Community Reflections

As a part of the President's Task Force on Systemic Racism, we invite the community to share their written, oral or visual reflections. The reflections can focus on the topics presented at different Task Force events or speak to other facets of systemic racism important to the individual. We encourage thoughtful creativity and are open to multiple forms of submission. If you are interested in sharing a reflection to this page, please visit this form to learn more about the process and to submit a reflection.

Simone Talma Flowers

Stamped: Reflection from Simone Talma Flowers

Simone Talma Flowers ’91 & MBA ’02 is a member of the President's Systemic Racism Task Force.

I was recently introduced to Jason Reynolds through his book Stamped co-authored with Ibram X Kendi. I am always fascinated by people who have the gift of breaking down complex issues and communicating them in simple, clear, bite sized, digestible ways. This is what Jason Reynolds has done with Stamped which focuses on racism throughout history.

Reynolds’ descriptions are as follows; Segregationists are people who hate you for not being like them; Assimilationists are people who like you because you are like them; Antiracists are people who love you for who you are. I appreciate these categories because you can check yourself – you can constantly examine  your thoughts and actions to see where you fall. This makes it possible to bring yourself back on the path to being Antiracist.

Jason Reynolds’ brilliance was in connecting the dots within the complexity of American History, showing how it is rooted in slavery. He shows how America was built on the backs of black people, and in order to continue to economically thrive using black labor, Americans had to keep the narrative that black people were not human.  They perpetuated the myth that black people are savages; deficient in intelligence and the agency to care for themselves. This allowed them to feel justified in the atrocities that black people faced, and it helped fuel white supremacy.

The book showed how society was coordinated, calculated, intentional, and invested in preserving white supremacy, and how these systems and structures of inequity grew.  Jason Reynolds in his brilliance answered the question of why to this day so many black neighborhoods, schools, communities in America still struggle - why they do not have the resources they need to fully thrive.

Stamped is a must read for all incoming university freshman. The entire time I was reading, I kept thinking how much this book would have helped me when I first came to St. Edward’s as a foreign student from Trinidad and Tobago. I wish I had this. Not only would it have helped me understand American history, but it would have also helped me understand my own history, in my homeland of Trinidad. It would have helped me navigate this world – consciously understanding when I step into either of the three categories, and it would have put me on the path of an Antiracist much earlier.

I live my life dedicated to seeing the humanity in others – my life work is steeped in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.  As the executive director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas – my work is to convene people of diverse faiths and cultures to connect with each other, to cultivate peace and respect through interfaith dialogue, service, and celebration - to see each other’s humanity. I’m dedicated to breaking down the barriers that divide us. I believe that we have to build a society of people who believe in each other’s humanity – who are invested in each other – and have the commitment and fortitude to face,  and stay in the fight to tackle the racist systems they are a part of. This work is continuous, and it has to be a part of our ethos;  to examine and work towards breaking down these systems of exclusion in our schools, institutions, organizations/associations,  congregations, clubs, networks – all the aspects of our lives.

Bobby Bullard

Stamped: Reflection from Bobby Bullard

Bobby Bullard is the Director of Facilities at St. Edward's University.

Systemic Racism in my mind first and foremost is White Privilege.  It includes processes and procedures put in place that disadvantage Black people.  Systemic Racism creates disparities for people of color in areas such as wealth, housing and equal justice.  Systemic Racism simply put, is a process of being held down, held back, and looked over because of the color of your skin. 

This has impacted me in many areas of my adult life and professional life.  Many times because of my skin color, there are certain areas or venues that I find myself in and being watched differently than others.  That diminishes my confidence to conduct myself in a comfortable manner.  It has impacted the way I trust many white people. 

As I have grown older and would like to think I have become wiser, I know that in order for change to happen as it relates to how people see me as a Black man, I will have to speak up and let my voice be heard.  I know that I can help with change by not backing away from the day-to-day challenges that work to bring me down, but expand my voice so that those that are conducting themselves in a manner that spells Systemic Racism are brought to light.  I know that I can help chop away at the injustices by joining the effort of others who agree that it is not right.

