In this class room, once a week, every Monday, Ms. Mackenzie held space for the LGBTQIA+ group and within seconds of arriving, I knew this meeting was more than a meeting. Over the next 60 minutes the value of this space became more and more valuable. I listened to the students share how important this space was for them. I sat next to Blue, a transgender female student who presented as a natural leader. Blue was her new name and it fit her. She was vibrant. The colors in the shirt she designed came with decibels. The blue highlights in her hair made her memorable – unique but not obnoxious.
She shared with me how she hated Mondays in the past. Typically, she said, the anxiety would begin every Sunday morning and the dread of having to return to school in less than 24 hours grew like a flesh-eating virus. Each hour would consume more and more of her.
Then Ms. Mackenzie started the group and designated each Monday as their meeting day. Now Blue looked forward to Monday because after school for one hour she could just exist. She didn’t have to worry about the student in the next seat making fun of her or calling her by her deadname (“deadname” is the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning). For 60 minutes she could talk and be heard. Mondays gave her the fuel she needed to get through Tuesday through Friday. Kids are still very mean.
Dad laid in his casket about 30 feet from me. I stood there in my black suit wondering how this suit shrunk so much since the last funeral. My heart didn’t want to accept the reality that I had gained weight.
I reached into my inside suit jacket pocket and pulled out the program from Todd’s funeral. That was the last time I wore the suit. I went to grade school with Todd in Detroit. He was the crazy kid with the wild hair and a good heart. I crossed the parlor to throw away Todd’s program. I felt guilty about throwing it away. I felt like I owed it to Todd to keep the program. I refolded it and put it back in my suit.
I looked up to see a young man with a determined walk headed towards me. “Are you Pastor Hofmann’s son?”
“Yes!” I said proudly.
“Can I talk to you?” he said from behind his long beard and tan work overalls with a white badge that read “AL.”
“Sure,” I said. I was anxious to hear what he had to say.
For the next 10 minutes, Al told me what a positive force my father was on his life. It was great to hear about the impact my father made on this young man. Then Al leaned forward and whispered, “I knew your dad before my transition.” He told me he was born female, but it just never seemed to fit. He struggled with finding his true self and once he did, he was concerned how the church he grew up in would see him. He worried if he would be asked to leave.
Al shared that he set up a meeting with my Dad. They met at my dad’s office and he explained to my father that he made the decision to transition to a man. At this point, Al got teary eyed. He said he wasn’t sure how my Dad, who represented the church, would respond. Al said, without blinking, my Dad replied, “I was wondering when YOU were going to come to that decision.” It was the response Al didn’t expect but it was the response Al needed.
We all deserve a safe place. We all deserve to be seen. We all deserve to be heard.
“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.
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.
Clockwise from left: Kevin and his wife Shilease along with sons Zion (left) and Tai (right); Kevin and his siblings Lisa, Paul, Richard, and dog Trixie during Christmas 1968; Kevin and his adoptive parents, Pastor Richard and Judy Hofmann.
“The company has decided to close the Toledo office. You have the option to take the severance package and separate from the company or move to Columbus.” This was how the phone call started. A phone call I was told I should be a part of while I was enjoying summer vacation with my wife and two sons. After 10 years of working for Nationwide Insurance company as a casualty adjuster, my job was gone in two sentences. We had recently purchased a new house and just got our boys settled into a new community so moving to Columbus was not an option.
In September of 2009 I began a new journey. I had started writing my memoir in between handling auto claims that involved injuries. Over the prior two years I would write when the claims were slow or on nights and weekends. Now, without asking, I had a lot of free time to write. A lot of free time!
So, I sat and I wrote. Writing helped chase away the fear and uncertainty of being unemployed. I wrote about the unusual way I was raised. I wrote about being born a biracial child, the result of an affair between a white woman and black man. At the insistence of my white mother’s white husband, I was put up for adoption immediately. I wrote about the white family who adopted me at three months old. I wrote about being born in Detroit two weeks after the 1967 riots. I wrote about the smell of burning property still in the air when I took my first breath. I wrote about dreams deferred for a city that was so defined by race. I wrote about what it was like to grow up in a home where I was a minority, in a city where I was part of the majority. I wrote about what it was like to grow up a child of color in a country founded on building wealth on the backs of Americans whose skin matched mine.
