For years, women religious have stood for and with those calling for racial equality in America. In the past, Dominican Sisters of Peace marched with Dr. King. Today, we pray for Dreamers at the Capitol and help those Dreamers and their parents attain citizenship at our literacy centers. We march with our sisters and brothers of color and work to end the systemic racism that holds those same sisters and brothers in the grip of poverty across the nation.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in early 2020 called into focus systemic racism and called the Dominican Sisters of Peace to respond. The challenge of social distancing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic required creative thinking and a response that combined old and new media. Sr.
Anne Lythgoe, OP, spearheaded the response on behalf of the entire Leadership team, of which she is a member.
“Like so many people of conscience, we were heartbroken and angered by the violent and senseless death of George Floyd,” Sr. Anne said. “Our Sisters and Associates wanted to speak out against racism, but many of them were quarantined because of the virus. We had to find a way to speak out from our Convents and Motherhouses while maintaining safety in a time of pandemic.”
It started online. The Leadership team posted a statement on the OPPeace website, followed by a 30-day series of social media postings quoting Father Bryan Massingale, one of the world’s leading Catholic social ethicists and scholars of African-American theological ethics.
As the nation began to open after the shutdowns of the early pandemic, our Akron Motherhouse hosted an interfaith group of about 150 people for a prayer vigil on the lawn. Sisters and associates joined marches and demonstrations. We carried signs, we stood as allies and we prayed.
By mid-summer, Sisters, associates and friends began witnessing from their homes, driveways and windows. Our “Racism is a Sin. Period.” signs have popped up at Motherhouses, ministries, and private homes across the nation.
“This message really seemed to resonate with our students,” said Sr. Anne. “Students were stopping to talk about and take photos with the signs; the faculty had a positive response – they were just very well received.”
Andrea E. Kovacs, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing at the college, saw an opportunity to make a big statement about the college and its mission, and asked if the college could place this message on one of their billboards around New Haven, CT.
“The “Racism is a Sin. Period.” message is a strong statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in our local community,” Kovacs said. “We felt this message from our founders, the Dominican Sisters of Peace, was strong, direct, and crystal clear. We wanted our larger community to know these powerful women and their clear view of social justice.”
The billboard is currently on display in East Haven and Hartford, CT.
We continue to pray – not just for peace, but that our own hearts and minds be opened to the issue of systemic racism, and that our walls of privilege be broken.
As important is discussion, study and contemplation. The Dominican Sisters of Peace and their 700+ associates have been involved in a study of racism for several years. As we look at our world in chaos, we also look inside at our own hearts, and reach out to our neighbors with compassion to stand up for justice.
Our late Director of Associates, Colette Parker, was an eloquent voice for racial justice. Her powerful words fueled much of the Congregation’s racial justice work. She expressed her hope for the future in a 2020 blog, where she paraphrased the late John Lewis, “Together, we can redeem the soul of America by getting in…good trouble, necessary trouble.’”