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Race and Power Summit Focuses on Transformational Change

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.”

Sister Cheryl Liske, OP

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 the Office of Racial Diversity and Cultural Inclusion for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, makes a point during the Race and Power Summit. Photo Courtesy of Gamaliel

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, General Councilor with the Adrian Dominican Sisters, offers her reflection during the Race and Power Summit. Photo Courtesy of Gamaliel

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

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.” 

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Avatar  SR, JAMIE T. PHELPS, OP last weekReply

I was glad to read about our Sisters. Janice Brown, Cheryl Liskie, and Kevin Hofmann, our ADS Director of the Office of Racial Diversity and Cultural Inclusion participated in the Race and Power Summit in Baltimore. I would love to work with the three of you to assist our ADS sisters expand their knowledge and experience of African American History and Culture as they seek to implement our Chapter enactments to confront systems that deny the freedom and equality of full personhood of women and identify the structures of "domination, exploitation...that privilege some and dehumanize others..."
Since studying at the Catholic University in Washington DC I had many Black Catholic friends in the Baltimore-Washington Area. In addition, my Oldest sister, Alfreda, and her husband (who met in college at the University of Illinois in Champaign- Urbana). Quinton was a member of the US Army and was stationed near Baltimore and lived in Columbia, Maryland). Both Wuiton and Alfreda and their son Jason are buried there.



 

 

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