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January 31, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – The Adrian Dominican Sisters stand in solidarity with the National Black Sisters' Conference and their statement calling for reform of policing practices, greater oversight and accountability by the Justice Department, and “an end to the police brutality that continues to plague Black and poor communities.” Below is the statement by the National Black Sisters Conference.
The New Year is barely a month old. We have just celebrated the national holiday honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the warrior of peace, and the world sadly commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In a few days, we will celebrate Black History Month as we honor the achievements and contributions of African Americans in the struggle for freedom.
Yet here we are again grieving the death of another young Black man, Tyre Nichols, whose life was taken at the hands of five Black police officers on a night in a quiet Memphis neighborhood.
Tyre Nichols' life at the age of 29 was taken before he had a chance to fulfill his purpose. This young man was not a person to be feared or perceived to be a threat. He was a son, father, and contributor to society; respected and loved by all who knew him. His only crime was being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Violence against African Americans has been a fact of life in this country since the first slave patrols were created in the 1700s to apprehend runaway slaves. Historically, the system was designed to institutionalize terror against Black people.
The five Black police officers who brutally took Tyre's life as he cried out for his mother; were indoctrinated into a corrupt system and freely chose to perpetrate violence against other Black people in the name of institutionalized racism.
Unfortunately, police violence is not new. The video of the incident is no different from other police footage, and the only difference is that the majority of the officers are Black!
In speaking to this fact, Mr. Nichols' mother, RowVaugh Wells, stated:
"…And what they are doing to black communities is wrong. We're not worried about the race of the police officers, and we're worried about the conduct of the police officers. Policing in this country is focused on control, subordination and violence…society views black people as inherently dangerous and criminal..."
The National Black Sisters Conference is worried too! When will we wake up as a nation?
How many lives will it take? How often must we bear witness to the senseless killing of African Americans by the police? Where is the collective voice of our religious communities, African American organizations, and Church? The prophet Micah's words speak to what the righteous are called to do: "The just God demands justice!" God demands a change of heart.
As we move into Black History Month, how will we answer a mother's prophetic words on the sad occasion of her son's death? What will we remember? How will this modern-day Black genocide be eradicated? Where do we go from here?
With righteous indignation, we all must act! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes in his book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? "Freedom is not won by passive acceptance of suffering. A struggle wins freedom against suffering." Let this be our rallying cry for justice!
As the National Black Sisters' Conference, we are demanding JUSTICE FOR TYRE! and calling for:
Immediate passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 by Congress
More progressive oversight and accountability of police departments by the Justice Department
Local and State reform of policing, and
The end to police brutality that continues to plague Black and poor communities
Finally, we call on our Church to speak out in the name of the Gospel. This killing is a pro-life issue that is just as important as protecting the life of the unborn.
Tyre's spirit cries out for justice, and we will continue to stand in the gap, crying out in the name of justice for our people.
United in the struggle for justice,
The National Black Sisters' Conference
January 30, 2023
Members of the Adrian Dominican Sisters General Council are: Sisters Elise D. García, OP, Prioress; Janice Brown, OP, and Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, General Councilors; Lorraine Réaume, OP, Vicaress and General Councilor; and Corinne Sanders, OP, General Councilor.
January 25, 2023, Baltimore, Maryland – The recent Race and Power Summit held in Baltimore, Maryland, was all about reclaiming the voices of U.S. citizens, “giving folks tools to live out their values – values that are clearly related to the beloved community and to changing our society.”
Those were the words of Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, a community organizer in ministry with Gamaliel as its National Training Director. Founded in 1986, Gamaliel is a faith-based organizing network, with 44 affiliates and seven state offices, working to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social, and economic decisions affecting their lives,” according to its mission statement.
Gamaliel’s Fourth Biennial Race and Power in America Summit, November 30 through December 3 in the Maritime Conference Center in Baltimore, drew participants from throughout the United States. Designed for leaders who “share Gamaliel’s commitment to racial equity and the building of powerful alliances,” the summit speakers and workshops focused on areas such as leadership development, integrated voter engagement, and racial equity work.