It is my belief and my goal especially after reading Stamped, to help educate others so that as we tackle these issues, we tackle them with good understanding.  I do not believe that you can make any head way in making a change unless you understand the change that you are trying to make.  We must understand and diminish those who take part in Systemic Racism with the understanding that every White person is not a racist.    

Our campus community consists of many impressionable young students of all races and ethnicities; I think it is vital to teach them and walk together through the deep waters of Systemic Racism.  We can do that by meeting everyone where they are. We achieve that by listening to understand what they understand about the subject and then share what we know with them, and work next to them to learn how to advocate for themselves and others. 

At the end of the day, I believe anything that has been started in error can be stopped for righteousness.

In closing, my outside source to all that I write is God Almighty and HIS Word.  His word says to us as we make effort to deal with systemic racism;

Wisdom is the principle thing; Therefore get wisdom.  And in all your getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7 (NKJV)

Spring 2021 McCarthy Lecture by Bishop Shelton J. Fabre: Reflection by Rev. Dr. Jenny Veninga

Dr. Jenny Veninga

Dr. Jenny Veninga is an Associate Professor of Religious and Theological Studies.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10: 10b). In many ways, this promise of life offered by Jesus in the Gospel of John was at the center of Catholic Bishop Shelton J. Fabre’s powerful presentation for the Spring 2021 McCarthy Lecture. In “‘Equal to Us:’ The Church’s Response to Racism,” Bishop Fabre offered a rich theological reflection on the many ways that racism deprives people of abundant life by making us believe that some human beings are more equal and more dignified than others. As a “matter of the heart,” overcoming racism involves truly recognizing that all people have equal human dignity—and then acting upon this recognition to transform our individual consciences, our institutions, and the structures of our society. The lead author of the 2018 U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ document, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” Bishop Fabre describes racism as a sin which calls for genuine conversion.

As a theologian and scholar of religion, I appreciated Bishop Fabre’s framework for thinking about racism. Racism, in fact, has been described by public theologian Jim Wallis as America’s “original sin”; our nation was built through the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans. These practices, which relied upon the presupposition that Bishop Fabre discussed—that some lives are worth more than others—were often justified by racist readings of Christian Scripture. This original violence and the beliefs that supported it have shaped all of our major institutions, including (but not only): education, employment, housing, criminal justice, healthcare, and religion. We are all born into this state of original sin, and if we are white, we benefit from it whether we recognize it or not. In this way, perhaps whiteness implies a kind of “original benefit” that is rooted in white supremacy and manifests as white privilege. As trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem reminds us in his book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, historical systemic racism has caused generational collective trauma that reverberates every time harm and violence is committed against a person of color. As I glance at coverage of the recent trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, and witness news of yet more police killings of black and brown men, I’m reminded that we are still mired in the terror of our original sin.

As a white person, I have benefited from white privilege from the moment I was born. This reality has meant, among other things, that I’ve never had to worry about being denied an apartment because of my race. It’s meant that I grew up never imagining that the police might be a threat to me, nor that I would ever be presumed guilty for a crime because of my skin color. As a professor, it’s meant that I don’t have to worry about lower course evaluations because of racist assumptions about my abilities. As a parent, I will not have to give my blond-haired, blue-eyed son “the talk” about police violence when he becomes a teenager. And even now, in his toddler years, our privilege is both subtle and remarkable: when we go to the store to pick out books, most of them have images of people that look like him. These are just some of the ways that systemic racism manifests. For me, it means white privilege.

Coming to terms with these undeniable realities has been, and continues to be, a process for me. I have come to realize, particularly in the wake of the BLM protests after the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that the first and foundational way I am called to respond to systemic racism is through unlearning my privilege, but this happens only through a process of becoming aware of it. An important aspect of this work, as I’ve learned from educator and author Dr. Beth Godbee, is developing emotional literacies that can help me to have enough emotional stamina to counter my own white fragility—the defensiveness that often arises when white people become aware of their own privilege. It also means working to let go of my tendencies toward perfectionism and “either/or” binary thinking that are rooted in white supremacy. It means reading works by black authors, and especially black feminists, who bring attention to the intersection of race and gender. I am learning so much from the work of writer adrienne maree brown, for example, about the connections between embodiment and activism.

