Celebrating Women Witnesses for Racial Justice-Prayers and Presentations

WOMEN WITNESSES FOR RACIAL JUSTICE PRAYER SERVICES & PRESENTATIONS


Renowned historian Dr. Shannen Dee Williams writes that long before there were black priests in the United States, there were black Catholic sisters. Since 1824, hundreds of black women and girls have professed the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the U.S. Catholic Church. By consecrating themselves to God and dedicating their lives to education and social justice black sisters renounced an outside world that deemed all black people inferior and immoral and provided a powerful refutation to the insidious racial and sexual stereotypes used by white supremacists to justify African-American exclusion from U.S. citizenship rights and the ranks of religious life in the Church.

The historical record reveals that Black sisters and their schools were frequent targets of white supremacists who viewed these women and their institutions as threats to the racial and sexual status quo. Yet, at the root of the extraordinary journey of the nation’s Black Catholic sisters is a fundamental understanding that racism and exclusion have no place within the Catholic church.  Black women of God believed wholeheartedly in Catholic social teaching and its embrace of universal humanity. Black nuns pushed the church to be truly Catholic and to do what it said it did for all people

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021 at 8pm EST
The History of the National Black Sisters Conference by Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

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November is Black Catholic history month and there is hardly any aspect of our shared history more important that the emergence of the National Black Sisters' Conference in 1968.  The powerful witness of Black Catholic women religious is an integral part of the struggle to upend racism and white supremacy in the church and in society.  

Founded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania under the inspiration and direction of then Sister Martin de Porres Grey, RSM (now Patricia Grey, Ph.D.), Sr. Grey was the only woman religious to attend the first National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC) held in Detroit in April, 1968 where, after the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Black Catholic priests organized to confront white privilege and supremacy within the Church. 

The Catholic Church in the United States, primarily a white racist institution, has addressed itself primarily to white society and is definitely a part of that society. On the contrary, we feel that her primary, though not exclusive work, should be in the area of institutional, attitudinal and societal change. We,The Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, strongly and deeply believe that there are few choices left to the Catholic Church, and unless it is to remain an enclave speaking to itself, it must begin to consult the black members of the Church, clerical, religious, and lay. (You can read the complete statement here).

​After the 1968 meeting of Black priests, Sr. Martin de Porres led the call to all black religious women to organize in the same fashion. At that first, now historic, meeting in the summer of 1968 over 150 Black Catholic women religious from 79 different national and international congregations, gathered on the grounds of Carlow College.  Sister Martin de Porres was elected to serve as president.  A board of directors was elected and plans for legal incorporation of the National Black Sisters’ Conference were made.  Organizing was a bold, powerful witness that challenged and interrupted church politics as usual and changed the trajectory of our common understanding of the Gospel message.

As Dr. M. Shawn Copeland writes:

As a black Catholic women's organization, the National Black Sisters' Conference (NBSC) commands a unique position not only in discus sions of contemporary vowed religious life in the United States, but also in discussions of organized efforts in the 1960s for the cause of black cul tural, political, and economic liberation. Prior to the foundation of the National Black Sisters' Conference in 1968, public perception of black women religious was configured almost exclusively by the three black religious congregations: the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the Sisters of the Holy Family, and the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary.1 By making visible and uniting black women vowed religious, and especially those black members of predominantly white religious congregations, the Conference reshaped public perception of Catholic sisters both within the Church, the black Catholic com munity, and the black community at large. In a most proactive way, the NBSC promoted and advocated an 'image' of the black Catholic sister and her mission in terms of liberation. 

​Today, NBSC is a national organization of more than 150 Black Catholic women religious and associates in the United States striving to promote a positive self-image among ourselves and our people.  Together, they form a strong and cohesive voice in support of the dignity and rights of women of color, in creating mentoring and support systems for Black women in religious formation, in educating the African American family, and in confronting the sin of racism, which continues to permeate our society and Church as we work tirelessly for the liberation of African American people.   

