Remembering Sister Laurie

Sister Robbie Pentecost, OSF has been the Treasurer of our Mary’s Pence Board since 2011. Robbie lives in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky and currently serves as the Director of Christian Appalachian Project’s Christian Partners program. 

Laurencia

As I was driving home a couple of weeks ago, after having cooked for one of our volunteer houses a couple hours a way I received a text.  It was late at night so when I stopped at a stop sign I glanced at the text – my dear friend, mentor, and wise-woman had passed away.  I immediately felt tears forming and my memories of Laurencia (who was known by many names:  Sister Laurencia Listerman, Laurie, Granny, Helen – her birth name, or Angel by some who couldn’t pronounce her name, like my mother) began to flow and a smile begin to take shape.  You couldn’t really be sad as Laurie was 101 – and as a Sister of St. Francis for 83 years she was awaiting this sacred moment.  Laurie always prayed for me and my travels, she knew the roads I drive in Appalachia at all times of the day and night, no wonder I felt so alert as I drove home that night.   She went quickly – I was told.  What a blessing!

In this season of Advent when we have two celebrations of Mary – the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, a celebration that draws crowds not usually found on Sunday mornings, it seems appropriate to focus on the gifts of women in our lives.  Laurencia, like Mary, worked prophetically behind the scenes always pointing the way toward God.  I was told by her niece that her son had a history project at school and so he interviewed Sister Laurie since she had been around when the Great Depression took place.  Laurie’s mind was sharp, even up to the day she died – another real blessing.  Her niece said she even got into politics on the tape –not surprising as Laurie was always on top of current events, reading everything she could find. She stayed up late to watch our first black President get elected.   She was in book group that studied the Universe theology up until a year or so ago, and well into her 90’s she even read some of the Harry Potter books in an effort to understand young people.

Sister LauriePerhaps the most telling story that has been told about Laurencia was told at her funeral.  Sister Margie, in her reflections, shared that as a freshman at Oldenburg Academy in 1965 she had Laurencia as her teacher for World History.  She soon learned that the textbook served only as a reference book – looking up particular statistics and reviewing maps.  World History, in Sister Laurencia’s class, was told from the perspective of the women in the countries they were studying.  This was 1965!

I lived with Laurencia when I entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of St. Francis in 1985.  As I look back over these 30 years  I stand in deep gratitude for the woman who taught me that it was O.K. to think and act outside the box, to ask questions (from a curious point of view), to challenge the Church when it had gone off course – in her quiet educating way and to continue to deepen your relationship with God daily.  No wonder the Gospel for her funeral caused many of us to smile tears of joy – it was a unique version of the Beatitudes that brought reality and faith together.

Thank you Laurencia for reflecting, like Mary, Christ’s love and compassion for each person!  Keep praying me safely home.  We will miss your smiling face and enthusiastic greeting, but we know your spirit will live on.

Sister Robbie Pentecost, OSF

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Volunteer Blogspot: Kady

Get to know our volunteers!

This continues our blog series focusing on our wonderful Mary’s Pence volunteers.  As an organization, we are so grateful for all the invaluable work they do for us. To learn about our  volunteer opportunities or other ways you can get involved with Mary’s Pence, visit Action for Mary’s Pence on our webpage. And check back on the first Tuesday of next month, we will spotlight a different volunteer!

 

KadyKady D’Addario, Archivist 

What work do you do for Mary’s Pence? 

I came into Mary’s Pence to undertake the archiving project. I was tasked with handling the backlog of materials that had been collected since the last submission to the Women and Leadership Archive at Loyola University Chicago. Getting up to date hasn’t always been easy, but having my hands in the history of Mary’s Pence for the past few months has been an amazing experience – not just for the experience of working as an archivist but also to learn about Mary’s Pence. I was able to read through applications from grantees over the years and gain an understanding of the variety of organizations that Mary’s Pence is able to support.

How long have you volunteered with Mary’s Pence?

I started with Mary’s Pence in early June after graduating with my Master’s degree in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas.

What draws you to the work of Mary’s Pence?  Why do you volunteer with Mary’s Pence? what meaning does it have for you?

Mary’s Pence supports the women that no one else would ever have heard of — in Haiti, Honduras, Brazil, and even my hometown of Boston. I am so proud to be connected to these women who have undertaken projects to support women in their communities.

What else are you up to in your life? What do you do for fun?

Outside of Mary’s Pence my interests include modern Irish history, exploring Minnesota and continuing as a member of Red Sox Nation.

