By Deacon Charles Williams
I’m an alumnus of Benedictine High School when it was in the heart of Richmond. I was one of just two African Americans in my class. In 1967, the spring of my sophomore year, we celebrated the completion of the athletic season at a recreation club out in the suburbs. We had good food, fun games, and of course, the letter ceremony. When it was finally time to go swimming, management spoke privately to our faculty sponsor.
“He can’t go in the pool,” they said.
The ‘he’ was me. That day I felt the bitter sting of racism that every black person in this country will experience at some point in their life. To their credit, that day the coaches replied with, “Fine. Then no one will go swimming.”
In solidarity, my classmates and I all packed up our gear, got back on the green Benedictine cadet bus, and left together.
Now, fast-forward to 2020.
Over the past six weeks I have had Zoom conversations with a number of groups. The common thread from those conversations has been the question of, “what can we do?” My answer is that the fight against pervasive systemic racism is still being waged and there are ways to get involved, but the much tougher job in regard to race relations in this country is to change the hearts and minds of individuals.
As Christians we know that only God can change us. As disciples of Jesus Christ, our job is to help God make a change. Inwardly, we can do that by first dealing with our own implicit biases. We all have them. We can become aware and resist temptation to passively give in to our own biases. I strongly encourage everyone to read the article, “The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It” to help with this process. Begin to learn and understand the history of racism in our country and examine your conscience to extinguish similar patterns in your own thoughts and beliefs.
Outwardly, we can have the courage to call out the evil when we encounter it. When we hear the racist joke or derogatory comments about a group of people, say something. Let people know it’s wrong! With the headlines incessantly blaring at us, pay attention to the message behind the rhetoric and exercise your right to vote accordingly.
We are at a pivotal moment in our culture. I know it may be daunting and intimidating. If persons or groups need help to understand, to enter into the conversation, to persevere in the struggle, please, reach out to the Office for Black Catholics. We have resources to advise, support, and teach.
Deacon Charles Williams served on the Agency Board of Directors for Commonwealth Catholic Charities from 2015-2017. Because of his passionate commitment to social justice, CCC 's leaders nominated Deacon Williams for the Catholic Charities USA Keep the Dream Alive Honors award in 2016. Deacon Williams was one of only five people to receive the award that year. He currently serves as the Director of the Office for Black Catholics at the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.