After the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, parishioners at Christ the King Church in Nashville joined the national discussion about racism in the United States. Those discussions have led to the parish’s Anti-Racism Initiative that includes new discussions on the topic beginning in October.
“People were asking a lot of questions about race and violence” after Floyd’s death, said Jon Stotts, director of adult formation for Christ the King. “My priority was to give people a chance to come together and process.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stotts couldn’t bring people together physically, so he organized a series of online discussions titled “Why Blacks Lives Matter” focused on the broader issues of racism rather than the specific organization, he said.
“That was an opportunity for us to unpack some of the events that were going on,” and consider the ways society privileges white people, he said.
“It generated a tremendous amount of energy,” not only for more adult education sessions but in ways parishioners could get more involved in the community to work toward racial justice, Stotts said.
A brainstorming session produced a list of possibilities. “We went through that list to see what was doable and set priorities,” Stotts said. “We identified five initiatives. One of those was to generate additional opportunities for education in the parish.”
That led to the online series, “Understanding and Confronting the Evils of Racism.”
The first session will be held 10:30-11:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, titled “A Eucharistic Understanding of Community and the Evils of Racism.”
“The idea was to start broadly where all Catholics can find themselves in agreement,” Stotts said.
The second session, to be held 10:30-11:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, is titled “The Call to Righteousness and Justice in the Christian Scriptures.”
“Then we’re going to zoom in,” Stotts said, to take a more specific look at structural racism in the Nashville community.
The title of the third session will be “Structural Racism in Action: North Nashville and the Legacy and Impact of I-40.” The talk will be held 7-8:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5.
“We want to have a better understanding of where we come from and where we’re headed,” Stotts said.
All the sessions are open to everyone, Stotts said. People can register for the online sessions at the parish website, www.ctk.org.
The plan is to have more adult formation sessions as part of the Anti-Racism Initiative in the future, Stotts said.
“This is a divisive issue. It divides our Church, it continues to divide our country,” Stotts said. Yet, during the sessions this summer, people were eager to discuss racism.
“Most people who were showing up had a sense that something was wrong and thought this would be a valuable way to proceed,” Stotts said.
Although the discussions were difficult, “there weren’t people there to pick a fight,” Stotts said. “It was an opportunity to create a space where people were free to speak with the understanding that nobody has all the answers.”
The summer sessions were recorded and are available for viewing at the parish website.
As a parish whose members are predominantly white, Stotts said, “One of the biggest hurdles we found in doing this work, we just don’t have a lot of proximity to folks not in our social class and who don’t look like us.”
The people of color who participated in the summer sessions “were very open about sharing their experiences,” Stotts said.
The people of the parish “are interested in learning more and seem to be open to recognizing we could be doing more as a parish,” he added.
The other initiatives Christ the King is pursing include:
- Starting a book club. That group started with the book “How to be an Antiracist” by author and historian Ibram X. Kendi, which discusses concepts of racism and the author’s proposals for anti-racist individual actions and systemic changes.
Another book the club read was “The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein. The book challenges the notion that segregation was the result of actions by private individuals and examines how government structures encouraged segregation.
“That was a really powerful read because of the level of detail he went into,” Stotts said. The book will coincide with the discussion in the third session about the impact of the construction of Interstate 40 on North Nashville, he added.
- Establishing a working group to work with St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nashville, which was founded to serve the African American Catholic community in the city.
“We want to come to a better understanding of that parish’s history and come to a better understanding of how the parishes can work together,” Stotts said. “And an understanding of what it means to be Catholic from a very different perspective.”
- Establishing a working group to invite parishioners “to write small profiles of when they realized they were participating in a racist society,” Stotts said. “The first step is acknowledging that it is real.”
The profiles will be posted on the parish website over the next couple of months, he said.
- Establishing a committee to review agencies in the city already involved in racial justice work to see how Christ the King parish can get involved, “instead of reinventing the wheel,” Stotts said.
There are many resources available for people to begin studying about racism and racial justice, Stotts said, including the book “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church,” by the moral theologian Father Bryan Massingale. For more information about Christ the King’s Anti-Racist Initiative, visit www.ctk.org.