The following reflection was originally published on the Ignatian Solidarity Network website, via Voices for Justice.
Dear Ignatian Family,
I feel compelled to write to you again. Because two more black lives have been stolen. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. And I am angry and exhausted and confused, because when black lives are stolen, this justice-preaching-institution, this Church, seemingly loses its conviction to speak…
I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps a year ago; excited to “learn” about social justice in the vague, noncommittal way that socially unconscious folks are. So I did the academic thing: lectures and documentary screenings. The movement, the work: removed. Yet to be internalized. But, in January, I was at a documentary screening and panel on Ferguson; what felt like a necessary step as I continued my vague and noncommittal rise in consciousness. I was captivated by the voices of two activists, in particular. Brittany Ferrell, Alexis Templeton: Unapologetically young. And queer. And black. And I could see myself in them. Their power was something I wanted to radiate. I was moved, but uncomfortable, because I wasn’t ready to be challenged; or to recognize that learning about the movement, as some distant entity, was insufficient.
As a recent St. Louis implant, I only knew of Brittany and Alexis as the queer couple who met while protesting in Ferguson. As the founders of Millenial Activists United (MAU), who were nearly run over by a car during a protest, and who were facing jail time for alleged actions in response to that moment. I knew of them as the people willing to risk everything for black liberation. As the folks being prosecuted by the same office that failed to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown. I knew them as the ones who were being exploited as an example: a message to black folks to stop fighting, unless prepared — financially and emotionally and otherwise — to have the system thrown at them. At us.
I am grateful for their leadership, and how they have risked their bodies for black lives. For me. And my younger sister. And Mike Brown. And Sandra Bland. And Aiyana Jones. And the litany of names that flood newsfeeds without ever moving this country, collectively, to act. I am grateful because, until this year, I had somehow managed to exist without being particularly conscious of the narrative I am living because I am black. There was no questioning. Or wondering if maybe this system should be held accountable for oppressing and imprisoning, exploiting and murdering, black bodies.
So I was listening to the words of these two black folks. Watching their rage spill over. And I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t sit with it in a way that was comfortable. Not in that moment. I spent days replaying their words, and their rage – reading articles and books – until it began to make sense to me. Until I realized that I was housing rage of my own. I was awakened by the discomfort I felt that night. And found that I could no longer look at the systems I had grown up in and excuse them for the ways they were suffocating me. I could no longer look at the Catholic Church’s complicity in the oppression of black bodies and accept it. The Church I had loved and trusted as an implicitly positive force; collectively and actively working against oppressive forces in our world. They were the knights slaying the dragons. But I suppose fairy tales aren’t written to convey a historically accurate narrative…
So I had to find a new truth.
And, in an ironic and spiritually surprising turn, the search led me to Jesus: his voice, his radicalism, his humanity. And to wondering how we arrived here: How did I spend all of those hours in Catechism classes, in high school religion, in Mass, at a Jesuit university, and not once hear that my queer, black life mattered? How is it possible that it was never explicitly asserted that I would be safe and respected and defended, with the same conviction and intensity and restlessness with which other lives are defended by the Church? I was never told that black liberation was a priority. That black lives were implicitly worthy of freedom, in the same way that freedom is afforded to white folks; and that this justice-seeking-body would work for our liberation, because it had the means and the bodies and the influence and the power. I was never told that the Church would work to dismantle the system that was built on the backs of black folks; the system that functions with our blood on its hands, day after day, decade after decade, turn of century after turn of century. I was never told that I, as a queer, black, womyn, had a place at the table. So I suppose I’m wondering if I do. And whether Black Liberation can be found somewhere on the this Church’s lengthy To-Do List.
I wonder about the Church’s collective inaction and silence, in response to this pillaging of black bodies. I wonder how it drifted from the message of this revolutionary Jesus: challenging the corruption of his society; flipping tables in anger at misplaced priorities; traveling, on foot, to the margins, rather than ever suggesting that the marginalized, in their despair, should somehow find him. Consistently affirming that their lives mattered. The poor, the afflicted, the hungry — he was specific, because the system around him was constructed to deny the value of those specific lives.
We are living this narrative.
Which is why two more black lives were stolen this week. I find myself, once again, profoundly disappointed by the Church’s silence. I cannot stand by as more black lives are threatened and exploited and stolen: as Brittany and Alexis are persecuted for their work to dismantle a system that was built on black bodies. Because every generation is changed by those who choose to shake up our collective landscape. By the voices that stay with us long after the protests. And the marches. And the quiet conversations in St. Louis living rooms, about liberation and fear and power. Our generation needs these two voices, and the power they bear in their black bodies.
They have shaken up the way I look at and engage with our landscape. They have woken me up. So I’ll stand up for them, carrying the light and love and liberation that Black Lives Matter represents. The fight for black liberation is vast, and will be the culmination of a million distinct movements, by folks who have risen — and continue to rise — in consciousness. Standing up for these two voices is one of those distinct movements, for me. So I will stand up for them, and black lives, until the justice-preaching-Church I have spent two decades walking with, feels compelled to do the same. And I write to ask you to do the same.
In expectation and liberation,
To learn more about becoming an ally to Brittany, Alexis, and the fight for black liberation, please visit their support page here.