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Inspiring Civic Engagement

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Did you hear about the 11 artists who are seeking to inspire a dialogue around civil rights and social justice movements in Atlanta?

They’ve painted about 30 murals around the city to tell the story of the struggle for change and justice in Atlanta and beyond. The art exhibit, which will serve as a backdrop for Super Bowl visitors to the city this week, is called “Off The Wall: Atlanta’s Civil Rights & Social Justice Journey.”  It will become part of the city’s permanent public art collection, meaning it will be maintained by the city.

How refreshing! –using the transformative power of art to open up the process of civic engagement. The fact that the art project focuses on the city’s role in the civil rights and human rights movements and invites community members to continue working toward a better world resonates with me.

I am also moved by the fact that before the murals were painted, the artists engaged in conversation with community members to brainstorm about which of the city’s stories (particularly those that had been unheard) should be amplified. Those conversations informed the mural designs and are an example of how to give voice to the voiceless.

Here is a sampling of the messages on the murals:

  • “Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky,” tells the story of homeless people (including children) who sleep under Atlanta’s canopy of trees.
  • “Atlanta Strong,” is a tribute to women who played a role in the fight for human rights.
  • “Monuments: We Carry the Dreams,” focuses on the stories of Atlanta’s undocumented youth.
  • “Beloved Community,” celebrates a vision of social justice and harmony that Martin Luther King Jr. was committed to.
  • “Community Roots,” depicts that character matters.
  • “Intersectional Heroes,” honors Dázon Dixon Diallo, an Atlanta advocate for sexual and reproductive justice and a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS; and Joan Garner, a Fulton County Commissioner who spent decades advocating for LGBT rights.
  • “Love and Protection,” includes the words “Me = We” and celebrates the power of friendship and togetherness.
  • “Remembering How Sweet Auburn Is” pays tribute to one of the wealthiest black communities in our nation during the time of its development.

The people in Atlanta who made this art project a reality deserve to be commended for recognizing this unique way of honoring the past, acknowledging the present, and seeking aspirations for the future. They deserve to be lifted up in an effort to spread the message that every city in this country is filled with inspirational untold stories and that every city in this country is filled with people who have made (and will make) a positive contribution.

The public art project raises a question for each of us: What are you doing to make your neighborhood, your city, your state, our country, and our world a better place?


Posted in Associate Blog, News

Stand Firm Amid Hatred and Incivility

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I had just finished reading an article about the death of John Salter Jr. (aka John Hunter Gray), when I was confronted with the video of white Catholic high school boys taunting an elder Native American Vietnam Veteran at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital.

I was outraged by the despicable display of white privilege looking down its nose at a man who put his life on the line in Vietnam and seeing him as less than human. The Omaha elder was in Washington D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples March when he encountered the group of Kentucky high school boys, wearing “Make America Great Again” caps, who had just participated in the March for Life.

The incident illustrates how white privilege empowers people to behave in the most inhumane, disgraceful, reprehensible, and hateful ways. It enabled white kids to mock the Little Rock Nine at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 in Arkansas. It empowered young white people to douse Salter, Anne Moody, and Joan Trumpauer with sugar, mustard, and ketchup at a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store in 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi and to burn Salter with cigarettes, throw pepper in his eyes and attack him with brass knuckles and broken glass.

(Sidebar: I am compelled to ask if those were the days when America was great?  Is that what the “Make America Great Again” message means?)

Maybe it wasn’t commonly called white privilege in 1963 and 1957, but the phenomenon was alive and well – the privilege to move through the world without your race defining your interactions, the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity, the privilege to choose when and where you want to take a stand, the power of knowing that you and your humanity are safe.

Even in the face of the ugliness that was shown in the video (including the image of a high school boy with an arrogant smirk on his face, staring down the Omaha elder), there are some trying to discount or justify the actions of these boys and explain away the inhumane treatment of the Vietnam Veteran – at least two parents reportedly blamed a group of “Black Muslims” and the Omaha elder himself; others blamed his chaperones and parents. (Note: the “Black Muslims” referred to by the parent were actually identified as Black Hebrew Israelites).

But today – the day that we commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. – I would like to highlight those voices that condemned the actions of the boys who mocked the elder: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, Covington Catholic High School and Covington Mayor Joe Meyer (who technically isn’t the mayor of the municipality, Park Hills, where the boys’ high school is located). The people behind these voices chose to stand for what is right, when they could have chosen to be silent.

“… because of the actions of people who live in Northern Kentucky, our region is being challenged again to examine our core identities, values, and beliefs. Regardless of what exact town we live in, we need to ask ourselves whether behavior like this DOES represent who we are and strive to be. Is this what our schools teach? Are these the beliefs that we as parents model and condone?” Meyer wrote in an op-ed.

For me, the voices of those who had the courage to speak out against injustice, remind me of the wise words of Rev. King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The question today is: Where do you stand in this climate of hatred and incivility?

“However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle of freedom and justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr. (“What is Your Life’s Blueprint?”, October 26, 1967, Philadelphia)

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Becoming a Better Person

Blog by Director of Associate Colette Parker

History will be made on Friday in our nation’s capital when the first-ever Indigenous Peoples March takes place.

The march, organized by the Indigenous Peoples Movement, intends to bring awareness to the injustices affecting Indigenous men, women and children from North, Central and South America; Oceania; Asia; Africa; and the Caribbean.

