By Father John Arnone
At the beginning of summer, St. Bernard Church hosted a racial sobriety workshop for the entire St. Bernard Deanery. What an eye-opening experience it was for all who attended, including myself. As a native New Orleanian, I had the privilege of interacting with people of many different races.
Having attended public schools, including Alice M. Harte Elementary and O. Perry Walker High, I had an understanding that everyone was not alike. Some students were tall, some short. Some chubby, some skinny. Some with curly hair, some with straight hair, some with no hair at all. It appeared everyone had a different skin color.
I remember back to 1974. I was in the second grade and asked my mom two questions: “Why did some of the new kids at school have slanted eyes and didn’t speak English?” and “Why did the black kids have black skin and white teeth?”
In a motherly way, she began to explain that God created everyone differently. We are all God’s children, even if we don’t look alike, and he loves everyone equally. He made people different so we could learn from each other, my mother told me.
Those thoughts recently resurfaced as I gathered with 31 others at “Introducing Racial Sobriety,” a workshop sponsored by the Office of Racial Harmony. Under the guidance of Walter Bonam, Sister of Christian Charity Theresa Marie Tran and Sister of the Holy Faith Teresa Rooney, we took an honest and open look at racism. In an informal and non-threatening way, we examined our own personal experiences of growing up, and how we have become the people we are today through those experiences.
In a small group, we were asked to remember an experience where racism was present. I recalled an incident when I was in the fifth grade. After getting off the yellow school bus, an African-American classmate whose mother taught at the junior high school around the corner from my house would often come over and hang out until her mother was finished at school. Along with my brother, sisters and others from the neighborhood, we would have snacks, play and maybe even do a little homework.
One day I remember a neighbor asking me, “Why was that little (N-word) girl going in your house?” I replied, “Don’t call her that; she’s my friend.”
It’s been 33 years since I was in fifth grade, and the reality is that racism does still exist. People are different, but that can be a good thing. Imagine how boring life would be if we were all alike.
As a priest for the past 12 years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to minister to and be with people of many races and cultures. I know I am a better and stronger person because of the rich diversity of people who are part of my life.
I often tell people that we cannot change the past. All we can do is look at where we are today, and with God’s help, see how we can grow, become stronger and become better people because of where we have been. It’s up to us to ask ourselves that question.
As God’s children, we are called to do our best in realizing that although we are not all alike, we are still all one family. We are called to respect one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps we should spend our time focusing on our similarities, not our differences.
Realizing that we cannot change the past, we are all called and challenged to look at where we are today and if we can see the reflection of Jesus in everyone we meet, regardless of their color, size or hair.
Father John Arnone is pastor of St. Bernard and Our Lady of Lourdes, Violet, parishes.
The next racial sobriety workshop will be held Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Northshore Pastoral Center, 19266 Slemmer Road, Covington. For more information, e-mail Sister Teresa Rooney at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 861-6272. The program’s national Web site is www.racialsobriety.org.
RACIAL HARMONY DAY
➤ Sept. 9, 6:45-9 p.m.
➤ St. Clement of Rome, 4317 Richland Ave., Metairie.