Moving outward to my family, resisting and dismantling systemic racism means engaging in anti-racist parenting, not to instill guilt but rather to foster awareness and responsibility for collective justice and repair. And then taking (at least) one more step outward toward my local, national, and global community, dismantling racism means taking risks to use anti-racism pedagogy in my classrooms and to explore relationships among racism, memory, and religion in my classes. For years now, I have assigned theologian James Cone’s profound work, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, to my Honors classes. Together we explore how to have difficult conversations about race and religion, and consider the power of Cone’s argument that “until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a ‘recrucified’ black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.” I hope is that these deep conversations have a ripple effect that chips away—even if slowly—at the foundations of our racist systems.

All of my work in these areas, as well as my protests in the streets, is imperfect. I have failed and caused harm, and I have also tried to do better the next time. Resisting and dismantling systemic racism is a practice, to be done again and again. In response to a question about whether we will ever see an end to racism, Bishop Fabre beautifully responded that we will always have sin, and racism is a sin. Our goal should be, rather, that “we are better than we were yesterday and not as good as we will be tomorrow.” I’m reminded of the powerful statement by Basile Moreau, the founder of our own Congregation of Holy Cross, that our education seeks to “contribute to preparing the world for better times than ours.”  May we have the courage to believe that better times are possible and the insight that it is up to us—all of us—to make it so.

Picture of Lavelle Brown in front of red doors at St. Edward's

Racial Healing Circle Reflection: Lavelle Brown

Lavelle Brown is a Junior majoring in Psychology. He is the current President of the Black Student Alliance.

Picture an open field. Light blue skies, not a cloud in sight, and the breeze flushing away all your worries as the flowers dance with the trees. Take three deep breaths – breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Such peace is romanticized by Hollywood, toxic societal trends, and seem so far away in times like these. The Racial Healing Circle, supervised by Ms. Sandra Hayes, slowed down the chaos in everyone’s mind and brought things to a still breeze – allowing each participant to dance in the breeze like the flowers and the trees.

From my perception, a healing circle is built to rekindle your relationship with the emotions that you’ve unconsciously pushed down. The things that need the most attention, but are the hardest to attend to in the fast-paced world we live in. Participants are placed in comfortable position in a circle format to emphasize the equality of each person and that no one person is more important than the next. The rules are simple: Be attentive, Be compassionate, Be open, and when someone is speaking your only job is to listen. In other words, do not think of a response to what is being said, do not zone out. Someone is taking the time and energy to divulge a piece of themselves they may never have had the courage to express, be there for them. In this case, we were participating in a Racial Healing Circle. Not necessarily built solely of people of color but composed to make everyone aware of the smallest and most painful afflictions caused by stress and trauma around race.

How do you feel? How are you doing, considering the last year in the United States? What moments have made you feel vulnerable, or which ones have empowered you? Each person was in the position to question how they genuinely felt in that moment and had a circle of people to affirm their emotions. Think about that. How many people do you have in your life that will do nothing except listen when you need to cry, exclaim, scream? How many of your family members or best friends can you actually scream in front of? Not that any screaming occurred, but a healing circle gives you that space to do so if that’s what you need. To me, the most intimate part of the circle was not 15 people giving me undivided energy to be vulnerable but speaking with one person you may never have opened up to. I had the opportunity to partner with our circle leader, Sandra, and I don’t think I’d had that kind of emotional safety in months.

I serve as the President of Black Student Alliance (BSA), BSA Representative on the President’s Advisory Council (PAC) and Systemic Racism Task Force, I work 30 hours a week, I make time for an internship with a Mental Health non-profit, and I attend this university and pay for my undergraduate education as a First-Generation Black Male that was raised by a single Black Mother. Five minutes of no judgement, no critique, no pressure to succeed, no impending deadline, no societal pressure to eliminate stereotypes of a Black male. Those five minutes of absolute emotional safety meant more to me than the entire healing circle. This entire Racial Healing Circle was an opportunity to step out of the role of the hunted, the colored man, the Black man, a male, the persecuted, a potential name to add to the long list of fallen Black and African American angels. This is why our schools’ leaders invested in a RACIAL Healing Circle. In this generation, especially in the last four years, students have been called to be more than students of Psychology, Business, or Biology. Students have been called to take up the mantel of Activist, Voter, Therapist, Ally, Protestor, and so many more. We are struggling because of policies and systems built to serve people who were born in the early 1900’s. We are fighting to reserve spaces that are being held by people that are not meant to shape the future. The majority of us are students, youth, young adults of color.