When I set out to write the book, my audience was women like my adoptive mother. I was writing to white woman who had adopted children of color… at least that is what I thought. As I wrote more and more, the desire to simply share from my experience as a person of color became greater. The call to speak to a larger audience only got louder and louder. The focus of the book evolved, and I began speaking to white Americans sharing how I translated the world around me as a Black child, teenager, and man.
My biggest issue with race and racism in this country was that often my experience, my perspective as a person of color, was denied, dismissed, or disrespected. My writing was a way to share and simply be heard and understood. But to truly be heard and understood it would mean finding a way to be passionate but not bitter, impactful but not devastating. It meant paying close attention to how I worded things and how I set up stories to share my experience. If written in a specific way, I understood that the book could help bridge the gap between the races that pump through my veins. The challenge was to talk about race in an honest and disarming way.
Six months after the phone call dissolving my job, the book was completed, edited, and published. In March of 2010 my memoir, Growing Up Black in White, took its first breath and I exhaled. My hope was to share about my experience in a way that drew people in instead of pushing them away. My hope was to talk about race and racism in a way that made people want to lean into it instead of run from it. The challenge was to talk about race in an honest yet disarming way. For the most part, it did just that. Through the power of storytelling, a gift I inherited from my adoptive father, the Lutheran minister, I found sharing from a personal and vulnerable place created a unique opportunity to connect, find common ground, and see each other.
Then the coursework began. I began creating, speaking, and learning. I studied things like America’s racial history, the system of racism, engagement, inclusion, belonging, racial identity development, and I looked for personal experiences to drive home the lessons. I went back to insurance after the book was published. I took the position of homeowner adjuster with a smaller mutual company founded by Mennonites in Pennsylvania with an office near Toledo. In between hail losses and water backup claims, I studied online taking Diversity and Inclusion courses through accredited universities including Cornell University and Case Western Reserve. I partnered with my best friend whom I have known for 45 years, and we created a business to train school administrators and staff (K-12 and universities) and organizations in the area of Diversity and Belonging. The racial tension in the country was on the rise again and business was picking up. We worked for two years together working with communities creating space for many who felt unheard then my phone rang again. It was my business partner and best friend. He shared with me that he had been offered a job as CEO of International Samaritans out of Ann Arbor. The job was a perfect fit for him working with communities in Africa and Jamaica who live in extreme poverty. I was excited for him because I understood when your purpose calls you must answer. I went back to doing my life’s work solo and continued to create change.
Then my phone rang again. I’m surprised I was still answering my phone at this point. This time it was the CEO of the insurance company where I worked. He had been made aware of my side job and thought it was important that we talk. I assumed I was going to be told to let the second job go or be fired. Instead, he wanted to know if I would work with the insurance company in the area of Diversity and Inclusion. The George Floyd murder forced the CEO to see a lot of what he was blind to in the past. He now felt called to address racism and inequality and wanted me to lead the charge. I accepted and my role with the company shifted. Now I handled claims in between my special assignment. The plan was that eventually I would move to doing the diversity work full-time and transition out of handling claims. That was the plan, until I saw the post for a position with Adrian Dominican Sisters. I applied and began researching who the Adrian Dominican Sisters (ADS) were and I was floored. There were so many personal connections to ADS and Adrian. One of my brothers graduated from Adrian College. I was recruited by Siena Heights University in high school to run track for them. I worked with Siena Heights University a few years ago with their First Year Experience Program. My father’s first church was in Blissfield where my sister was born. My mother is an Associate with The Sisters of Saint Francis in Tiffin, Ohio. I had worked with the sisters in Tiffin during the pandemic. I created an 8-hour training course for them that we did on Zoom over two days. I greatly enjoyed working with the sisters and was so impressed by their knowledge and desire to learn. I went to a Catholic high school in Detroit, Benedictine. My principal, Sister Jackie, was a Dominican sister. She was one of the biggest influences in my life at that time. This job was a perfect fit and when purpose calls… you answer.
I’m so happy to be here and ready to join so many of you in doing this amazing work. Thank you to all who had a hand in creating this position and bringing me here. I’m so excited to see the work we can do together.
Subscribe to receive these blog posts directly to your email inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time and we do not use your information for any other purpose.
Black Catholic Project posts
Hofmann's Equity & Inclusion posts
All blog posts
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