In 2020, they issued The National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC) issued this statement:

In 1895 the activist and Civil Rights icon, Ida B. Wells, wrote a research pamphlet called The Red Record. In it Mrs. Wells tabulated the numbers of lynchings in the United States since the Emancipation of African slaves. The conclusion was that little had changed for the Negro in America by the end of the nineteenth century. The Emancipation Proclamation, and federal programs like the Freedmen’s Bureau, did not prevent the death of thousands of Negros by the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Ida B. Wells writes: “in slave times the Negro was kept subservient and submissive... but with freedom the Negro is whipped, scourged, he is killed.” Fredrick Douglass, in a review of Mrs. Wells’ groundbreaking study, wrote: “If American moral sensibility was not hardened by the persistent infliction of outrage and crime against colored people, a scream of horror, shame, and indignation would rise from heaven.” America’s sensibility is still hardened in the twenty-first century. Black Americans still scream in horror. We still cannot breathe. Black Lives still do not Matter.

One-hundred and twenty-four years later we are still writing the same story! African American men, women, and children are still being lynched, murdered, and executed for playing with a toy gun, watching television in one’s own home, and mistaken identity, driving or jogging while black, and being chocked to death in cold blood by law enforcement officers, who have sworn to serve and protect.

We must speak and never forget their names.

Reason “Sean” Reed shot and killed in Indianapolis; Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician in Louisville, KY., shot eight times in her bed; Ahmaud Aubrey killed while out jogging; and George Floyd dying from a police officer’s knee on his neck as Mr. Floyd screamed, “I can’t breathe!’

The National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC) condemns the viral disease of systemic racism that America has legitimized and practiced for over 400 years! We will not remain silent! There is more than one pandemic affecting our nation!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism…”

If this country is to reclaim it moral stature, we must confess and atone for our original sin, or America will self-destruct as a nation. As Malcolm X once warned the white power structure, “the chickens have come home to roost.”

Without justice there can be no peace and justice demands that:

• Law Enforcement is held accountable for their willful negligence and compliance in racist activities and actions.

• Choke -holds and other life-threatening forms of physical restraint will not to be used when a suspect is not resisting arrest, and/or is already in custody.

• When justified, as in the death of Mr. George Floyd, law enforcement officers are held accountable for their actions, and when warranted, arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Finally, as black Catholic religious women, we call upon Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, Archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and all bishops of good will to speak out on behalf of the church by denouncing these violent acts of hate and racism.  As Dr. King told us, “The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

If the most recent pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is to have any moral legitimacy, then our episcopal leaders must give more than lip-service to addressing the sin of racism that is destroying communities of color around this nation.

As Christians, as Catholics, as people of faith, we must do more than just pray; we must model Jesus’ message to love one’s neighbor.

Our neighbor cannot breathe! Our neighbor is being lynched! Our neighbor is dying!

Our Red Record of Hate must end now!


Join Sr. Anita Baird and FutureChurch as we learn about the rich history of Black Catholic women religious as they continue to stand at the forefront in the struggle for justice, giving witness to the saving truth of the gospel and the mission of Christ’s Church on earth.  

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Biography of Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

Sister Anita Baird, a native of Chicago, is a member of the religious congregation of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, having served most recently as United States Provincial.

In 1997 sister became the first African American to serve as chief of staff to the archbishop of Chicago. In 2000, Cardinal Francis George appointed her the founding director of the archdiocese of Chicago’s office for racial justice, which directed the archdiocesan initiatives to eradicate racism in its structures and institutions. Sister Anita also served as Cardinal George’s liaison for race relations to the city of Chicago. She held both of these positions until she retired from the archdiocese in 2014.

Sister Anita is a long-time member of the national black sisters’ conference, having served as president, vice president and presently sits on the board of directors.

Sister Anita has been recognized for her religious and community activism around the nation. In 2002 she gave the opening keynote address at the ninth National Black Catholic Congress in Chicago. Other honors include being the recipient of the national black sisters’ conference’s Harriet Tubman “mosses of her people” award; the NBC-5 Jefferson award for outstanding community service; and the city of Chicago’s fresh spirit award in recognition of her outstanding spiritual and community leadership.

In May 2013 sister Anita was awarded an honorary Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) Degree from catholic theological union in recognition of her outstanding contributions in the work for racial justice in the church and city of Chicago.

In 2018 sr. Anita was honored by the leadership conference of women religious in the united states and received the organization’s outstanding leadership award for her commitment to working for the eradication of racism in the Catholic Church.

Sister’s first love is preaching God’s word, which she has done around the country. Her motto of faith is: “do whatever he tells you”. 

