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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

921: To cultivate relationships, tell your story. Tell your truth. Tell your story. Tell your love

Day 921: Friday September 23, 2022

To cultivate relationships, tell your story. Tell your truth.

Tell your story. Tell your love

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

For the past few years, we’ve worked to become less biased and to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement – to challenge ourselves to become more inclusive – and to challenge our own racial bias. But how do we move forward to heal the rift in our communities caused by the ongoing reality of racism and inequity? How do we heal our nation and lift up the poorest among us – especially Black Americans? Those are the questions that have been at the back of my mind for a very long time.

A few months ago I found an article and then people who work for NETWORK – the Catholic lobby founded 50 years ago by a group of nuns who were motivated for justice and spirit driven action. Remember the Nuns on the Bus? They have asked us to become part of a campaign to study reparations.

Here’s a brief description from the NETWORK website:

Since Emancipation in 1863, our country has endured 150+ years of racist policies, laws, and practices that have created inequities between white and Black people, and deprived Black people equal participation in our shared cultural, political, social, and economic life. It’s not to late to make redress.

The sinful legacy of white supremacy and the enduring racial wealth gap must not deny Black people good health, educational and economic outcomes any longer. Establishing a federal reparations commission in the United States is a central way that we name, understand, and address our past and build anew. Now is the time for justice-seekers (like you!) to advocate for reparations and bring long-overdue healing to Black people and our nation.

At first, I didn’t like the idea of advocating for a reparations committee. My great-grandparents were poor immigrants from Ireland and had nothing to do with slavery. They were farmers and domestic servants themselves who barely survived the Great Depression.

But it's not about our ancestors. It's about us - and our job to create our more perfect, more just union. Right Now. I found a good description somewhere about the issue. It's a simple analogy that helped me see more clearly:

We have inherited a home with a crack in the foundation. We didn’t build the home. We didn’t contribute to cracking the foundation. We have only recently moved in. But the crack threatens to wreck the home. So we have to act. And we have a chance and the means to fill in the crack and make the house whole.

To me, that’s the story of reparations for years of slavery, the systematic denial of rights and the continuing poverty of today’s Black Americans.

How do we begin? By creating relationships – bridges between people. And how do we do that? By listening to each other’s stories. Here’s part of a reflection from a sister who has worked with poor people in many different settings. She’s an active member of NETWORK and has organized community meetings advocating for a national committee to study reparations. Please note – California is way ahead of the game. The Reparations Committee set up by the State Legislature has already published it’s first study. It makes for compelling reading. You’ll find a link at the bottom of the reflection to read all about it.

Here's the reflection:

In my experience, the most transformational part of a relationship is learning and listening to the other person's story.

It gives a window into their lives. In our reparations campaign, we listened to and learned from "truthtellers" — men and women who courageously shared their families' experience with racism and slavery.

And, during my own religious community's most recent Community Days, we engaged in conversation and story sharing with a local Black woman who shared with us her family's experiences with racism.

All these stories fall under a note I have saved on my phone. It simply says:

Tell your truth.

Tell your story.

Tell your love.

Aren't these the three qualities that undergird an authentic relationship? Isn't this what we all want to be able to do with one another? To be with people where we can be our authentic selves, sharing our stories and sharing who we love and what we are passionate about? In our world, do we allow these stories and truths to transform our lives and worldviews?

As I have shifted away from direct service in refugee resettlement and immigration programs to organizing, education, and policy work at the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, I know more than ever that relationships are the only way to advocate and transform minds and hearts.

As we advocate for policies and legislation, we must think about the people it will affect. Does hearing a story about the inequalities facing pregnant women encourage me to advocate for the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act? As I sit in a law class listening to a man wrongfully sentenced to death row, does my resolve to reform the criminal legal system change? When I hear about the inadequate educational opportunities or housing facing many children, am I not pushed to fight for quality education and safe housing? Legislation and policy cannot be divorced from the lives of the people it is enacted to serve.

The only way I know to keep the stories at the forefront of my advocacy ministry is to continue to build relationships within communities and with other impacted persons. As a woman religious, I know that I am called to respond to the needs of the times. But I can only intellectually know of the needs if I am only reading about them in the newspaper, scrolling through social media or watching the news. I need to be out in the community, meeting people, cultivating relationships and listening to stories.

I also think about this in terms of our religious communities: How can we transform our justice work and committees to respond to the needs of today? In what ways can we continue to build relationships and community with the people around us? What stories are out there that we haven't heard or taken the time to listen to? What stories might change the way we serve or bring new life to our mission and direction statements? Who are the people in our lives who, through the sharing of stories and dreams, help us build lasting relationships with each other?

To cultivate relationships, tell your story

by Eilis McCulloh

Article on California Legislature's Reparations Committee

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