Called to Act – Lauren Lee Pettiette Schewel

Next week, I will be able to wish my Daddy a “Happy Father’s Day.”  At the same time, in Minneapolis, a young six-year-old girl named Gianna will not.  Gianna’s father was George Floyd, the Black man cruelly, callously murdered by white cops just a few weeks ago.  I have been struck by the action that has risen in the wake of his death—the discussions, the protests, the riots, the call for change.  As Gianna observed, her “Daddy changed the world.”  And we should all pray that her observation rings true.

When I watched the video of George Floyd’s death, I saw the humanity taken away from him.  He called out for “Mama”; he called out for “water”; he called out for breath.  He called out for the gifts that God grants us as His people—but still, George Floyd died from the oppressive power of the law in this country.  I pray to God every time I see the video replay that He will bless George with a different outcome—that this father will be able to get up and see his children.  Instead, Gianna and her siblings—and all of us—must relive what happened for the rest of our lives.  We are forced to see what white complacency, fragility, supremacy, and inaction do to Black people.

We see systemic, institutional, and daily racism every day in our streets—even as people are rising together against it.  In my work, I interact with young people, mostly Black and brown youth, who grew up in the foster care system.  They are my world.  In NYC, Black youth make up over 50% of the foster care system.  They have been told in numerous ways that they are “less than” or “undeserving” of the gifts and rights that I have as a white woman living in America.  They are judged in a different way when they walk into interviews.  They are stopped by cops in brusque and harsh ways.  They are called out through micro-aggressive speech and overtly aggressive actions.  They walk through life in a way I will never experience or truly empathize.  But it is through listening to the young people I work with that I am able to do more and strive against racism, prejudice, and hate.  That I can be one more person standing up and speaking out for civil rights.  I have their stories, their urgency to act, and the strength of God to pursue justice, peace, and love.

As I watched the home-going ceremony for George Floyd, I was struck by the words of the President of North Central University quoting from Proverbs 31:8-9:

Open your mouth on behalf of the mute, and for the rights of the destitute; Open your mouth, judge justly, defend the needy, and the poor.  We must stand up for the voiceless, the hurt, those who have been treated unjustly.

Our Black and brown brothers and sisters have been hurt for way too long, and it is our duty as Catholics, as Christians, as white people to stand up and speak out against the racism we see—and also put an end to ignoring the racism we don’t.  We are all equally, wonderfully made good in God’s eyes (Gn. 1:31; Psalms 139:14), and we all need to feel that goodness and grace.

There are actions we can and must do on a regular basis to combat the bigotry, the racism, and the bias that exists in our nation today.  And as 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 tells us:

There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit;
There are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord.
There are many different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God
who is at work in them all.

Our nation provides us with endless opportunities to fight the good fight.  We can serve through God, and with Him, we can make powerful changes to our society.  We can protest, vote, donate, sign petitions, join community groups, mentor, volunteer, pray, love, serve on boards—we can listen.  Listen to the people, particularly Black Americans, who do not feel or have the same safety and rights that white Americans experience.  I know that I must act.  I know I have gifts and acts of service that God is calling for me to show.  At this time, I am forced out of my seat as a white, Catholic woman to do more and serve the cause of combating racial inequity and inequality.

We are called and enabled to serve in this fight in different ways, and we should turn for direction from God.  For it is through Him, that we can find our gifts and serve our hurting brothers and sisters.  When we show compassion, we must follow it with action.  We must do it for our livelihoods.  We must do it for truth.  For freedom.  For justice.  For mercy.  For peace.  For love.