by Mary Liepold, Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore

Donna Toliver GrimesQ: Who are you Donna, how do you describe yourself?

I am the Poverty Education and Outreach Manager in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. I am also a catechist in my parish and active in JustFaith, an exciting adult education program that works in parishes. I have served on the National Council of Pax Christi USA, which partners with Just Faith, and currently serve on the DC-Baltimore Regional Board. And I am active in various empowerment projects in my community. So, with humility I am learning and doing and learning some more.

In addition to various peace and justice efforts, I enjoy reading, writing, cooking, and travelling. I am an African-American Catholic and consider myself politically progressive, spiritually charismatic, and prolife all the way, from conception to resurrection. Not by any means least, I have three wonderful children.

Q: My impression is that there are more people of color involved in the U.S. peace movement now than there were 30 years ago, but the numbers are still not proportional. Is that your observation?

I’m a child of the 60s and 70s so for me advocating for peace is natural, coming straight from my high school and grade school exposure. I grew up with consciousness around the Vietnam War, and I’ve always believed wars are unnecessary. I’ve been taking in alternative radio and TV for a long time. I can’t imagine serving in the military. But many in my community, while they may have a sense that the wars are not justified, they’re not anti-military because they have brothers, sisters, uncles in the service. It’s a way to get off the streets, a chance to get ahead.

At the same time, they are conscious of justice issues. We’re starting to make some progress, but we have to do things from the grassroots up and we have to constantly link peace with justice.

When I started this job in 2000 I would look out at the annual national Catholic social  ministry gathering and see very few people of color. So I talked to the few who were there and we decided to caucus. We knew there had to be more of us outside who would be interested. They may not know the language of Catholic social teaching, but they have a rich tradition of helping each other. My grandmother who had 14 children always managed to take in others who needed food or a place to stay.

Our African American social ministry caucus wrote a letter to John Carr, the Executive Director of the (now) Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It didn’t make everyone happy, but we were respectful and we made specific suggestions. Where were the speakers of color on these programs, and the books by authors of color? Where were the others―Asians, Latinos, Native Americans―including people with disabilities, who have very similar issues?

We asked the conference planners to bring in presenters from these groups and ask them what issues are important to them. Let them have a role in setting the agenda. And don’t assume we are always recipients of charity and assistance. We have a lot to contribute. There’s a good way still to go, but I’ve seen progress.

To read the entire interview, click here.

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