Facing the racial divide

Excerpt from Judith Best, NCRonline Feb 2019.  Check out: https://forthesakeofall.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/FSOA_report_2.pdf

…Recently, I told a friend — a nurse and a healing presence in my life for more than 10 years —that I planned to hike a trail in a state park 40 miles west of St. Louis. She surprised me by saying: “I’d love to do the same, but I wouldn’t risk it, especially with my 17-year-old son. It’s part of being black in Missouri.”

Shock and sadness registered on my face. She said, “REI, an outdoor outfitting company, has recognized this fear on the part of people of color. They have trained African-American guides who offer hiking opportunities called Outdoor Afro.”

I recognized racism through the experience of a friend whose profession is healing — but who lives within racial boundaries that restrict her life and that of her son. How little I understand the oppressive system of racism in my city and state!

Try to cross the divide existing in St. Louis, and imagine you are an African-American mother. Read this report by Alyssa Banford and Elizabeth Hines: “For the Sake of All.” 

Imagine your children … think about what you want for their future. Then your mind jumps back to the present: you are working two part-time jobs, parenting alone, have little time to read, talk or play with them.

They are home alone for extended periods of time — you can’t afford a babysitter.

They stay with their Grandma sometimes, but she is unable to keep them every day.

When she does, she doesn’t have the energy to entertain them and doesn’t know how to help with homework.

You wish your children could just go out and play like you did, but the neighborhood isn’t safe.

They are stuck indoors, often bored and inactive.

You can’t afford a car; the nearest grocery store is a two-hour round trip on public transportation.

When your children are sick, relying on public transportation makes it almost impossible to see a doctor or afford medication. And more. …

According to the “For the Sake of All” study, this scenario is the reality for thousands across the St. Louis area.

Someone born in zip code 63105 has a life expectancy of 85. A person born less than ten miles away in zip code 63106 has a life expectancy of only 67. That’s an 18-year difference. Such a reality within the St. Louis metro area highlights the need to change the system.

What keeps this unjust system in place?

James Reeb was martyred in the Judeo-Christian faith that all men are brothers. His death was a result of a sensitive religious spirit. His crime was that he dared to live his faith: he placed himself alongside the disinherited black brethren of this community. … He was murdered by a few, sick, demented, and misguided men who have the strange notion that you express dissent through murder.                               

There is another haunting, poignant, desperate question we are forced to ask this afternoon. … It is the question, What killed James Reeb? When we move from the who to the what, the blame is wide and the responsibility grows.

James Reeb was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows… He was murdered by the irresponsibility of every politician who has moved down the path of demagoguery, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. He was murdered by the brutality of every sheriff and law enforcement agent who practices lawlessness in the name of law. …

So in his death, James Reeb says something to each of us, black and white alike – says that we must substitute courage for caution, says to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered him, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murder. His death says to us that we must work passionately, unrelentingly, to make the American dream a reality, so he did not die in vain…

So we thank God for the life of James Reeb. We thank God for his goodness. We thank God that he was willing to lay down his life in order to redeem the soul of our nation.

I pray for courage more than caution.

Click to access FSOA_report_2.pdf

[Judith Best is a School Sister of Notre Dame and coordinator of SturdyRoots.org. She gives presentations on the heritage of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and is also exploring evolution as the bridge between science and religion.]

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