By Gregory Kepferle, CEO of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County
“What do you coloreds want anyway?” The astonishingly rude and ignorant question in the town hall of an all-white enclave near Detroit was addressed to Dr. Isaiah McKinnon, then the Chief of Police of the City of Detroit. As the black Chief of Police, he had been invited to speak to the white community perhaps in the hope of strengthening race relations. The Chief deftly and diplomatically turned the tables. “Well, sir, what is it that you want?” When the white man responded, the Chief replied, “We want the same things.”
What do any of us really want? When we wrestle with that question and dig deep beyond our surface fears, racial prejudices, ambitions and desires, we find our common humanity in all our beauty and in all our brokenness. We want to live. We want to breathe. We want to be safe. We want to be happy and free from fear. We want to enjoy our family and friends. We want to be healthy. We want to be included. We want to be treated fairly. We want to live in freedom, to worship as we choose, to travel freely and to have a say in who represents us and in laws that affect our lives. We want to know the truth. We want to make our own decisions. We want to be heard. We want the opportunity to use our gifts to our fullest. We want to be financially secure. We want the opportunity for good jobs that pay fairly. We want the opportunity to learn. We want to live in decent housing and to be able to afford our homes. We want to be able to enjoy the beauty around us. We want to be treated with dignity and respect. We want our lives to matter. We want to love and to be loved.
“What do we want? Simply love and justice.”
If we want all these good things for ourselves, ought we not want them for our neighbors, too? On a personal level, it’s as simple as the Golden Rule and Gospel Justice: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And on a societal level, it’s as basic as wanting the common good, equity and inclusion, liberty and justice for all. And when that common decency, freedom and justice is delayed and denied over and over again to an entire race of people or to individuals based on their race, that pattern of exclusion, inequity, constriction and partiality in laws, customs, behaviors and institutions is rightly termed systemic racism.
In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., recognized the connection between the personal and the social: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Last Saturday in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, I joined a small but mighty gathering of 300 inter-faith leaders (including Bishop Cantú, Father Jon Pedigo, other clergy and staff from Catholic Charities) and other community members. We peacefully marched four miles through San Jose from Temple Emanu-El to Antioch Baptist Church with stops at faith and community centers along the way. Faith leaders listened humbly as community members expressed their pain at the racial injustice perpetuated through institutions, their demands for fundamental changes to policing, their hopes for racial justice and insistence that black lives matter especially today. At each stop a quote from Rev. Dr. King’s letter was read: “Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?” And the marchers proclaimed in litany response: “We choose love.” “We choose justice.”
What do we want? Simply love and justice. If we want love and justice for ourselves and for our community, it will take both our personal actions and our collective efforts for social and institutional change. To get there, we must learn as the prophet Hosea said, “[to] love tenderly, act justly and walk humbly with our God.” So “let us march on, til victory is won.”