Organizers plan to raise alarm about human rights violations and the global climate crisis. They plan to lift up a number of issues, including voter suppression, divided families by walls and borders, an environmental holocaust, sex and human trafficking, and police/military brutality”

“Our people are under constant threat, from pipelines, from police, from a system that wants to forget the valuable perspectives we bring to the table,” said Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project.

He continued: “We must remind the world, again, that Indigenous people matter. We are all made better when we respect one another and lift each other up.”

Those words from Chase Iron Eyes got me thinking about what our world would be like if we truly believed that all human beings deserve equal respect because of their innate dignity.

If we really valued human dignity, we would not be plagued by injustice and unfair treatment — there would be no need for grassroots movements (like the Indigenous Peoples Movement) to raise our collective conscience to see those injustices and take action to right the wrongs.

Perhaps what disturbs me the most is that we have to, once again, be reminded that Indigenous people matter.

How many times do we have to be reminded that people of color are just as human as those who benefit from the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions that perpetuate inequity?

When will we truly be awakened to the reality that structural racism is a feature of our social, economic and political systems?

When will we find the courage to be honest and transparent as we dialogue about ways to dismantle the structure that allows injustices and inequities to exist?

Transparency is the first step in building bridges that will lead to a just world where all human beings are valued, appreciated, and embraced.

Like Chase Iron Eyes said: “We are all made better when we respect one another and lift each other up.”

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Standing in Solidarity with Immigrants via Prayer and Fasting

Blog by Associate Peggy Frank

One night last summer I was particularly touched, and troubled, by an online news article about detainees at the southern U.S. border whose children had been taken from them. I don’t remember who the reporter was, just the line that grabbed me: “The mothers never stop crying.”

Immediately, a passage from Jeremiah 31 came to mind, “Rachel, mourning for her children, she refused to be consoled. “

I went to bed with a heavy heart and prayed for the mothers and children, and fathers, for all families and for our country and leaders.

The next day, it got worse. Pictures of children in cages flooded the news, as did reports of the U.S. Attorney General citing scripture, Romans 13, to justify separating immigrant children from their parents. More pointedly, he applied the passage to say that people should not question government laws, just obey them because they were God ordained for the purpose of order. It was a far cry from Rachel crying for her children.

The whole situation, especially the graphic depictions of children and families being ripped apart, made me sick. I wanted to go straightaway to join protesters picketing, or do something, anything to help. I am tied to commitments however, that prohibit me from leaving home. Even knowing that I am where God put me at the moment, this inhumane treatment of innocents, piled on top of so much other distressing global news, made me frustrated that I couldn’t do more than “just” pray. That’s when I decided to step up my fervent prayers with added fasting.

Fasting is not a new concept by any means. The bible talks about “when” you fast, not “if” you fast, and that you fast in order to free the oppressed, and care for the poor, hungry, homeless, and afflicted (Isaiah).

But, for me this was to be no ordinary fast. Six months in now, my fast has evolved, along with a heightened awareness of the world around me. Yes, I still indulge in a dish of ice cream sometimes; but when I do, I’m more thankful for it, and still breathe a prayer for the kids who don’t often, if ever, get ice cream. Overall though, skipping meals sometimes seems like the least I can do.

Awhile back, someone encouraged me to write a blog about fasting, but I resisted. I have always considered fasting something you do just between you and God, a personal thing. At this time however, I decided to make a public case for fasting for a particular reason. It is to ask you to join me. Even now, innocent immigrant children are still in custody. Two have recently died! And numerous distressing national and global news issues inundate us daily.

I believe in the power of prayer, and that the more people who are praying, and fasting, the more powerful the prayer will be. I know some people have health, age, and other dietary restrictions that prevent them from fasting from food; but if you can, will you please  consider adding some extra fasting to your fervent prayers?

Our world needs it so much. Thank you.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

We Still Have Miles to Go

Blog by Sister Amy McFrederick

Last Monday, December 10, was the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was drafted in 1948 by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world: Dr. Charles Malik (Lebanon), Alexandre Bogomolov (USSR),  Dr. Peng-chun Chang (China), René Cassin (France), Eleanor Roosevelt (US), Charles Dukes (United Kingdom), William Hodgson (Australia), Hernan Santa Cruz (Chile), John P. Humphrey (Canada). The United Nations General Assembly in Paris formally approved it on Dec. 10, 1948, as a declaration of principles, a common standard for all peoples and all nations, listing fundamental human rights to be universally protected.

In 2009 on a visit to the Empire State Building in New York City, I was inspired as I read the  Universal Human Rights displayed artistically on one of its walls. But I became more and more uneasy as I noted that we still have miles to go, until our actions match our words.

Long before the Declaration of Human Rights was written down, President Abraham Lincoln believed in his heart that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”[Article I of UDHR]. Nearing the 3rd year of the Civil War, he bravely issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward, shall be free.”

However, enslavement continues. And it takes many shapes around the world as well as in our own so called ‘land of the free’–human trafficking, debt bondage, unjust imprisonment, blocked access to resources and advancement opportunities, etc.

In a recent Global Sisters Report, Sr. Janet Kinney, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, and the executive director of the Partnership for Global Justice, a U.N.-based advocacy organization, referring to the 70th Anniversary, notes “We still have so far to go.” “Human rights violations are widespread across the globe. Faced with the reality of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the plight of the people of Syria, the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, migrants being turned away from our American borders, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the victims of human trafficking, the pilfering of our Earth of its natural resources — it can be overwhelming.”

But, as Lao Tzu wisely observed: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
One step—just one step at a time–makes miles to go seem more possible.


Posted in Associate Blog, News