by Erik Zygmont
A heat index above 100 did not deter dozens from across the country from dropping in on West Baltimore Aug. 13 to participate in the ongoing effort of building the “beloved community.”
Popularized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the concept – in which bigotry and strife are replaced by inclusiveness and harmony – served as a reflection point for Pax Christi USA at its 2016 national gathering, held Aug. 12-14 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Baltimore in Linthicum Heights.
The weekend included workshops and lectures zeroing in on the intersection between racial justice and other injustices associated with environmental destruction, the U.S. criminal justice system, militarism, immigration and Islamaphobia.
Pax Christi USA National Conference member and Minnesota native, Katherine Wojtan, performs social justice in in West Baltimore Aug 13. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)
“We build the beloved community by having bold conversations that lead to transformative actions,” said Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic movement for peace and opposed to racism and war. “There has to be a transformation in our attitudes, a transformation in our behavior, and a transformation in our actions.”
To get a taste for such actions, the majority of the gathering’s 125 participants helped clean two large vacant lots on the 900 block of N. Carrollton St., located in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, the scene of Freddie Gray Jr.’s arrest as well as the brunt of the unrest that followed his death of injuries sustained while in police custody in April 2015.
The Pax Christi volunteers mowed overgrown grass and weeds and filled dozens of trashbags with broken glass and other debris.
Lightening their workload were members of the No Boundaries Coalition – a resident-led advocacy organization focused on bringing unity to Central West Baltimore – who got a several-hour head-start on the work.
“A lot of people talk, or this or that,” said Samirah Franklin, a youth organizer, “but No Boundaries just does it.”
The organization’s office is located at St. Peter Claver Parish, a couple blocks north of the cleanup site. Josephite Father Ray Bomberger, the pastor, was out with the morning No Boundaries crew, pruning the hardwoods on the vacant lots.
“It’s transformative,” said Ray Kelly, director of community relations for No Boundaries and a pastoral council member at St. Peter Claver, of the effort. “This is doing what you have to do to make your neighborhood a certain way.”
Kelly briefed the Pax Christi volunteers as they arrived, pointing out that the drug activity native to the block had vanished as community members arrived with cleanup gear.
“We appreciate you guys coming out,” he added. “Now, get to work.”
Sister Patricia said that it was important for Pax Christi to partner with a community group “already on the ground, trying to empower the people of their own neighborhood.”
“With Pax Christi USA being a predominantly white organization, we didn’t want to come into the neighborhood and be perceived as a ‘great white hope,’” she explained.
Pax Christi USA Executive Director and Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Patricia Chappell, works with Jackson, Mississippi native Raymond Barry, as part of a social justice project in the 900 block of N. Carrollton Ave., in West Baltimore Aug. 13. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)
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