Common Pleas Court Judge Lucretia Clemons, a member of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s new Commission on Racial Healing, shares how Catholics can redress racial division by seeking the truth, beauty, justice and reconciliation that are at the heart of God’s plans for real peace.
Healing the Wounds of Racism: Lucretia Clemons-
Healing the Wounds of Racism
By Lucretia Clemons
My grandfather was one of eight. His parents were Rhoda and Eddie Clemens. They were a prominent family in a small town called Tutwiler, Mississippi. When my grandfather who was the youngest boy was about eight years old, his father was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan, and it threw his family from being a very prosperous family in the town into extreme poverty. They lost their home, they lost all their possessions, and they literally- his older brothers and sisters had to drop out of school and start picking cotton to survive.
The one saving grace my grandfather always told me was a sisterhood of nuns who provided food for the family and took them in when they had nowhere else to go—and it was because of that, that my grandfather converted to Catholicism, and that is the reason that I am Catholic today.
While he was certainly grieved by the loss of his father, he was always very touched by those sisters who cared for him and his siblings and his mother—and of the eight siblings, he was the only one who converted. And my grandfather, until he passed away in 2001, was a devout Catholic.
I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, which is a very Catholic city, and so for me, I grew up in the parish where my father was baptized, where my grandparents were married. And to me, being Catholic and being Black wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t until I left St. Louis and came to the East Coast that I realized that there weren’t as many black Catholics in other places as there were in St. Louis. And so to me, I’ve always been a member of- I grew up in a parish that was a gospel parish, that had African-American traditions alive and well. As a young girl, I was in the dance ministry, I was a reader, I was an altar girl. The Catholic faith has always just been central to my life.
And so to me, being black and Catholic is just authentically who I am. So I hope I bring the perspective first as a child of God, also as a wife and a mom of three black sons. One of the most difficult things in the past year, and also in previous years, is explaining to your sons, who you’ve taught to be fair and treat everyone equally, who’ve learned from me the Beatitudes, which have always drawn me to the Bible, and for them to realize that the world, in many places, does not see them as who they are but simply as what their shell is. And so it is very difficult as a mom to see your children realize that reality. And so part of what I believe I can bring to the commission is that perspective: as a mom who worries about her sons and her husband and her cousins and her brother, but also as a public servant who, every day, tries to do the best that they can to protect the citizens of this city and the commonwealth.
Christ commands us to love each other as He loves us, and I believe that it is never too late to do the right thing, and it is important that people understand that we are called to do and see people for the beautiful beings that that God created. And while people may make mistakes, we all have faults, we are all perfect in our humanity.
And it is that humanity that, in the words of John Lewis, and I’m going to paraphrase here, calls us to get into “good trouble,” “necessary trouble:” trouble that when you see something wrong, you say something. When you are in a position to stop something wrong, you do it.
I think one of the most important things to focus on is is truth and reconciliation. A familiar cry in the street during the social justice protests is “No justice, no peace.” And while I know that many people want peace, they really want quiet. Quiet is not the same as peace. Peace requires justice, and justice requires truth. And therefore, I believe that we start this with some truth and reconciliation with some understanding of where we have come from, the historical implications of that, how it is impacting people today, and how do we reconcile that history with where we are and where we want to go.