Social Justice Conversations: Racism and Poverty

by | Aug 16, 2018 | Formation, Reflections

In today’s “climate,” one of the questions constantly nagging at me as the Director of Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation for the Sisters of Charity of New York is: “How to have meaningful conversations with people of color about their experiences of racism and how they experience my whiteness and privilege”? Conversations that lead to conversion – personal and societal. Each day I greet people of color – colleagues, acquaintances, students, caregivers, and so many others. We ask each other about how we are, how families are. We discuss life events. Yet, we rarely talk about the underlying rip current of racism that is causing unrest, and often violence, to erupt in our neighborhoods, country and world but most strongly in our hearts and souls. Why is it so difficult to have the conversation? Is it that none of my close friends are people of color? Would it make a difference if I had a close friend who was black or dark skinned? How then might my/our personal relationships bring about systemic change? I believe the charism of charity is a call to address systemic racism and poverty.

Systemic racism does exist! As I write this, I know that people reading the statement, “systemic racism does exist” will have different reactions and feelings. It is important to acknowledge and name our feelings and assumptions so that we can move forward together. Racism and poverty is one of the issues that the Vincentian Family Social Justice Representatives (a group I am part of) want to explore. This group gathers together about 10 months a year through zoom calls. We decided that a beginning way to explore racism was to raise our awareness. We agreed to read the Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty Statement as a resource. Then, at the May zoom call, we prayed together the prayer below, asking for wisdom and guidance in light of our Vincentian charism of charity and tradition. Though we are in the early stages of exploring how to raise awareness, educate, and address racism and poverty as Vincentian Family Social Justice Representatives, we invite you to join us in prayer. May the following prayer that we used offer you insights and guidance in your daily life and ministry. May it lead to open conversations that will lead to open hearts and minds and personal and society transformation where laws, policies, structures are just, transparent, inclusive and equal!

Please read resource, Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty!

Prayer used for the May 30, 2018 Vincentian Family Social Justice Social Justices Call

I           Leader: May welisten to the following readings in the context of our Vincentian charism and spirituality. Let us pray for wisdom, understanding and courage as Vincentian Family Social Justice Representatives as we grow in awareness of and advocacy in addressing racism and poverty.

II         Readings are from Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty Statement:

Reading 1:       As leaders from diverse families of U.S. Christianity, we are called by the Spirit to work together with new urgency against the resurgence of racism and the persistence of poverty in America. (Slight pause)

Reading 2:       We see around us an increase of harmful attitudes and policies toward people of color and people in need. That painful reality and the current push for trillions of dollars in cuts to anti-poverty programs are bringing us together in a new way.(Slight pause)

Reading 3:       While we have different positions on other questions, we are united on the gospel and biblical teaching on poverty and racism—feeling invited to do so by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. (Slight pause)

III        Quietly read and reflect on following quotes from St. Vincent de Paul

  • When you are called from your prayers or the Eucharistic celebration to serve the poor, you lose nothing, since to serve the poor is to go to God. You must see God in the faces of the poor.
  • Just as one must will only what God wills to be a saint, so also, one must judge things as God judges them, to be wise. Now, then, who knows whether your opinions always conform to God’s? How often have you found yourself mistaken in your judgments and decisions?
  • We must love our neighbor as being made in the image of God and as an object of His love.
  • The Church teaches us that mercy belongs to God. Let us implore Him to bestow on us the spirit of mercy and compassion, so that we are filled with it and may never lose it. Only consider how much we ourselves need mercy. 

IV        Opportunity to share:

  1. How would you describe the connection between our Vincentian charism and spirituality with racism and poverty?
  2. Is there a value in having a future sharing on how racism influences/contributes to poverty?
  3. Is there a value in exploring the pros and cons of a group statement on racism and poverty?

V         Closing Prayer (All):   We appeal to all people, especially Christians, to actively work against racism and poverty—in their personal and local engagement and as advocates for public policies that foster racial equity and healing, shared prosperity, and peace in our country and worldwide. The spiritual power of a fresh, energetic, multiracial Christian movement against both racism and poverty is our prayer. So, help us God.

Editors note:  This is a group of Vincentian Family members who meet regularly at the request of the leaders of their respective branches. Their reflections do not represent Vincentian Family policy, but are shared to spur our reflection and action. Look for these contributions the third Thursday of each month. Comments are very much appreciated.