The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, followed by a series of similar events in other areas of St. Louis and elsewhere in the U.S. brought to light an insidious truth: Too often, systemic racism remains a prevailing reality in many cities and communities throughout the U.S.
Normandy, Missouri, the small city in which we live and work is very near Ferguson. During protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown I felt an urge to participate with others who wanted to raise awareness about racist systems and show solidarity with our African American neighbors. I mentioned this desire to other Sisters and we agreed to join the efforts. Some of us joined through prayer and others through prayer and participation in organized actions.
Last September the Archdiocese of St. Louis began to hold monthly prayer gatherings in Ferguson. Initially the gatherings, called “Faith in Ferguson,” took place at January-Wabash Memorial Park in Ferguson. They later moved to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and St. Theresa of Calcutta Church in Ferguson. Several Faith in Ferguson prayer gatherings also included speakers who provided inspiration and added perspectives.
At a Faith in Ferguson assembly that was held just before Christmas last year, Sisters of the Good Shepherd received a flyer from Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU). The MCU membership includes 32 Christian congregations including Catholic parishes and one religious woman’s congregation. MCU activates congregation members to work on community concerns.
The mission of MCU is to work “powerfully in the public arena to transform the member organizations and our community…to act for the common good.” The flyer announced MCU’s new initiative “Sacred Conversations on Race (+Action).”
Sister Gayle Lwanga and I attended the opening session for the congregations who wished to participate in this initiative on January 25, 2015. We learned that the facilitator trainings were in process and that it was too late for us to participate in the training.
At the end of the assembly the conveners provided yard signs, stating BLACK LIVES MATTER, which were made available to the participants. The intended use for the signs was for people to display them around the metropolitan area. The hope was that members of local, county and state government would know there is broad support for systemic change in the St. Louis area.
With approval from our Province Leader Sr. Madeleine Munday, Sr. Gayle and I spoke with the Sisters who live in each of the three communities on the Province Center property in Normandy. We agreed that displaying a sign on our Normandy campus and our Waco Drive location was one way to show our support for greater justice for our African American brothers and sisters, along with our constant prayer.
MCU continued to keep us aware of other initiatives in the broader community and the Archdiocese continued the Faith in Ferguson monthly prayers through August 2015.
In addition to the prayer gatherings and sacred conversations, we have participated in other events, prayers and liturgical experiences to support peace and justice actions in St. Louis.
A stage play titled Black and Blue, dramatized the complex relationships between the African American community and St. Louis Police. Gitana Productions, Inc. the organization that produced the play, concentrates on building intercultural understanding through the arts.
In regard to Black and Blue, Gitana Productions said, “We have learned in Ferguson that the presumption of guilt is a two-edged sword that wounds both parties.” The play began in May and was staged in several locations throughout the area. Several Good Shepherd Sisters saw the play performed at a church in Ferguson when it first opened.
On July 18, 2015, MCU alerted its members of several prayer assemblies that were to be held in conjunction with clergy and the members of the St. Louis Police Department. I was present at the vigil that was held at the Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church in the Kingsway East neighborhood in St. Louis City. The purpose of the event was to pray for the end of violence in St. Louis. The gathering was the joint effort of several clergyman in the City in collaboration with police Chief Samuel Dodson and members of the St. Louis police force.
The last gathering for the Faith in Ferguson sessions was an ecumenical prayer service held at the grotto at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Saturday, August 8, 2015. Sr. Glynis McManamon and I attended.
During the weekend of August 9, many prayer services and peaceful marches were held throughout the city to commemorate the death of Michael Brown and to support his family and the families of others who have lost loved ones through violence. On August 9 Archbishop Robert Carlson concelebrated a Mass for Peace and Justice at the Cathedral.
He blessed and commissioned the men and women who agreed to serve on a Justice and Peace Commission for the Archdiocese. Several Good Shepherd Sisters attended the Mass. On August 15, Sr. Glynis and I joined the 1000 Woman March — Mothers Against Killing. The march began at Natural Bridge Road and North Grand Avenue in St. Louis and proceeded for approximately two miles to a city park on St. Louis Avenue. Women, men, children and clergy formed the march. The city police supported the effort.
We continue to encourage and support renewed awareness of the need for systemic change and pray that those who continue to work for justice will receive the encouragement and support to sustain their efforts. As Pope Paul VI advised, “If you want peace, work for justice.”