There are three points I’d like you to take away from my reflection: Listen with intent when someone is trusting you with their vulnerabilities, remember the quote that asks you to be kind to strangers because you never know what they’re going through, and treat your life like a Racial Healing Circle. Through every step you take, every policy you fight, and every smile you give acknowledge that every person is fighting a battle you can’t see, comprehend, or emulate for convenience. Black, LatinX, Caucasian, Transgender, LGBTQIA+, homeless, wealthy, poor, successful, or struggling – Everybody deserves their own five minutes of emotional safety. If you can’t give five minutes, give five smiles. If you can’t give five smiles, give five acts of kindness. If you can’t give in general, give yourself five minutes in the mirror.

Professor LaKisha Barrett

Racial Healing Circle Reflection: Dr. Kisha Barrett

Dr. Kisha Barrett is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biology at St. Edward's University and an Assistant Professor at Austin Community College.

From a biological perspective, ‘systemic’ encompasses the whole organism, being a part of the underlying mechanisms critical to human function. Likewise, our country and its institutions were founded on a caste system, where inequalities have driven its progress and built its wealth (Wilkerson). These national mechanisms create generational effects in the minds and hearts of our community. I have experienced mental and tangible barriers directly due to systemic racism, resulting in life-altering consequences (Bertrand).

Unconscious bias aside, we are all the same; it is one variation in a single protein that defines our color (Lamason). Our heritage, culture, and community enrich that single variation and help us define our identity. Unfortunately, systemic racism shapes a part of that identity. These structural inequalities and injustices cause trauma, harm, and distrust. This deep-seated hurt cannot be healed alone. Systemic racism affects each of us, and when we share how it does, I believe it will bring forth meaningful change in our community.

The Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation process seeks to make sustainable change to racism through community restoration. This process seeks to change the narrative of systemic racism by promoting healing and relationship building; and community-focused solutions to separation, economy, and law (Kellogg Foundation). The President’s Taskforce on Systemic Racism presented us with an event to learn and practice an integral process to Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation: Healing Circles. Austin Health Commons and keynote speaker and circle keeper, Sandra Olarte-Hayes made this evening educational, inviting, inspiring, and transformative. I learned to listen and not fix, take in and receive, and share deeper. I learned how to let my community in and explore what systemic racism means to me and my community in a beautiful, respected, and safe place. I am affirmed in the fact that, at this point, it is not about shutting down, but it is about facilitating perspectives that can change the heart and mind.

One of my greatest mentors, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said the civil war begins in the mind. We make the choice to say no or yes, judge, hate, love, accept, and ultimately to change. I choose to meet the injustices of systemic racism with love and restoration, knowing that our goal will need persistence, perseverance, and a growth mindset. I want to be part of the change past the ‘struggle for decency,’ our first civil rights movement, and be actionable to create systemic change to ensure equity in education, income, and opportunity. It is my hope through continued sharing, healing, understanding, and peaceable action; we can begin to change the institutionalization of bias and create a brighter and more equitable future for our nation. In a poignant speech that Dr. King made to junior high school students, he asked, “what is your life’s blueprint?” Dr. King said, and I agree, that a sound blueprint begins with a “deep belief in your own dignity, worth, and your own somebody-ness.” (King, 1967) I believe that the process of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation can help us restore our dignity and redefine our country’s blueprint through understanding our humanity and fellow man. I encourage each of us to share our story, let our thoughts and words be heard for others to learn from, and begin the restoration of ourselves, name our trauma, heal our communities; so that we can progress our nation. "I have a dream that freedom will ring from every city and state, and all men will be able to join hands and sing ‘free at last,’ yes, ‘free at last.’"