With chants calling for racial justice, close to 200 people marched from 12th Street and West Broadway, across from St. Augustine Church, to the federal courthouse in downtown Louisville June 6.
“Black Catholics Unite: Stand For Justice March,” was a grassroots initiative organized by young adults in the black Catholic community.
Members of the clergy and individuals of different racial groups came out to support them.
One of the organizers, Tianna Barnes-Palmer, a member of St. Martin de Porres Church, said she watched the local protests and marches unfold on social media.
“I heard young people asking where the Catholic presence was,” said Barnes-Palmer during an interview before marching downtown.
“We wanted to show that black Catholics are engaged. That we care and we’re ready to stand for the injustices black people are experiencing in America.”
Father John Judie, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville who attended, addressed the gathering, noting that racial justice wasn’t only the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is also “God’s dream,” he said.
“Racism is a deeply rooted systemic problem and it is as dangerous and destructive as cancer in the blood. It works constantly to eat away and destroy the very spirit and soul of our human community,” said Father Judie. “For African Americans in the United States, it can be traced back as far as 1619, when the first shipload of our African ancestors was taken from the motherland and brought into slavery in this country. America has a shameful history of how black folks have been treated here ever since.”
Slavery, said Father Judie, was a “violation and betrayal of the dream of God.”
That betrayal and violation continue today in the “lack of healthcare insurance, less access to healthcare, less than adequate housing, the preferential treatment given to whites over people of color in the corporate world, academic institutions and in the church,” he said.
Father Judie said there needs to be “radical, systemic change … that digs into the very depths of every person’s soul.”
African American young adults who marched downtown said they want their voices heard and that they need the church’s support now more than ever.
Following are their voices:
Tianna Barnes-Palmer, who is the mother of a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, said the recent violence against blacks is difficult to explain to her children.
“It was challenging explaining to my 12-year-old daughter why this is going on, but it provided an opportunity for me to explain to her how some blacks are treated in America. I have a 15-year-old son who will be driving soon and become an adult. I’m worried he could be the next Trayvon Martin. That he could be profiled, shot and killed,” she said.
Martin was a 17-year-old who was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., in 2012. He was found with a pack of candy.
“It’s not fair that our people are shot and killed.”
She added, “Police officers are not held accountable for murder and taking black lives.”
Charles Dillard, a member of St. Augustine Church, shares Barnes-Palmer’s fear.
“We’re still getting targeted as African Americans by the police. It’s the same fight our ancestors were fighting not even 50 years ago. I don’t want to be the next guy or I don’t want my child to be shot by the police or a racist man in the city,” said Dillard, adding that he’s been the victim of racial profiling on many occasions.
Dillard is the father of two young girls. He also has nephews whom he worries about as well, he noted. Dillard said he’s also concerned the Archdiocese of Louisville might merge the historically black churches.
“We don’t want that. We want to be strong individually and show the city that we can come together to fight injustice. We want to show that we have a voice and a presence in the city,” he said.
Marshall Washington, a member of Christ the King Church, said prayers and the support of the church are critical at this time.
“What we really need is the support of the church and faith in God because that’s what will get us through these trying times. We need to maintain constant prayer and hope that our cries for help are recognized by those in power,” said Washington.
The violence recently seen against African Americans is “heartbreaking, but not surprising. I expect this response from law enforcement and those in power. I’m glad it’s bringing awareness of the issues we deal with to the general populace,” he said.
Kenya Turner, a member of St. Martin de Porres Church who helped to organize the march, said it’s important at this moment to highlight Catholic social teaching, which states that humans were created in the image and likeness of God and therefore have inherent dignity.
Tuner said what she thinks blacks need from the church right now is “support and acknowledgment… to acknowledge that we are one and to acknowledge the special gifts that we bring to the whole Catholic community.
“As black Catholics, it’s important also to come together in solidarity to say to the city, to say to the state, to say to the world that we see, we acknowledge what’s going on and let the world know we are in support of each other in our faith,” she said.
Violence against black individuals is nothing new, she added.
“The recent events are unfortunately compounded examples of what has been happening all throughout American history. What makes it different now is that we have cameras that can document what’s happening. Prior to this, there were photographs that only captured a small piece of what was happening. Now in the electronic age, we actually have film that can document before, during and after.”