 

We have many more volunteers who help with translation, data entry, writing, mailings, and so much more. Our work is possible because of your contribution of time and talents. Thank you!

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Women’s Rights are Human Rights: Fighting for Equality through Advocacy and Education

North Carolina has consistently had the ninth highest adolescent pregnancy rate in the country. It is also the eighth most likely state for human trafficking. At WomenNC, a Mary’s Pence Grantee based out of Cary, North Carolina, innovative and resourceful young college students are addressing inequalities in their own communities, as well as challenging national and international injustice that affects women around the world.

A WomenNC Fellow presents her research at the CSW Conference in New York.

A WomenNC Fellow presents her research at the CSW Conference in New York.

Amanda Eubanks, the co-chair of the Fund Development committee of WomenNC, described the WomenNC Fellowship Program as “rooted in the idea of local to global and global to local.” She explained that every fellow chooses a research topic that is aligned with the U.N. goals from the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW). After picking a topic, each fellow decides on a local North Carolina organization to volunteer with, and on which they will model their research. They present their research in North Carolina. Then, they represent North Carolina at the annual United Nations CSW Conference in New York. Afterwards, they return and present their UN experience and research findings to their community. Local, global, local.

WomenNC is an all-volunteer organization, whose mission is to lead North Carolina’s youth in the elimination of injustice against women and girls. Mary’s Pence funds have gone into growing the WomenNC CSW Fellowship Program, which, since 2009, has trained 23 young women and men who have gone on to influence their peers and respective communities. Fellows challenge national and global issues, from high rates of female poverty, rape, and domestic violence, to a basic lack of education, technology, and access to affordable health care.

Many of these injustices affecting women around the world are all the more damaging by their relative invisibility, and the lack of awareness and resources in place to fight them. “Look at the data,” says Amanda, “to date, women still do not earn equal pay for equal work, despite the fact that women are outpacing men in advanced degrees and heading up more households than ever before.” Even the well-known, but maddening statistic that women earn 78 cents to the white, male dollar varies dramatically across racial lines (64% for African American women and 54% for Hispanic or Latina women).

WomenNC at Women's Equality Day Raleigh, 2014

WomenNC at Women’s Equality Day Raleigh, 2014

WomenNC empowers a new generation of intelligent, educated leaders fighting for women’s rights, and thus, human rights. They provide the resources, guidance, and platform for these students to develop skills in research, policy, and public speaking, as well as networking opportunities. The experience teaches young women how to fight for their own equality, and educates young men in how to be allies. “You cannot have a one-sided movement with men and women working against one another,” explains Amanda, “In order to bring about true change and break the barriers of institutional injustices and patterns of traditional injustices against women, men need to be educated and involved.”

Their website states that WomenNC “spreads awareness of and provides opportunities to engage in issues important to equality for women and girls.” WomenNC’s efforts have touched people all over the world. Over the last five years, the organization has sparked dialogue with over 75,000 people, igniting change that both starts and ends within their own communities.

Want to find out about how you can get involved with WomenNCCheck out their webpage!

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Giving Tuesday Helps Mark the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. And now Giving Tuesday.

Giving TuesdayThese days have become markers of the holiday season – they draw us into this time of food and family, and for some…shopping. #GivingTuesday, which began in 2012, reminds us that giving is also an integral part of the holiday season.

#GivingTuesday was created as a worldwide effort to have a day to celebrate giving back, and as a way to encourage more folks to give generously. At Mary’s Pence, we rely on the generosity of our donors, like you, to fund women’s organizations working for justice and peace. And this year at Mary’s Pence we are inviting you to celebrate this kickoff to the holiday season with a special gift  to help us reach our matching goal of $2,000!

The first $2000 donated on Tuesday, December 2 will be generously matched! Your doubled gift, means double the impact across the Americas:

Giving for healthy communities

Did you know that on the East Coast of Nicaragua, there is only one doctor for every 3,000 persons? Mary’s Pence grantee Adelante Mujer grants University scholarships to young women who aspire to become medical doctors in Kamla, Nicaragua. Adelante Mujer helps students secure their right to an education and meaningful work and strengthens communities by increasing the availability of health care.

Giving for safety

Did you know that Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or Partner for Women's Equalitysexually assaulted than other US women? Partners for Women’s Equality, a grantee based in Minnesota, was funded by Mary’s Pence to connect Native American women to indigenous women in Guatemala, who also suffer from high rates of abuse, in order to create a curriculum for training sexual assault/domestic violence advocates based on shared indigenous wisdom.

