Those who gathered Jan. 18 at the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville for the 36th annual Archdiocesan Community-Wide Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration heard that having the “difficult and uncomfortable” conversations about racism is taking up Jesus Christ’s mission and building up the Kingdom of God.
The event — held with a sparse congregation due to safety restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic — included African drumming and music from the Archdiocesan Gospel Choir. It was organized by the archdiocese’s Office of Multicultural Ministry. The theme of this year’s celebration was “It’s Time to Repair.”
Deacon Dennis Nash delivered the homily and told his listeners that the event served to commemorate and give thanks for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also served to “give testimony to the truth” that more than 50 years after Dr. King’s death, this nation still struggles with the “sin of racism.”
“The death of George Floyd and right here in our own community, the death of Breonna Taylor brought the injustice of systemic racism to the forefront of our public consciousness once more,” said Deacon Nash, who serves as director of the Diaconate Office. “And most recently, the mob violence in our nation’s capital has only served to reinforce that there’s something terribly wrong, something terribly evil among us.”
Deacon Nash told the congregation that because they’re gathering to honor Dr. King during a time of “darkness,” they must ask, “Where is the light? How do we repair the division? How do we mend the wounds and begin to heal? Where do we even begin to carry on his legacy and continue to strive for his vision and his dream?”
The answer may lie in understanding white privilege and the role it plays in fueling racism.
Deacon Nash said he grew up in largely white surroundings and had never heard the term “white privilege” until he was an adult.
“Until recently I was put off by that phrase. I saw it as a reference to white supremacy. By my definition, it didn’t apply to me,” he said.
He has since changed his way of thinking. Last year, he had an “awakening” that helped him understand “white privilege,” he said.
This “awakening,” came after watching the viral video of an incident in New York City’s Central Park, where a white woman called the police on a Black man after he requested she put her dog on a leash. The woman claimed the man had threatened her, but video footage showed this was not the case, said Deacon Nash.
“I was troubled. … I had an uncomfortable feeling, but I struggled to name it,” he said. It wasn’t until reading an article entitled, “The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it,” by Father Bryan Massingale that “the light came on,” he said.
“What had disturbed me about the Amy Cooper (the woman in Central Park) incident was that she was exercising white privilege,” he said. “Father Massingale said she ‘assumed her lies would be more credible than his truth, she assumed the police would back her up, she assumed she had the upper hand. She assumed this because he was Black and she was white.’ ”
Father Massingale also understood that “racism in this country exists for one reason only, to protect the culture of white privilege. … As part of that legacy, I’m part of the problem,” said Deacon Nash.
If things will change, Deacon Nash said, silence can no longer be an option.
“Systemic racism will not go away until white people begin to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that privilege does exist,” said Deacon Nash. “It’s time for the white community to speak up.”
It will take “courage” to start these conversations, said Deacon Nash, but they need to happen in “our inner circle and with those we love, our children, grandchildren, relatives and friends, co-workers and yes the people in our church,” he said. “They will be difficult and uncomfortable but let us not forget we are not alone, always Emanuel, God is with us. … In doing this good work we take up the mission of Jesus Christ. We will build up the Kingdom of God one conversation, one person, one heart at a time.”
The service was live-streamed on the Cathedral of the Assumption’s YouTube channel.