Recently, I was speaking with a local leader on chronic homelessness in Tallahassee. We discussed the disturbing paradox of how it is that we can live in the same city yet live in two different worlds. Yet this paradox isn’t so mysterious when one confronts historical neglect of impoverished black communities; communities often riddled with violence. No reasonable person can ignore one of the great causes of violence is inequity. The more I walk alongside those effected by incarceration, the more I have become convinced that nothing less than systemic changes are necessary so as to create cities where we all inhabit the same world. Accompanying my brothers have taught me far more about justice than any class or book ever could. They have taught me we need a reckoning of our criminal justice system’s addiction to violence. Their lives have taught me we need a reckoning of our society’s indifference to inequities.
As a Catholic Christian, the conviction of innate human dignity informs my way of life – if even at times imperfectly. It is because of my commitment to this transcendent reality and the historical moment we live in now that I must say, we cannot be silent. I walk the halls in solitary confinement seeing thousands of black faces and so I must say, it is time to stand in solidarity. Let us consider one of the great biblical themes in scripture. In scripture, one of the great signs of God’s kingdom is the vision of all the world’s peoples streaming into Jerusalem – a city which always symbolize peace and justice. When the different races, ethnicities, nations enter this city, their cultural, racial or political particularities aren’t erased. God isn’t color blind. The richness of God’s creation and the call for justice to each particular people, their history also, beckons us to say, Black Lives Matter.
Saint Oscar Romero has been a great companion for me these past few weeks. Romero speaks confidently that God has entered human history just as Jesus entered Jerusalem as a King, and has begun building up the work of the kingdom. Building up the kingdom for Romero means elevating the “manifest marvels of his creation.” Meaning, creating peace requires often the difficult work of bringing about justice, love and goodness, amidst God’s diverse creation. For us, this means paying attention to all the diversity and difference among his peoples.
Numerous statistics could be inserted here detailing the dire need for systemic change but nothing has so altered my awareness of systemic racial injustices as seeing the countless black faces through plexiglass windows in the worst of living conditions in our state’s prisons. What I witness on the inside has served only to convince me more that one of the many ways out of this legalization of violence is for us at Joseph House to invest in personal and communal connection, to collaborate and partner with those who way too often feel powerless, so that they can gain social capital and build lives that matter. As Romero preached, all of us should be equal collaborators in building a society of peace.
-Fr. Dustin Feddon