Giving for education

Did you know that women account for nearly two-thirds of the 780 million people worldwide who cannot read? Haitian Connection, a partner of the ESPERA program, is strengthening the literacy education of one Haitian community.

Giving for change

We hope you will join us on Giving Tuesday with a special holiday gift. On December 2 the first $2000 donated will be doubled through our matching donation and will help to support inspiring programs like Adelante Mujer, Partners for Women’s Equality, and Haitian Connection!

Together, we create a better world for women everywhere. By funding women, we fund change.

Giving Tuesday

 

 

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Remembering Those Silenced by SOA Violence

“We who have a voice must speak for the voiceless.” – Archbishop Óscar Romero

SOA WatchLast Sunday, November 16th, marked the 25th anniversary of the University of Central America Massacre— in which six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were murdered by gunmen trained by the School of the Americas (SOA). The SOA is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers located in Ft. Benning, Georgia, and is responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Every year, to commemorate those martyrs and to speak out against these acts of violence, a protest and vigil is held. The vigil honors the people who have suffered or died as a result of the SOA institution and seeks to fight back against its corruption, violence, and impunity.

I went to my first nonviolent protest when I was nine years old. It was shortly after September 11th and the country, still mourning from this tragedy, was already contemplating going to war in Afghanistan.  My nine-year-old brain could understand the logic of why my parents opposed this war—why answer death and destruction with more death and destruction? But what I couldn’t quite grasp was how standing outside on a cold morning would do anything. It wasn’t like the president would be there. How would my little voice ever make a difference? Couldn’t I just sleep in instead?

Two weeks ago, I had many friends who didn’t vote for much the same reason. Call it apathy or call it laziness, the result is the same—you have a voice, and you aren’t using it.

But while we’d like to think that any government that claims to be democratic should have a vested interest in hearing what the people have to say, that isn’t always the case. Historically, voting rights are among the civil rights denied to certain groups. If we counted on voting alone to make progress, there would be no civil rights movement, no suffragette movement, and the only voices we’d hear today would be the white, male property owners that were originally granted the vote. When I was only nine years old and opposed the war, I couldn’t vote but I could still speak out.

Raising your voice can take many forms, including and going beyond voting or protesting. Some people speak out through art, like Picasso’s Guernica, or through poetry or music. Picasso GuernicaSome people write essays or books, or make films. Some people graffiti. Some people don’t pay their taxes, while still others march in the streets. There are so many non-violent, non-destructive ways to raise your voice and actively fight for justice or peace.

This week the Mary’s Pence team will be present with the tens of thousands of people standing in solidarity with those affected by the SOA, on the grounds of Fort Benning for the 25th School of the Americas Protest and Vigil. We value the opportunity for people to speak out against violence. Look for our table, or come to our workshop to hear about the work we do. We hope to see some of you there, and we hope even more of you will find other ways to speak out against injustice and fight for change.

ÓscarI started this post with a quote from Archbishop Óscar Romero, another martyr of the Salvadoran Civil War. “We who have a voice must speak for the voiceless.” The SOA Watch website states, “We will honor the martyrs from years past, but our hearts will also be heavy due to the continued ravages of U.S.-led militarization in the Americas.” This is why we must unite in solidarity and always keep fighting—in memory of those who are gone and in defense of those who are still silenced today. What will you do to raise your voice?

Dana Coppock-Peector

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Time to MAXimize your Giving!

GiveMNThis Thursday, November 13th, is GiveMN’s annual Give to the Max Day! Your donation can mean so much to the women we partner with at Mary’s Pence on this special day, and here’s why!

What is Give to the Max Day?

Give to the Max Day is sometimes called “the great Minnesota give together.” It is a day when generous givers from all across the state unite to raise millions of dollars for Minnesota based nonprofits working to make the world a better place. Last year, Give to the Max Day raised $17 million for Minnesota organizations in just 24 hours! Explore GiveMN.org today.

Why is Give to the Max Day important to Mary’s Pence?

At Mary’s Pence, we rely on the generosity of our donors to fund women’s organizations working for justice and peace. 88% of our income is provided by individual donors like you. By increasing your gift you can increase your impact, because on Give to the Max Day, your gift will go directly to the Mary’s Pence ESPERA Program and Mary’s Pence Grants – continuing to provide resources women can come back to again and again.

$2000 in matching grants for Give to the Max Day!

