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Category Archives: Racism

HR 40

Last week, I joined hundreds of eager citizens desiring to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cory Booker, Danny Glover and my friend Katrina Browne (whose ancestors were involved in the slave trade) testify on HR-40 on Reparations for Slavery.  You can hear their short, powerful statements at

Most of us who had arrived at 7:30am were not allowed to enter the hearing room at 10:00am because we were told it was “full.”  Folks had traveled from NY, NC, PA, bringing children who patiently waited until reporters, interns and ‘important’ people jammed ahead of them in the hall.  I enjoyed talking to people, asking about their stories, the meaning of t-shirts connecting many as members of ADOS# (African Descendants of Slavery).

No amount of money can pay for over two million lives lost in the Middle Passage or over 2.5 million slaves who built the US economy that so many of us benefit from today.  Or for the extreme suffering of families torn apart, language and culture lost, the rapes, the beatings, the lynchings that persist to today in the form of police killings of young Black men.

My eyes were opened in a deep way in my first year of teaching at Montgomery Catholic High School in Alabama in 1963, just 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.  The signs over some court bathrooms had been removed, MLK’s bus boycott had happened, but our small white Catholic high school was still segregated from the tiny African-American high school.  Separate, very unequal and a ridiculous use of resources.  It was an amazing year of change, of making Black friends, forming an integrated baseball team, rousing anger, becoming a revolutionary, realizing that I had grown up in similar segregation in Missouri and would fight the rest of my life to end it.

As Katrina Browne pointed out, white folks whose ancestors weren’t in the US before 1863 still ‘leap-frogged’ over the descendants of African slaves economically, politically, in every way.  Racism is not an abstract notion, but a continuing daily form of oppression and thievery from African-Americans who still do not have equality in education, housing, political power, health care, justice in an unjust court and penal system.

Let’s make things right!  Now!  Why wait?  African Americans have been waiting over 400 years!

Daddy's photoMLK monument


April 4 will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and the explosion of Washington, DC.  We will honor his legacy of peace, justice and non-violent resistance to racism with a prayer walk, service and march beginning at the MLK Memorial at 7:00 am.  Hopefully you will join us to honor this great man who lives on in our hearts, minds and actions for justice and an end to the discrimination and slaughter of African-Americans.

April 4 is also the anniversary of my father’s death, a death of suffering, loneliness, confusion and disease.  He and Martin Luther King are among my most powerful ancestors, one by blood and my early formation, one by his example, words and my choice to follow in his footsteps.

I hope to honor both in my thinking, words and actions, in my passion for truth, justice, peace and non-violent ways of bringing love into this suffering country.  Please join me  in body or spirit, and bring with you all your ancestors -spiritual, blood, land ancestors – to walk together in peace.


What we water in ourselves is what grows into this world, right?  If there is violence, racism, ideas of “me,” “mine”and separation, where did they come from but our minds, our wrong notions of reality?

The practice of mindfulness has helped me come to know my true self better, to see that I am not separate from any other human, any suffering or any joy in this world.  “Suffering that appears far away is closer than you think.  It is all near, because it is all US.  What if we are already in heaven and are missing it because of our wrong ideas?”

We read these words before our morning meditation several days ago from Together we are One by Thich Nhat Hanh.  This specific chapter by Larry Ward is full of great insights about the false notion of “race” and the suffering that flows from it.  If our meditation can transform not only our thinking but our actions, heaven is right here, right now.  Mindfulness can guide us to transforming war into peace, police killings into unified communities.  We are ONE, but we often don’t realize this truth, become fearful and act in ways that harm one another.  What if there is really no need for fear or anger or revenge?  What if our unity, our deep love for one another IS heaven!

Why not live this one day as if we have already arrived in the Ultimate and dwell there?  Together.

Have you heard the protests against Trump’s bombing of Syria?  Who is speaking out against this dangerous action? Yet another undeclared war!

