Celebrating Black History and Catholicism

By Lindsey Bronder

At UD, celebrating our diverse races, cultures, and histories is key to better understanding and appreciating each of us as individuals. As we come to the end of our Black History month celebration, it is key to remember how black history and Catholicism are deeply intertwined. At the “Father Joseph M. Davis, S.M. Annual Black Catholic History Month Lecture” back in November, keynote speaker Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow outlined how black history has shaped the black Catholic experience in the US. With the social unrest in the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights movement sought change from the status quo towards equality and freedom. Under the oppression of the Jim Crow laws, the power of nonviolent resistance and black pride surged with leaders like Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. As evident that King drew heavily from scripture, the US Catholic Bishops in a pastoral letter on racism called “Brothers and Sisters to Us” described how black Catholics have a unique relationship with scripture. Given our country’s history of oppression, this relationship with scripture gives new meaning and allows for a deeper understanding of freedom as lifelong quest for liberation as in Exodus. As with the early Israelites, the idea of community or the collective extends beyond the nuclear family creating a sense of ecumenism. In this way, communitarianism is a key characteristic of black spirituality according to Bellow. For Bellow, Catholic education is the best tool for evangelization in the black community by providing a foundation rooted in faith that will carry students through the rest of their lives. While principal of Sacred Heart/Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic School in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Bellow emphasized the message to “sing and learn the songs” to her students. She argued that the songs within you will then help you to express yourself if one day you cannot find your own words. Bellow points out that understanding and appreciating the  accomplishments and values associated with black life and culture can be used as a positive model for themselves as individuals and our community as a whole.

In this way, Bellow argues that students have a responsibility with their education. Bellow said that as students we have “to ask for what you need.” Our education should be preparing us to go out into the world as disciples, so diversity of thought and culture should be reflected in our education. For Bellow “If Black Lives Matter, if all lives matter, you’ve got insist that you receive an education that reflects the world that you’re going out into.” We need to reflect and pray on our own cultural identity because it is “hard to appreciate someone else’s culture if you don’t reflect on who God made you,” according to Bellow. To grow as individuals, we as students need to ask questions about what is in our hearts and our heads. We also need to develop a healthy level of suspicion, because not everything taught is correct and we need to then question suspicious information. So as we involve ourselves in the UD community, we need to look and see what voice is missing from the discussion then reach out to learn, so that we can all be a part of the conversation and learn from each other.

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