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Another Voice: The church as a racial healing circle

By Marianne Partee

#Onebody is where the unspeakable ugly stories of racial hatred, angry and fears are being spoken. We address white fear and naivety, factors that are pivotal to sustainable change. We address black fear and anger that is a hurdle to sustainable change. #Onebody's mission is racial reconciliation, by changing one heart and one mind at a time. #Onebody was well thought out in 2016 in response to the civil unrest and pyramid of protest around race in America.

#Onebody was organized for Catholic Parishioners from churches that are racially homogeneous. The churches are St. Martin DePorres with an African-American congregation in Buffalo; St. Lawrence bordering Buffalo and Cheektowaga, and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mother in Harris Hill. Both are predominately Caucasian congregations. Our churches began shared ministry and staff resulting in an interaction between the parishes, an interaction that was not welcoming. Our church parishes for the most part reflect de facto segregation.

With shared resources we had an opportunity to seize the moment and concentrate on the racial divide. Our churches mirrored the racial demographics of Buffalo and that of most churches. Our racial divide was merely unspoken. However in 2016 racial tensions were publicly high in the nation. There was racial bitterness, fear and rage in the air and in most conversations. The public reacted to the ambush of police officers in Dallas, riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. The #BlackLivesMatter movement was headline news. Anger and fear were sentiments by many blacks as well as whites. The 2016 media coverage has moved on to other stories, but #Onebody’s mission continues.

The #Onebody Healing Circle concentrates on tough painful questions. We asked for example, why you are afraid. As the first person spoke there was trepidation, stillness and silence in the room. Blacks were afraid for their children, of the police and in ways that the whites acknowledged had not been part of their life story. Whites were afraid of blacks, urban areas and resentment toward them for being white. Stories of anguish are told, such as having lived next door the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 or riding a bus in Baltimore during the 1960s being told to move up front because the back was for blacks. Participants unpack the burdens of racism: fear, rage, bitterness, naivety, white privilege and other social ills. #Onebody’s Healing Circle allows for healing to begin.

This year 2018 marks 50 years since the Civil Rights Act and Buffalo is ranked one of the top 16th most segregated cities in the nation. Racial healing cannot take place in silos; the conversation must be inclusive. Redemption happens when we release the resistance to change. Share your racial story with strength and organize to heal the racial divide.

Marianne Partee, Ph.D., is a parishioner of St. Martin DePorres and co-founder of  #Onebody.

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