The Urban League of Cincinnati recently published “The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities.” At 150 pages of careful statistical analysis, the report describes itself as a “bleak, possibly overwhelming snapshot of Cincinnati’s African American community and its economic and social challenges.” From health care and education to employment and incarceration, the picture of “Black Cincinnati” is bleak indeed, and not a little overwhelming to this white reader and citizen.
In truth, the study might have been entitled, “The State of White Cincinnati’s Ignorance and Complicity.” As Urban League President Donna Jones Baker writes, “Sadly, many white citizens . . . do not see our urban neighborhoods. They are not aware of the positive people and energy that exist here, even in the face of daily challenges.” Dr. O’dell Owens puts it more pointedly: “African-Americans still live largely in a country that is separate, unequal, and sometimes hostile.”
A house “divided against itself will be laid waste,” warns Jesus in today’s Gospel. Yet his warnings, like those of the great Hebrew prophets, were repeatedly met with scorn by a hard-hearted people. And still God’s Spirit of renewal and hope cries out to us today in contemporary friends of God and prophets. “We are creating a mechanism,” writes Donna Jones Baker, “whereby anyone who wants to help will be able to easily find their niche and begin their work.”
Do I want to see? Do I care to help? Lord, give us the capacity to see, the desire to serve, and the courage to find our niche. Light the fire of love within us, so that we may begin the sacred work of racial justice, healing, and reconciliation in our neighborhoods, our schools, our cities.
- How familiar are you with the life situation of peoples of color where you live, work, worship, and travel? To what extent do you see evidence of a house “divided against itself” in these places?
- What signs of “hard-heartedness” do you recognize in yourself? How might God’s grace and mercy help you overcome this during Lent?
Christopher Pramuk, PhD, teaches courses in theology and spirituality at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He is the author of Hope Sings, So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line (Liturgical, 2013), a sustained meditation on race relations in society and church, and several award-winning books on Thomas Merton. In August 2017, he begins a new role as Chair of Ignatian Thought at Regis University in Denver.