Initiative still seeking to improve race relations

Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, left, gestured during a Moving Towards Oneness program in August. Annette Mandley-Turner, right, executive director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry, said the program began in 1988 as a “prejudice reduction process.” (Record File Photo by Marnie McAllister)

When racial unrest broke out in the city in 2020, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry looked for solutions in an initiative started more than three decades ago — Moving Towards Oneness.

The initiative seeks to improve race relations by building relationships across races.

When the initiative was developed in 1988, it was referred to as a “prejudice reduction process,” because “people weren’t ready to hear the word ‘racism,’ ” said Annette Mandley-Turner, executive director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry.

At the time, there was a pronounced separation between members of the faithful, she noted. An individual’s neighborhood, the school they attended, their socio-economic status and race became “brick walls” that kept them apart, she said.

Back then — as is often the case now — people were afraid to travel to certain parts of town, Mandley-Turner said, noting that she was cautioned to avoid a certain neighborhood at night or she might end up the victim of racial violence.

Likewise, for example, those who lived in the East End were not comfortable traveling to communities in the South End and those who lived in the south would not venture east, she said.

“There were so many misconceptions about each other,” she explained in a recent interview. “It was real to some people. They couldn’t go beyond certain streets. … It became clear to me something needed to be done.”

To that end, the Office of Multicultural Ministry started the Moving Towards Oneness: Prejudice Reduction Process. The first meeting, a one-day event held at the old St. Denis School, drew 22 individuals, she said.

Early discussions centered around how to promote friendship among churches and how to address prejudice, said Mandley-Turner. The premise was:

“If we can take a stab at the differences driving us apart, we can have an opportunity at being one. … It was met with some uncertainty but the ones who were committed” worked at it, she said.

Three decades later, Mandley-Turner gave thanks for the seeds they planted and that Moving Towards Oneness was available.

In May of 2020, when George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., the “window dressings” covering racial tensions came down, she said.

“We’d like to think we’d turned the page on this, but it was clear we hadn’t,” said Mandley-Turner. People started calling her office asking, “ ‘Help us make sense of this.’ ”

Since then, Black and white individuals from about 15 parishes have worked through the six-week Moving Towards Oneness Process.

The process called them to gather and share meals, prayers and their stories, and it has borne fruit, said Mandley-Turner. Based on recommendations made by individuals who’ve participated in the process, the Office of Multicultural Ministry has created a five-year plan of action focusing on several priorities, including re-establishing a Catholic school in the West End to serve students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and developing an archdiocesan strategic plan to address racial injustice.

For skeptics, Mandley-Turner noted that the initiative isn’t about “tokenism.”

“People are coming because they want to learn more about their (African American) brothers and sisters,” she said.

The initiative has created relationships that have extended beyond the six weeks, she noted. One group still meets for dinner monthly and one continues to meet and discuss social justice issues, she said.

“They are working to make sure we change that narrative, that the path we are on will lead us to oneness,” she said.

A new cycle of Moving Towards Oneness will commence in 2023, 35 years after it began. The new process will incorporate the U.S. bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter against racism,

“Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.” Participants will read and discuss the pastoral during the first week, said Mandley-Turner.

To learn more about the 2023 process, call the Office of Multicultural Ministry at 636-0296.

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