Black History Month Event Furthers Understanding

praisedancers
                                       St. Augustine of Hippo Praise Dancers, East St. Louis, Illinois


‘We’ve Come This Far by Faith’ Celebrates Catholic Faith, Faces
By Mary Flick, CSJ

Celebrating our oneness is a timely call, and an appropriate theme of “We’ve Come This Far by Faith,” a celebration in honor of Black History Month, held on Sun., Feb. 7 in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet chapel. More than 100 gathered for the afternoon celebration, which featured song, reflection and praise dancers.

The program took shape as a response to the continuing racial unrest across the nation, following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

dempsey2“Racism is an unspoken truth,” says CSJ Associate Dorothy Dempsey (pictured right), who was part of the event. “How do we move forward if we never understand our backgrounds?”

That understanding was furthered at the celebration by the St. Augustine of Hippo Praise Dancers from East St. Louis, Illinois. Filled with energy and emotion, they shared more than dance as the song repeated, “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.”

The understanding was furthered by the voice and keyboard of Michelle Williams (pictured below), as she performed,
“Make Me a Blessing to Someone cox2Today.”

Associate Corliss Cox (pictured right, bottom) welcomed those attending, inviting them to “pray prayers of praise to a God with whom all things are possible, asking that justice, compassion and unity will be our goal as we reach out to the Dear Neighbor without distinction in our Churches, our neighborhoods and throughout St. Louis.” 

Father Tim Cook (pictured below), pastor of Saints Teresa and Bridge Church in North St. Louis, shared his story of growing up in the North St. Louis County neighborhood of Florissant during the 1960s and 70s, what he called, a “Catholic ghetto.”

He attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School, and was taught by the CSJs. He told of the pastor at Holy Angels parish in Kinloch who drove students from his African-American parish to Aquinas each day. Those students, in particular, broadened Cook’s learning beyond the classroom. “When we look in the face of another and can talk to them, barriers will inevitably breakdown,” he said. “We see what we have in common, not what makes us different.”

cook2Cook also spoke of his experience as a seminarian, attending a Gospel choir concert at Visitation-Holy Ghost parish. “I was transfixed,” he recalled. “I had no idea how it would touch my heart and soul. Music is so freeing. That speaks to me of the Spirit of God. Unless the person who is singing is a believer, something’s missing.”

Dorothy Dempsey offered a reflection on the St. Louis African-Americans who have influenced her life, noting Rep. Bill Clay, activist Percy Green and civil rights lawyer Frankie Freeman, among others. “They were not afraid to step forward in faith and challenge the world,” she said. “They have paved the way for all of us toward a brighter tomorrow.” 

But first, we must face today. “In our world today, people are just neutral,” Dempsey said. “We cannot remain neutral. What affects our lives affects everyone else’s lives. We need to open up avenues to understand each other. God has called all of us to make a difference.”

That difference can be made in the smallest of ways – even through prayer and praise when people gather as one. 

williams                                                                                                               Soprano Michelle Williams 

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