Yesterday I attended an excellent panel on Islamaphobia at Takoma Park Elementary.   I was very moved by all three speakers, two of them Muslim women, Dr. Maha Hilal of the DC Muslims for Justice Coalition and Ramah Kudaimi of the Washington Peace Center.  Dr. Hilal’s dissertation was entitled “Too damn Muslim to be Trusted: The War on Terror and the US Involvement.” She explained the term “Islamaphobia” as part of our government policy to enforce laws discriminating against Muslims for the purposes of promoting “war on terror.” It includes violence against Muslims in this country, dehumanization of Muslims, hate crimes, justification for torture, imprisonment without due process, dark prisons in other countries, Guantanamo Bay, criminalization of charity, bans based on religion, kill lists, drone bombing in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

The culture of this country, supported by media, television programs, stereotypes, puts the onus on the Muslim community for “terrorism.” Whereas the true fuel for terrorist actions comes from our own government policies of war, bombing of innocent civilians, increasing severe poverty, stealing oil and other natural resources from countries in the Middle East which are predominantly Muslim, killing and persecuting Muslim people, well over a million in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and northern Africa. These policies have been going on long before Trump and are supported by white supremacy and (I would say) imperialism of our government and our US people.

In other words, the cause of terrorism is in US, not in the Muslim community. So we need to focus the solution, not on changing the Muslim community, pointing out the “good” Muslims who are peaceful, making them responsible for uncovering the “bad” Muslims. The solution is to CHANGE US! Our discriminating laws, such as the “CVE” (Countering Violent Extremism) programs, (spearheaded by the U of MD and Montgomery County!) that equate activism with terrorism. This is a Homeland Security plan to recruit teachers, social workers and police to target youth who express objection to government policies (in violation of their 1st and 4th Constitutional rights of free speech, assembly and security from unreasonable search and seizure), gather information on these young people and stop protest against government policies and actions. Policies like this feel like the beginning of fascism in our country! We have to focus on stopping this, not on changing Muslim communities, practices or “saving” Muslim women! They are some of the most outspoken against these injustices!

Contact or for more information on how to stop CVE in our schools and community.

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today I heard a part of a friend’s story I hadn’t heard before, one that reminded me both of how much MLK’s dream has come true and how much more of it we have yet to fulfill in 2011. My friend recalled that he attended a Catholic church in his youth in St. Mary’s county, MD in which blacks were seated at the back of the church and had segregated weekend activities from white parishioners. I was curious about the time period – 1950? “No”, he said, “the early 1970’s.” Yet today, we sat in a non-segregated (non-Catholic) church hall sharing stories of our common religious upbringing and the reasons why each of us had grown away from it. Our journies back to a spiritual life took very different paths, but neither of us returned to the church of our youth, the church of our parents.

Of course, the racism in the churches in the 20th century was a reflection of the racism in our culture, our government and our laws during most of our lives. My friend and I both realized the role that racial segregation and the dismissal of women drove each of us from organized religion. Yet we needed a Power greater than ourselves to survive, live, thrive. We had to find a Power greater than any organized religion and find a way within our hearts not to dismiss the valuable gifts in religions and religious people along our paths.

I continue to be shocked by the horrors of segregation, even though my own experience of it was also complete. So complete that I never saw a black person in my Catholic parish. Did black Catholics in Kansas City have their own parishes? Where? Were there also segregated churches there as late at the 70’s? Most likely.

I must continue to plumb the depths of my own experience in my writing and encourage my black friends to write, to share their stories, to pass down our heritage of both suffering and transformation, to keep MLK’s dream alive in our own lives.

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream, Obama’s dream is my dream. I couldn’t say it better.
Happy Birthday, Martin.

This week I worked four mornings on my book…more editing of Ch 3, “The Journey to Loretto,” readying it to send to a friend at the Motherhouse who figures as a character in this period of my life. After the new Ch 1 (“The Action”), Ch 2 (“DC Women’s Detention”), my co-conspirator Catherine begins asking questions about my life in the convent, how I moved into political action. This segue device allows me to build the themes of religious and social awareness that give the plot meaning. I suppose using only three chapters of “backstory” is better than five. I know there is more work ahead to tighten up the plot, to keep it focused on the action, the “leadup” and consequences, while being true to the internal story of what is happening in my life as the events of the late sixties move me closer and closer to an irrevocable stand against the War in Vietnam.

Ch 4 now includes both the beginning of my civil rights involvement in 1963 and the nuns’ attack on the St. Louis police station in 1968, following the thematic story of my participation in the civil rights movement rather than the chronological one. How do I bring in all the events in Kansas City from 1964-67? Primarily as the other political threads of my development – working to stop poverty and war, in addition to racism? The story of my relationship with David Darst, a major catalyst to my own action in DC?

