by Isaac Chandler
Pax Christi USA National Council Chair
First of all, let me say that it is an honor and privilege to serve as Pax Christi USA’s National Council Chair. It is an honor that I do not take lightly. I along with the Council are working to continue our mission of “peace with justice”. In light of the times we are in, the National Council has been unable to meet in person due to the ongoing pandemic. This has not however prevented us from doing the work; we are continuing to meet via Zoom.
This past October, we welcomed six new council members who were elected or appointed: Charlene Howard (MD), Fr. Fred Thelen (MI), Sr. Diane Smith (CA), Manuel Padilla (OR), Sherry Simon (AR), and Peter Aloys Majura (VA). The new Executive Board for the 2020-2021 year is composed of myself (FL) as Chair, Madeline Labriola (RI) as Vice-Chair, Charlene Howard as Secretary, Brian Ashmankas (MA) as Treasurer, and Bishop John Stowe (KY) as Bishop-President. Please be assured that with all the challenges of the pandemic, the work of Pax Christi is still being done. The staff are mostly working a staggered schedule, with a limited number of people in the office. They work diligently to keep the office clean, practice social distancing, and other recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Black History Month: February is the month which has been set aside as the month to commemorate Black History. As I reflect on this month and its significance, I find myself of two minds. I continue to be proud and awestruck at all of the many accomplishments of African-Americans, which have played a critical role in the makeup of this country. However, I continue to be anxious and somewhat apprehensive for the future. I am reminded that we still have work to do and this is not the time for “passive democracy”. For as many “firsts” and “ceiling shatterings” that have occurred, there are still many obstacles that we face. Celebration and vigilance are both required at this time. (Photo above: Isaac with Sr. Anne-Louise Nadeau, SNDdeN, Pax Christi USA Program Director, at the MLK Center in Atlanta)
A friend of mine on Instagram posted a picture which said, “For as long as I am BLACK, I am historic! I do not need a month. I exist for a lifetime.” This statement underscores my feelings about Black History Month. I feel a sense of pride knowing that there are those African-Americans whom are blazing trails in their field whom I can look up to and admire. At the same time, I am aware that we are still woefully underrepresented in our fields and unrecognized for many of our achievements, therefore rendering us “invisible”. So in this breath, I first want to honor all those essential workers, domestics, garbage collectors, and healthcare workers, who stand on the frontlines during this pandemic to keep us safe, a disproportionate number of whom are African-American. Every day they risk their health and the health of their families to work high-risk jobs for low pay and little respect, yet they hold their heads up high and take pride in their work. Let me say that I see them and I thank them.
November: November 2020 began my celebration of Black History Month. In late November, Bishop Wilton Gregory became the first African-American Cardinal (photo right with Pax Christi International Co-Presidents Sr. Wamuyu Wachira & Bishop Marc Stenger and Pax Christi USA Executive Director Johnny Zokovitch). His elevation to this post has double significance because it happened during Black Catholic History Month. Earlier in November, we witnessed the election of Sen. Kamala Harris as the nation’s first female Vice-President, the first African-American Vice-President, and the first South Asian-American Vice-President. Vice-President Harris is also a graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Howard University, and a member of the First Collegiate Black Greek Lettered Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. During the inauguration, we met Amanda Gorman, the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate, who happens to be an African-American Catholic, who stirred our collective souls with her poem, “The Hill We Climb”.
New Cabinet: During the first few weeks into the Biden administration, a number of Black “firsts” were named. For the first time ever, African-Americans will head up the Departments of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Council of Economic Advisors will be headed by an African-American woman (a first). Michael Regan, who will head up the Environmental Protection Agency, has worked in previous environmental agencies to address the climate crisis, clean air, and clean water, standing on the shoulders of Dr. Robert Bullard, the “Father of Environmental Justice”.
January 6 Insurrection: Many of us watched in terror and disbelief on this day as a large mob of mostly white protestors stormed our Capitol building in D.C. For some the actions of this mob of insurrectionists was shocking. For me, I saw clearly the Triple Axes of White power, White privilege, and White superiority on full display. The rioters breeched the Capitol barricades and gates with little to no resistance and entered the chambers of the floor of the House to take pictures, breaking windows and defacing property. Five individuals, including a member of the Capitol police, lost their lives. In some cases, local police posed for pictures with these agitators. Questions going through my mind: “Why were they able to get so close to the Capitol en masse? When things were getting rowdy, where were the tear gas and rubber bullets (used in BLM protests this past summer)? Why were so few arrests made? Where were the police shootings that happen when police feel their lives threatened?” I can only imagine the blood and carnage that would have ensued had this rally been predominately Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. To add insult to injury, some of the arrested are looking to make bail in order to “take a vacation already paid for” or in another instance, being moved to an alternate facility to be fed “organic food”. Obviously, these individuals felt this an okay way to air their grievances. “And what was their grievance?” you ask: Economic opportunity? No. Human rights? No. Clean water? No. Guess again. To contest a fair and impartial election that had been litigated in court through some 50+ lawsuits.
Voting Rights: Stacey Abrams, through her Fair Fight organization, worked to change the voting demographic in the state of Georgia. Many believe it was through her work of civic engagement and voter education that helped deliver the Peach State to the Biden campaign. Many people have stated that this effort helped to “save democracy”. Yet as we speak, 28 states have entered over 100 pieces of legislation to restrict voting by imposing stricter voter ID laws, limiting mail-in voting, shortening early voting hours, limiting voter registration drives, eliminating drop boxes, and allowing for more voter purges. It is clear that these efforts are in response to the lies and misinformation regarding widespread “voter fraud”. These lies are particularly egregious and racist being that the “fraud” was only present in certain states and in certain neighborhoods (those that were predominately Democratic and urban). This is happening not only in Southern states, but also as far west as Washington State and up to New Hampshire and Connecticut in the Northeast.
What can you do: With these many issues looming, there are signs of hope to be found. Activists nationwide are galvanizing their efforts. You, the membership of Pax Christi USA, are a part of this effort. During this time when many families are struggling to make ends meet, you have continued to be generous with your time, talent, and treasure. It is through your generosity that we have continued to stay afloat during these difficult economic times and your passion and diligence are needed now more than ever. So as you continue to celebrate and commemorate the achievements of African-Americans this month, consider doing the following:
- Spend time in prayer regarding the “nonviolence” texts of the Gospel (PRAY).
- Continue to learn and study about the contributions of African-Americans (STUDY).
- Examine the intersectionality of our 4 priorities by examining them though an anti-racist lens (STUDY).
- Seek out partnerships with African-American organizations looking at issues such as voting rights, environmental justice, nuclear disarmament, etc (ACT).
Final Thought: One final tribute for Black History Month. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge 2 dynamic female leaders who paved the way for me serving in the position of National Chair. The first is Pearlette Springer (photo far right with Mary Yelenick and Francis DeBernardo of the Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team), who in the late 2000s became the 1st African-American chair of the National Council, and Cathy Woodson (photo above with Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, former Executive Director of Pax Christi USA), who served 2 years as Chair of the National Council. These women paved the way for me to be here and for that I am grateful. I hope I continue to make them proud.