Fontbonne discussions on race focus on solving issues

Related Articles: 

The sessions of Fontbonne University's "Take Your Summer Seriously" have come at a perfect time, though the tragic events that lead to that description have been anything but.

The weekly sessions, which began June 22 and end Wednesday, July 20, have dealt with the history of racial injustice in the United States. Roughly 80 to 90 people — about 67 percent white and 33 percent African-American — from approximately 25 parishes have gathered for each session, watching an hour-long episode of the PBS documentary "Eyes on the Prize," which aired in 1987. Discussions afterward have extended well beyond the hour allotted for them.

After discussion specifically about the episode, conversations have expanded into contemporary issues, seemingly in the rearview almost two years after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson but painfully current now that "everything seemed to crash around us," according to Cathy Pressimone, who's husband, Michael, is the Fontbonne president.

In two incidents, an African-American man died as the result of a police officer-involved shooting, including one with the gruesome aftermath live-streamed on social media by the victim's girlfriend. The next day in Dallas, a sniper who was African-American specifically targeted white police officers, killing five and wounding seven, at an otherwise peaceful protest of the men's deaths the previous two days. Then, a Ballwin officer was shot and critically wounded in a routine traffic stop, but the St. Louis County police chief and prosecutor called it "an ambush."

The four consecutive days of bloodshed occurred at the midway point of Fontbonne's conversations about race, fortuitous and perhaps providential timing. The first officer-involved shooting happened the day before the third session, when discussion changed from what was and what is to "how can we help now? We need to do something," Cathy Pressimone said.

In addition to the parishes, Cardinal Ritter College Prep and Washington University's Catholic Student Center were represented at the third session. Fontbonne co-sponsors the series with Aquinas Institute of Theology and the Theology & Life Institute of University City. Aquinas Institute president Father Seán C. Martin and Theology & Life director Margaret-Mary Moore have led the sessions, and Sister Barbara Moore, CSJ, has added the perspective of a voting rights marcher 51 years ago in Selma.

Pressimone and Dorothy Dempsey of St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Parish are writing about the sessions from their perspectives as a white woman and African-American woman, respectively. Their work is slated to be disseminated to the participating parishes.

To date, Pressimone has been struck by "a real desire of the white people to understand where we've been getting it wrong. ... They're sickened and frustrated and want to do something to make it right." She also noted the difficulty of getting people to understand the "concept of 'white privilege.' ... It's real, (but) it's so hard to walk in the shoes of people who have been living under this horrible oppression for so long."

Dempsey appealed to her "black brothers and sisters" to come out for conversations and help whites understand "white privilege." She noted children "aren't born racist," that new conversations between whites and blacks are necessary to stop the racial stereotypes, and that priests need to help open the dialogue.

Pressimone believes the Catholic Church can help resolve racial injustice, starting with parishes represented at "Take Your Summer Seriously."

"How can we use all of our force in numbers; we have 25 parishes." she asked. "What can we do to put a stop to this?" 

Take Your Summer Seriously

What: Viewing an episode of the "Eyes on the Prize" PBS documentary, then discussion of racial injustice in the episode as well as in contemporary life.

When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 20 (final session)

Where: Arnold Memorial Center, Medaille Hall, Fontbonne University

Co-sponsors: Fontbonne; Aquinas Institute of Theology; Theology & Life Institute, University City


No votes yet