The conference also included the launch of Gamaliel’s Race and Power Institute, which aims to “create a bridge between race analysis and organizing work, providing ongoing professional development and resources for organizers and leaders,” according to the conference program book. The biennial summit is one of the Institute’s four components, along with racial equity training and resource development, race research and analysis, and a race and power resource library.
Kevin Hofmann, Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, said the conference gave him the opportunity to make connections with people from around the country. “It was focused on the institutional aspect – the power that comes from racism and the different ways to interrupt that.”
He was impressed by the workshops he attended, particularly one that dealt with the mass incarceration, especially the disproportionately high number of people of color who are imprisoned. He was also impressed by the acceptance of Summit participants – people of color as well as white people – of the role of white supremacy in racism in the United States. “It isn’t a commonly accepted theory, but at the conference it was embraced as fact,” Kevin said.
Kevin believes he will benefit from the Race and Power Institute, which could provide speakers to help him in presentations to the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and Co-workers on issues such as unconscious bias.
Sister Janice Brown, OP, one of two members of the Adrian Dominican Sisters General Council who attended the summit said she was “struck by the energy level that was there and the variety of individuals from different backgrounds.” She was also impressed by a statement that people of color “need not only to be invited to the table but to create the agenda as well – to say what is important and work on it as an equal moving forward.” She sees this approach as “a deeper awakening of what needs to happen in order to really create justice.”
Like Kevin, Sister Janice was also moved by the workshop on incarceration. “How did we get to the point that we have so many people who are incarcerated rather than creating environments that help build a person’s potential?” she asked. “It’s an unusual way to think about rehabilitation, but reconciliation as well. People make mistakes, but where do we go from there?”
Sister Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, a member of the General Council who is from the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter in the Philippines said the event was an eye-opener “It has given flesh to my theories on diversity, inculturation, women, and the other social issues.”
Before coming to the United States, Sister Bless had never experienced first-hand the issue of people of facing discrimination because of their skin color. “In the Philippines, regionalism is very strong,” she explained. The language people use points to an attitude of regionalism,” of believing people of one region are superior to others, she said.
Sister Bless focused on workshops dealing with immigration, noting that she had heard from undocumented Filipino immigrants to the United States who are afraid to be deported” During the workshop, other undocumented immigrants spoke about their own experiences and on the “consequences of being an undocumented immigrant,” such as lack of work benefits and substandard living conditions.
The conference gave Sister Bless a sense of power. “That experience in the conference is like pushing me to be who I am as a Filipina – the power to be who you are because it will not be good if you allow other powers to shape you outside of your own cultural heritage,” she said. She also came to see other participants in the conference as “a group which is trying to serve humanity regardless of color, regardless of religion, regardless of culture.”
Sister Cheryl spoke of the focus of the Gamaliel organization. It has always worked to help people reclaim their voices in the public sphere, she said. But an emphasis on racial equity began in 2015 when leaders of Gamaliel studied its own network and found “manifestations of white privilege and racism that was in the network itself,” she said. Out of that analysis, Gamaliel decided to work toward racial equity.
Sister Cheryl said the Race and Power Institute applies Gamaliel’s community organizing training to racial equity work. “It’s one thing to do book studies on racial equity,” she said. “It’s quite another to do sacred conversations with groups of people in order to move them to action … When people organize their resources to go for racial equity, results occur.” She gave the example of Eden Seminary in St. Louis, which has a branch of the Race and Power Institute. “They’re training their seminarians in this whole racial analysis,” she said. “Everything is about equity.”
But Sister Cheryl pointed to an even deeper change in Gamaliel. “In the past and in the different organizing networks in the U.S., we were looking at transactional change – trying to find the win in an issue,” she explained. Now, she said, Gamaliel is focusing on transformational change also. “It’s not just about social issues, but it’s about the hearts and minds of people,” she said. “Social justice seems to want to change what’s happening in society. Transformational justice wants to change our society into a better place. That’s the essence of the Gospel message – changing hearts.”