A Reflection on Sharing Our Mission: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Sharing Our Mission (SOM) is a part of our adult formation programs, offered for various constituencies in the USA Province. The more well-known SOM is for Campus Ministers, Religion Department chairs, and school liaisons, and has been meeting annually for 20+ years. In the past, we have offered SOM for coaches and athletic directors, as well as for development directors.
In October 2021, responding to a need expressed by many in our schools, we conducted a Sharing Our Mission for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion personnel.
This was an opportunity for deep conversations, which prompted all of those in attendance to reflect on personal and professional behavior re: race and gender issues. We had great facilitators and presenters in Dr. Alice Prince, JR Zerkowski, Ali Belkus, and LaToya Hayes. As a result, we have continued to meet for reports on how things are going, for opportunities to process our work, and for sharing of ideas and resources. Alice Miesnik, one of the organizers of the DEI Sharing Our Mission, has started a biweekly book discussion that has turned into a safe place for sharing on how the processing is going.
Good things are coming from this group! As a follow up, Lori Wilson, who recently came on board at Archbishop Molloy as Director of Campus Ministry and Marist Mission, wrote a very personal reflection on her own journey. With her permission, we share it here, in hopes of prompting all of us to continue to not only reflect, but also to act in dismantling the systems that continue to oppress people of color and people in the LGBTQ+ communities. Our Marist mission is to make Jesus known and loved, and we must take a serious look at how we’re doing this in regard to race and gender, especially among the young people with whom we work. Thank you to Lori for sharing this.
Why Continue? Because to Know is Not Enough - A way that leads to Solidarity
By Lori Wilson, Director of Campus Ministry and Marist Mission
"Why is continuing to do Anti-Racism work important for me and for the entire Marist Family?"
I grew up in a bubble - a white bubble in farm country in Michigan. A white bubble that gave me the illusion that the world was good, and kind, and loving - to everybody. Is that a good thing? Some say yes, others say my parents did me a grave disservice. My understanding of racism in this country is something I wasn’t really aware of until I was about 24 years old. It’s been a journey since then.
I was told 20 years ago, when I wanted to take educators to France to walk in the footsteps of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, for the second time, after walking in the footsteps of Janet Erskine Stuar, RSCJ and walking in Sophie’s footsteps in Italy, that it was time for me to go get my heart broken. “Organize a formation to mission trip to Mexico. Walk in the footsteps of Philippine. Go see Srs. Imma and Reyna, they will help you.” I thought it was a crazy suggestion and an unkind directive from my head of school. Who tells someone it’s time to get your heart broken? But, it was exactly what I needed, and I did get my heart broken. My eyes were open to things I never knew. I understood poverty a little better and I became aware of just how privileged my life was. I remember being at a meeting in Mexico in a rural town. The meeting was with our group and the women of the town. I asked a woman one question at the end of our day together. “What do you want us to remember from this meeting?” She responded, “Please respect my husband when you see him waiting on the corner for work.” That’s all she asked of me.
Formation trips that I organized changed after that, and the goals of these experiences were more than just understanding our founding saints and their spirituality. We included a goal about how we could apply what we were learning about our spirituality to our teaching, to what we saw of life today and to how we personally lived. I’ve led trips to Mexico, to Uganda and Kenya and to Haiti. I’ve taken students yearly to New Orleans after Katrina, and sent them to South Dakota to work each summer at Pine Ridge Reservation. I wanted to learn, to love and to make what little difference I could. My eyes were open to others in our world for the first time, really. And then, I became a principal of an inner-city school in Bridgeport and my world changed.
Forty minutes away from my home I came face to face with Racism. One of my family's sons was shot on a street corner hanging out with friends. I came face to face with immigration violence. One of my mom’s, who was put in an ankle bracelet and was facing deportation, asked me to keep her child so she wouldn’t have to take her back to a dangerous country. She was fearful they would both be killed if deported. I came face to face with poverty - some of my parents worked three jobs and were always exhausted. I came face to face with food insecurity, housing insecurity, medical insecurity, domestic violence and awful child abuse.
I was invited into the lives of my families when they were desperate and facing unimaginable pain. During my first year, I cried every day on my way home. I was overwhelmed and a bit unprepared with what I was facing. I kept thinking, I went all over the world and struggled to reintegrate into my comfortable life upon return, but now I was confronting this very close to home. And then I realized, it wasn’t my experience, I was hearing about other people’s experiences, I could go home.
I think it was so hard because it was easier to think these issues weren’t really here in my state, my community, my country. I now knew that people really did suffer from the injustice of our way of life. I knew the parents, I knew their children, I knew their stories. I was no longer dabbling, I was coming face to face with it each day. And, I knew it was race that was at the heart of it. I could not close my eyes. I could not say it was somewhere else. I could not say I’m going home to my life to forget about what I saw. I came face to face with the woundedness of our world.
The charism of Marists as I am called to live it is to make Jesus known and loved in our blessed and wounded world and to meet and recognize God in that woundedness. In order to live that, I/we, as Marist family, have to understand racism in our country. We need to know how it is embedded in our history, our culture, our fabric of life, just how systemic it is. I/we have to understand it in order to change ourselves, our systems, our policies.
My call is also to love God above all and my neighbor as myself. The fact is, I don’t love my neighbor as myself - not really. Racism is so deep-seated in who we are, that we don’t know it. We are blind to it. I know that I have to look at myself daily, to examine my behavior and my thoughts. I have to check myself, retrain myself, and relearn so I can love more fully and root out my racist behavior. And as I grow in my love of neighbor, I grow in my love of God. I know this isn’t just a single semester project, this is a life-long journey.
I also take seriously my favorite scripture quote, Micah 6:8 - What does the LORD require of me? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God. I have to know how I don’t act justly to do the other two parts of this quote - to love mercy and to walk with God. Anti-racism work is essential to acting justly. It’s individual work and it’s corporate work that has to be done if I/we want to be clearer reflections of God’s love in our world. And this work leads to real solidarity or more simply mutuality. That’s what I am called to, that’s what I believe we are all called to.
It’s not a choice to not know what I know, and to know is not enough. We need to act.