Sister Anita has a B.A. In sociology from DePaul university, and a M.A. In theological studies from Loyola university Chicago.

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Past Presentations and Prayer Services
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August 15, 2021 at 7pm ET - Celebrating the Feast of the Assumption 
 

VIDEO   TEXTS

 

Thursday, June 17th, 2021 at 7pm ET - Shedding White Fragility with Mr. Andrew Lyke

Video

Slides

Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 7pm ET -Women Witnesses for Racial Justice Mother's Day Prayer Service Celebrating Anna "Madre" Bates

VIDEO

 

April 6, 2021 - Olga Marina Segura on "Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church"

VIDEO

 

April 2, 2021 at 12noon - Good Friday Stations of the Cross with FutureChurch Staff
On Good Friday, we heard and reflected on the stories of courageous Black Catholic Women who relied on their faith and dedicated themselves to living and sharing it despite bearing the unjust crosses of racism, slavery, poverty, segregation, sexism, and exclusion.  As white Catholics we acknowledged -- before God and before one another -- that we, as individuals and as a community of believers -- have failed to live the Gospel values of freedom, equality, solidarity, and inclusion.


March 9, 2021 at 7pm EST - Presentation by Dr. Shannen Dee Williams on "Leading Lights: Black Catholic Women Yesterday and Today."
The video from Dr. Shannen Dee Williams' presentation will be available for viewing once her new book is released for pre-order.   In the meantime, we invite you to read the following work:  

Subversive Images and Forgotten Truths: A Selected Visual History of Black Women Religious” in American Catholic Studies, 127 (Fall 2016):  14-21.\
Forgotten Habits, Lost Vocations: Black Nuns, Contested Memories, and the 19th Century Struggle to Desegregate U.S. Catholic Religious Life" in The Journal of African American History, Vol. 101, No. 3, Summer 2016.   https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5323/jafriamerhist.101.3.0231
“Dear U.S. Catholic Theologians: Lives of Black Women & Girls Always Matter”.  The Font:  Where Many Catholics Dip, December 12, 2014.
“Sister Antona Ebo’s lifelong struggle against white supremacy, inside and outside the Catholic Church”  America.  November 22, 2017.
“Religious orders owning slaves isn’t new—black Catholics have emphasized this history for years”.  America.  August 6, 2019. 
“The black Catholic nun every American should know”.  America, March 3, 2020.
“What a forgotten black nun can teach us about racism and Covid-19”, America, April 23, 2020.
“If racial justice and peace will ever be attained, it must begin in the church”Catholic News Service via The Dialog, June 10, 2020.
The church must make reparation for its role in slavery, segregation” , National Catholic Reporter, June 15, 2020.   
"Black Catholic women like Amanda Gorman are forgotten prophets of American democracy," The Washington Post, February 10, 2021.

For more resources, go to Dr. Tia Noelle Pratt's #BlackCatholics Syllabus.

 

February 25, 2021 at 7:00pm EST - Pray the Black Catholic History Rosary with Ms. Leslye Colvin, Ms. Vicki McBride, and Russ Petrus as musician 
In 2014, Dr. Kirk Gaddy (now deceased) created the Black Catholic History Rosary with Joyful, Luminous and Sorrowful Mysteries for Catholics to use in prayer.  On Feb. 25, we prayeed the Joyful and the Luminous Mysteries with Ms. Leslye Colvin, Ms. Vicki McBridge, and Russ Petrus as musician. Together we prayed and learned more about the hope-filled history that  Black Catholics have carved out for the Church with the hope that we can all live the Gospel more authentically.   No recording is available, but please join us next time.

 

February 18, 2021 at 7pm EST - Presentation by Artist Chloe Becker who created the art for FutureChurch's Women Witnesses for Racial Justice Series

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

 

January 17, 2021 at 7pm EST - Prayer Service Inspired by Sr. Thea Bowman

VIDEO

 

November 29, 2020 at 7pm EST - Advent Prayer Service Inspired by Mother Mary Lange

VIDEO

 

November 1, 2020 at 7pm EST: - All Saints Day Prayer Service Inspired by Sr. Antona Ebo

VIDEO

 

February 18, 2021 at 7pm EST - Presentation by Artist Chloe Becker who created the Women Witnesses for Racial Justice Art
VIDEO

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