By giving to Mary’s Pence on Give to the Max day, your gift can have twice the impact, as it will be matched dollar for dollar (up to $2,000) by three generous donors who want to encourage you to support women creating justice and equality. Click here to help us reach our matching goal!

Leaderboard Prizes and Golden Tickets!

Every hour, GiveMN will select one donation to a nonprofit to receive an additional $1,000 prize grant. Your donation of any size could be increased by $1,000! There are also two special “Super-sized Golden Tickets,” of $10,000 prize grants, to be added to randomly selected donations made during the 24-hour event.

In addition, the 10 nonprofits that raise the most money during Give to the Max Day recieve an additional prize grant. Help us get on the leaderboard!

1st place: $10,000
2nd place: $7,500
3rd place: $5,000
4th place: $2,500
5th place: $1,000
6th through 10th place: $500 each

How Can I Give?

Giving on Give to the Max Day is both meaningful and convenient. Using  the online giving website GiveMN.org, you can donate to Mary’s Pence any time from any place. Furthermore, you don’t have to wait till this Thursday, schedule your gift now!

 

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Volunteer Spotlight: Kelsey

Get to know our volunteers!

This continues our blog series focusing on our wonderful Mary’s Pence volunteers.  As an organization, we are so grateful for all the invaluable work they do for us. To learn about our  volunteer opportunities or other ways you can get involved with Mary’s Pence, visit Action for Mary’s Pence on our webpage. And check back on the first Tuesday of next month, we will spotlight a different volunteer!

 

Kelsey Tape Kelsey

What work do you do for Mary’s Pence? 

Everything from Facebook posts to writing and editing eNewsletters to data entry to the 2014 Calendar of Women to assisting with mailings. Since I started volunteering with Mary’s Pence in June 2012, I’ve had the opportunity to work on various projects and tasks that have been incredibly valuable experiences.

How long have you volunteered with Mary’s Pence?

I started volunteering with Mary’s Pence in June of 2012, so I’ve been here consistently for two years.

What draws you to the work of Mary’s Pence?  Why do you volunteer with Mary’s Pence? what meaning does it have for you?

Mary’s Pence creates opportunities. After graduating from college, I was jobless.           And, Mary’s Pence awarded me the opportunity to continue learning and growing my skills, which was very beneficial to me in a staggering job market. I quickly learned Mary’s Pence was awarding opportunities to women all over the Americas. These women face economic and social injustices that are far greater than anything I have ever faced. And over the past few years, I’ve come to know the stories of these women. Despite their circumstances and injustices, these women persevere. Mary’s Pence is truly creating a network of women supporting women. I’m proud to call Mary’s Pence one of my support networks. Mary’s Pence empowers me to create change through collaboration at all levels. Everyone deserves a voice at the table.

What gifts do you bring to the work of Mary’s Pence?

A willingness to learn. An ability to collaborate on projects and brainstorm ideas. The gift of support. I am always willing to offer a helping hand to accomplish any project or task that must be met. And as we all know, there’s not enough time in the day, and that allows me to support Katherine and Anna and accomplish various tasks are on their lists that they may not get to each day.

What else are you up to in your life? What do you do for fun?

Staying active is one of my favorite things to do. Zumba, running, yoga, tennis, barre classes–you name it, and I’ll try anything once. But, just as much as I love working out, I love eating and trying new restaurants in Minneapolis and St. Paul, with some of my absolute favorites being Punch Pizza and Brasa Rotisserie.

 

We have many more volunteers who help with translation, data entry, writing, mailings, and so much more. Our work is possible because of your contribution of time and talents. Thank you!

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Solidarity at the Heart of Relationships – Bridgette Kelly

During the Mary’s Pence board meeting last weekend, one often discussed concept was that of solidarity. What does solidarity mean to us, to our everyday lives and relationships with those around us? In this blog post, Mary’s Pence board co-president Bridgette Kelly discusses what solidarity means to her.

 -Dana Coppock-Pector

Solidarity at the Heart of Relationships

by Bridgette Kellybridgette for website 2

In early October, Anna Zaros, the Mary’s Pence Development Liaison, gathered with a group of St Joseph Workers to facilitate a conversation about Solidarity. Solidarity is a big concept and has many manifestations in the world. Anna was there to facilitate a rich discussion and bring in some of the grounding work of Mary’s Pence. People shared their stories and thoughts about what Solidarity means, about what it looks and feels like. The meaning changes for each individual depending on your context, your relationships and your personal experience.

 

Board co-Presidents Bridgette Kelly (right) and Judy Molosky (left) at a gathering of Mary's Pence supporters.

