UP Catholic 02 19 2016 E Edition Page 6

T hroughout its history, the United States has become a home to people of varying cultures, backgrounds, and races. The nation is a place of op- portunity. But a variety of barriers, including racial discrimination, have made it more diffi- cult for those oppor- tunities to become reality. During Black History Month, we have the chance to reflect upon issues of race and diversity and to recognize the many contributions African-Americans have made to the Church and to society. Over the centuries, many inspiring black saints have illuminated what it means to be a person of faith. These include St. Monica, a wife and mother known for her dedication to prayer; her son St. Augustine, a doctor of the Church; St. Martin de Porres, a Dominican who cared for the sick and the poor; and St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave and patron saint of trafficked persons. Here in the United States, the rich culture and experiences diversity brings is beneficial to the communi- ty and the Church. For example, the Knights of Peter Claver (KPC) is the largest African American Catholic organization in the United States. Named after a saint who ministered to slaves in the Americas, the orga- nization provides men of color op- portunities to be active in their faith, helping at-risk youth and promoting social justice. The KPC Ladies Auxil- iary offers similar opportunities for women. In education, St. Katharine Drexel created Xavier University of New Orleans as the first U.S. Catholic institution of higher education for African Americans in 1925. Addi- tionally, the National Black Catholic Congress formed to help African Americans participate in the Church and in society. Each of these organi- zations has helped to encourage black Americans to embrace and use their gifts. The struggle in the Unit- ed States for racial equality fained mo- mentum in the middle decades of the twentieth century. This struggle was one of the critical issues that drove Michigan Catholic Conferences (MCC) advoca- cy agenda in the 1960s, shortly after the organization's formation. The first public statement from MCCs board of directors, in fact, called for civil rights for all races and the active coopera- tion between all religious groups prior to the passage of the National Civil Rights Act in 1964. A year after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, Catholic priests and religious sisters walked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in his freedom march to Selma, which drew attention to the need for voting rights of black Americans. Through its public advo- cacy, the Conference opposed segre- fation in schools, unfair loan practic- es, and race-based criteria for home sales. MCC then turned its attention to ensuring civil rights through the provision of direct services to those in need and the promotion of policies in education, social services, and social action. More recently, in 2006, MCC joined a broad coalition opposed to a ballot proposal that sought to ban affir- mative action policies in Michigan. While this measure was ultimately approved by voters and upheld by the Supreme Court, staff spoke of affir- mative action as one important tool that could be used toward ensuring diversity in the workplace as well as the classroom. America has made important prog- ress as it addresses racial discrimina- tion and promotes tolerance. Unfor- tunately, in recent years and in some places, racial tensions have continued and have seemingly grown. During Black History Month, let us remember the contributions of those who have come before us. Let us take responsibility to address the reality of injustice. And let us promote peace and dialogue as a way to break down racial stereotypes and contribute towards a culture of solidarity. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, we must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools. The Word from Lansing is a regu- lar column for Catholic news outlets and is written by Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) President and CEO Paul A. Long. Michigan Cath- olic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state. 6 February 19, 2016 THE U.P. CATHOLIC COMMENTARY www.upcatholic.org Black History Month and the need for continued dialogue DURING BLACK HISTORY MONTH, LET US REMEMBER THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THOSE WHO HAVE COME BEFORE US. LET US TAKE RESPONSIBILITY TO ADDRESS THE REALITY OF INJUSTICE. THE WORD FROM LANSING Paul A. Long Remember to pray for our clergy and religious

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