Novels get to move all over the place. Can I do that successfully in a memoir? Others have – Azar Nafisi for one. I also finished reading another Pulitzer prize winning novel – The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau – that hints at the ending but never gives it away, weaves and builds a story by telling it from the viewpoints of three main characters. She keeps to a basic chronology but also develops the theme by saving key pieces of information for the ending. Good fiction and non-fiction can skillfully weave a story without adhering to a strict chronological line. Next I’ll focus on the relationship with David, my admiration of him as teacher, my own development in “teaching with my life,” his action….leading to mine…..then I’ve sort of covered the main things necessary to moving forward with the rest of the book. It can be refined, edited, but I’m close to having a completely different approach that starts with the central action, develops theme and plays with a different approach to chronology.

It may or may not be the one that editors and publishers prefer, but I will have it to offer as an alternative to strict chronology, a version that focuses on “exciting” actions for our action-oriented audience.

Have you writers out there ever struggled with this question of theme and chronology? I suppose the Zen approach would be that every moment of our lives contains all of human history – past, present and future.

Photo by lambertwm

Yesterday, I had the privilege of leading a Diversity Workshop at a local high school. This workshop was one of the great passions of my teaching life for 20 years in two public school systems. It is so powerful, energizing and hopeful!

It pumped me up, reconnected me to teens, took all of us to a deeper level of sharing, especially in Caucuses, Hidden Identities and Speak-outs. There were so many examples in this group of suffering from alcoholism, conflicts with parents, suicide and cancer, in addition to prejudice and stereotyping. Leading the workshop requires a great deal of skill and training to help young people open up so much pain and to look at solutions.

The workshop is even more powerful when led by teenagers. They learn to listen deeply, to help other students connect to friends who are sharing similar forms of suffering and solutions. Sharing cuts pain in half, bringing it out into the open in a setting where confidentiality and respect are the rules. The DW makes it possible for young people to hear that there is someone else suffering from depression, an alcoholic parent, death or stereotyping in the same way, to help bring them out of isolation. Also to hear that another student cherishes her Jewish faith or Latin food or loves to create art, creating connection and hope. Revealing some of the pain and joy with teachers and counselors who can also follow up with individuals and find inspiration in becoming workshop leaders themselves – such a joy for me! It works! It’s still about the most powerful model I’ve found for taking a group of teenagers to a very deep level of sharing in one amazing three hour session. The possibilities for other classes and activities flowing from it depend on the commitment and enthusiasm of a few teachers and students. I am so happy to help younger teachers carry on my tradition of the Diversity Workshop and Peace Studies classes!

Watering seeds of Hope, peace and joy feels so GOOD!!!!!!

After helping to lead an amazing women’s meditation retreat this weekend, I turned my attention to my homework assignment for class at the Writer’s Center last night. I had the opportunity to submit a draft proposal of my book (for publishers) and sample chapters for my teacher and classmates to read and critique. Picking up where the last blog left off – at the choice for a new beginning for the book – I explored possibilities. Which story would grab the reader, whether a busy publisher or agent, or a person in the bookstore flipping through the first page of my book?

Instead of using the chapter “Journey to Loretto” as my beginning (in which I travel by train from Kansas City to Louisville, Kentucky, then by bus to the Loretto Motherhouse at age 17 to join the convent), I decided to jump ahead to the incident that stimulated my first batch of hate mail. The chapter begins with a phone call from a leader of the Black Liberators in St. Louis in 1968 asking me to find a way to free him from police headquarters before the cops killed him. I had to organize a protest of 50 nuns and the press to get the attention of the police chief. You’ll find out what happens when you read the book.

A gripping beginning. But it shortens the action of the whole story to just 17 months of my life! Is that enough? It is the most “action-packed” and public part of the story, covered in the press in Missouri, Washington, DC and eventually throughout the country and other parts of the world. But it might leave out some of you who are reading this blog!

Will I be able to weave in the “backstory” that explains “How a regular nun, high school teacher, committed to her vows and to religious life, became a revolutionary?” I will need to establish the “ordinariness” of my life, the progression of the radical changes in my thinking, awareness and behavior and also the changes that were happening in our society in the late sixties. I had established these changes in the original first five chapters of my book, so I also included some excerpts from those chapters for class critique.

Again, a waiting period until our next (delayed) class in two weeks!
What do I do while waiting? More WRITING, revising, cutting!

What are you doing this week? Any writing? Revising? Cutting of anything?