Board co-Presidents Bridgette Kelly (right) and Judy Molosky (left) address a gathering of Mary’s Pence supporters.

Being involved with the Mary’s Pence board, this was not the first time I have been in a group of women and engaged in a deep conversation about the meaning and reality of Solidarity. At the last board meeting, board members shared the real importance of solidarity among the women of Mary’s Pence, and the day to day relational quality of solidarity.

 

I personally recalled the Solidarność of my elementary school days. That was the first time that I heard the word solidarity. It had a whole meaning unto itself in the early 80’s in Poland, but it is still relevant to the idea of unity: standing together in order to advance the common good, or in order to bring about real change.  I sometimes struggle with what it means to be in solidarity with those I am not in direct relationship with, but it is our mutual commitment to creating and maintaining a relationship that ultimately defines solidarity.

 

 

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Healing Central America Starts With Women by Ana Grande

Starting tomorrow, inspiring women will be pouring into Saint Paul from around North America for the Mary’s Pence biannual board meeting. As a newcomer to Mary’s Pence, most of the board are new to me, but I feel as if I know Ana Grande by reading her blog post “Healing Central America Starts With Women” featured in the Huffington Post last September. It tells about her recent trip to El Salvador with a partner organization to Mary’s Pence. Read on so that, like me, you can get to know this incredible woman of our board and the meaningful work she does!

-Dana Coppock-Pector

Healing Central America Starts With Women

By Ana Grande

Ana GrandeThroughout the summer months some media outlets focused on the high number of children crossing the border from Central America. There were many back and forth of what to do with the high number of children seeking asylum. While both sides argued what should happen to the children and Washington scurried to find a solution, none asked where the healing should begin.

Yes, the violence in Central America has escalated to levels usually seen during a civil strife. As in many cases, gang violence has a solution — but are we willing to invest in these? Educational and economic opportunities that allow children and youth to dream of a better tomorrow are integral to achieving peace. This is not to say that these are the only two solutions, but definitely part of a holistic approach to end the violence and begin the healing. Where do we start? Who do we start with?

In mid-August, a delegation of 16, myself included, ventured to El Salvador to work on a few projects, teach the children (ages 10) within the delegation that we are part of a global society, and as an organizer — to hear the stories of these afflicted communities. Our seven-day journey was more than we ever bargained and learned that the key to healing must start with women.

We found our projects with women-led co-ops through our partner organizations Mary’s Pence and SALEF. Our goal was to assess what they needed before our arrival, fundraise for these projects, and give the gift of self-sufficiency. We were not going to impose our own privilege as our desire was to replenish their wells so they could drink from them, a term and concept coined by the fathers of Liberation Theology.

Confecciones La ColoradaThe first Co-op, Confecciones La Colorada was made up of women who in order to survive their husband’s $3/day wages, decided to form a small business that could help their children succeed in life. Their co-op has raised funds to send over 10 kids to high school and a handful to college.

At La Colorada, we established a four-laptop & colored printer computer lab on their request. This would permit that their children don’t have to spend $5 to travel to the mainland and do their homework. In addition, it would become a small cyber-cafe for the locals, generating another source of income for the co-op. We ended that day by painting the co-op, breaking bread, and rejoicing in their stories of perseverance.

Our second co-op, Centro de Desarrollo Infantil, in La Libertad was heart-wrenching and heartwarming all at the same time. This is a community that didn’t give up on their children and strives to ensure quality education and better living conditions. This childcare center feeds the kids two meals a day and lets them dream of a better tomorrow. Their chalkboards barely have any trace of green on them and their playground is a semi-broken metal swing set. Prior to our arrival they requested funding to build a shelter over the playground, allowing the children to play even during the rainy season. We met the children, heard from their mothers and realized that women and members of the community want to find solutions to end violence and keep families together.

Delegation w First Lady Margarita

Yes, we met with the Vice Minister of External Affairs, Liduvina Magarin, and also with the First Lady of El Salvador, Margarita Villalta de Sanchez, and those meetings were the icing on the cake. Each, in their own way, echoed the sentiment of reconstructing communities through the emerging co-ops of the country and through the many infrastructural changes they are making to improve economic opportunities, good living wage jobs, and keep their country safe.

The women at each co-op told us of the many obstacles they have overcome, but more so the brighter future they are working toward. We walked away feeling welcomed into the lives of many and embraced by their humbleness in seeking the greater good. As partners in the journey of life, we were but a stepping stone in their progress and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Between Privilege and Knowledge

I’ve always had trouble with spelling. Considering how much I read as a child, this never really made sense to me. I can only hope to blame it on the prevalence of spell-check in my young adult paper-writing years. Both small typos and the blatant butchering of uncomplicated words could easily be remedied by the technology I had access to in my home.

Once, in elementary school, long before I was typing school papers, I have an incredibly strong memory of getting frustrated by my inability to spell “indigenous,” and going up to my teacher to ask why we were getting Monday off for “Indigenous Peoples Day” when the kitten calendar in my room said “Columbus Day.” I knew exactly who Columbus was, and that in 1492 he sailed the ocean-blue. His was an easy name to spell, and I had no idea what an “Indigenous Peoples” even was.

When my teacher sat me down and told me about the Trail of Tears, I don’t think she was trying to scare me, but to appeal to the shock value of this tragic part of our nation’s history. Whatever it was, it worked, and while I still couldn’t spell “indigenous” I was sure to never call it Columbus Day again.

This is my first tangible memory of that rock in the bottom of my stomach that I would like to call empathy but more accurately felt like guilt. It didn’t matter that as a descendent of immigrants and Quakers, my ancestors were not directly responsible for this particular historical tragedy. Other people, just because of who they were, had suffered in a way I never would. It was an uncomfortable feeling, but one that would trouble me for years to come.

Flash forward about 15 years—yesterday was Indigenous Peoples/Columbus Day. For me, once again, it meant that I could sleep in late. For thousands of others I can only imagine it feels like a national holiday celebrating the slaughter of their ancestors, the loss of their homelands, and the long history of systemic, pervasive persecution against their people. And as I lay in my bed, I thought about this discrepancy: my own privilege, and the historical inequalities that enable me to benefit from it.

Recently, one of my closest friends reminded me to “check my priviledge.” And yes, she spelled privilege with a “d” like “knowledge.” This error is not uncommon among us of the spell-check-generation, but always struck me as an ironic combination of these two concepts that are inextricably connected: the knowledge of one’s privilege, and the privilege of knowledge.

The path of forced emigration along the Trail of Tears that relocated thousands of Cherokees to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

The path of forced emigration along the Trail of Tears that relocated thousands of Cherokees
across the Mississippi to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

 

 

My academic advisor’s favorite quote regarding empathy was: “If you walk a mile in someone’s shoes, you’ll be a mile away from them, and you’ll have their shoes.” Well, what if I am standing still, while tens of thousands of Native Americans are driven off their land in the southeastern states and forced to move across the Mississippi to “Indian territory”? What if the federal government promised that their new land would remain unmolested forever, but then keeps cutting away at it, piece by piece, until there is nothing left? What if it’s even bigger than all that? What if it’s all of the Americas, North and South? When I did a report on Hérnan Cortéz in 4th grade, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach again, the same one I got when I studied the colonization of Africa in middle school. From my position of privilege, it is impossible for me to understand what those people went through, what their descendants still endure. Does that mean I should stop trying?

This weekend, at a Mary’s Pence event, I engaged in conversation with a woman about the differences between the two feet of Catholic social action: charity and social justice. Whether we address the present systems of injustice, or the underlying causes. Whether we help people to survive their present crisis, or work towards societal change by restructuring unjust systems. Charity is important, but justice is vital. This woman wasn’t sure young people (who sometimes need spell-check to spell “privilege”) would be able to grasp the difference. I believe we can.

Just Economics Executive Director Vicki Meath at an event.

Just Economics Executive Director
Vicki Meath at an event.

And it isn’t about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes—even with one day’s blisters, I will never truly understand a life I was not born into. It is about walking a mile alongside that person, and on the way listening to the story of their journey. It is about knowledge: about learning my history and theirs, even though it sometimes makes me deeply uncomfortable. It is about feeling that discomfort, recognizing my relative privilege, and using the benefits it affords me to fight for justice. This fight can be symbolic, such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious calling on Pope Francis to formally repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, or active, like Mary’s Pence grantee Just Economics, who advocate for living wages and systemic change by bringing together low-income people and people of privilege to advocate for the economic security of their community in Asheville, North Carolina.

Either way, it has to start with meaningful dialog. The ongoing struggles facing Native Americans, and everyone else touched by our society’s injustice, are deeply entrenched in social constructions and systemic inequality. Yet today, we have the theory and the means to speak out against it. There are always steps we can take, even little ones, once we know our direction. And beyond privilege, beyond knowledge, is action.

Dana Coppock-Pector

 

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