A Special Message from Rob Bridges and Ken Barlow

 

Introduction from Dr. Bridges

Just today, I heard that the time we are living in is like a combination of 1918 with the Spanish flu and 1968 with the race riots in our country. There is no doubt that we live in perilous times, but I also believe a special opportunity lies before us.

Right now, there seems to be so much in this world that divides us, so many issues that we take sides on. Go through all of human history, and you can find many examples of this; religious, political, ethnic, racial, etc. It is easy to see examples of the things that divide us. The list that unites us seems so much shorter. What I believe is especially unique about this moment in history is that there is overwhelming agreement on one single incident: that the death of George Floyd was so horrific that there is no disputing it. I recently heard a radio conversation that estimated it was "well over 95% of people" who agreed the death of Mr. Floyd was horrifically wrong and that the officer(s) responsible should be charged with murder. Let us stay right there for a moment. If that is indeed true, 95+% is an overwhelming mandate and something to build on. But what next? Once the other factors enter in, the division is sown again. I believe there is something much greater than politics or race that unites ALL of us. That is the fact that we are all children of God and that the Holy Spirit "comes to us, in our difficulties and differences, to tell us that we have one Lord -Jesus- and one Father, and for that reason, we are brothers and sisters." Pope Francis said this last week, and his words resonate around the world, but especially here in the United States. 


As we move forward, I have a significant amount of hope that this time it will be different. The treatment of African Americans in this country has a long and brutal history, and recent events have shown us that we must accelerate positive and real change in this area. Peaceful protests are a powerful way to emphasize this.

I also believe that Cathedral High School is in a unique position as a school that has long shown the way in terms of racial diversity and acceptance. While we are not perfect, we do have a history of making the issue of race something that is a priority to us. 


We are blessed with an outstanding, wise, and peaceful leader in the area of inclusivity and diversity, and that is Mr. Ken Barlow. He and I have put these words together to try to help navigate a peaceful and productive way forward. Thank you for your attention to these words, and we ask you to reflect on them and help us as we try to make positive, real, and lasting changes here at Cathedral High School and throughout our community.

 

Letter from Mr. Barlow

 

Dear Members of the Cathedral Family,

Grace unto you, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We humbly thank God for you always. It is our prayer that all of you have a reasonable portion of health and continue to stay hopeful by faith. These are very trying times! We need you! Specifically, we need you with your hearts full of grace and your souls generated by love despite everything.

The world and specifically our country have been suspended in time by COVID-19. This dreaded virus has not only had us quarantined over the past few months, stifling our economy, elevating unemployment, crippling our ability to deliver healthcare, robbing us of our "normal" and ultimately taking the lives of many loved ones. Beyond that, I humbly and in the spirit of God share that COVID-19 has shown the spotlight brightly on the gross inequality in our country with the other invisible virus, systemic racism. More clearly, by way of police brutality in the black community. Please take a moment to exhale if that topic stresses you. This issue is not a topic to point fingers. Again, we are all suffering through these times. It's just a fact to point out that, unfortunately, our African American community is suffering at a higher rate in these pandemics. 

I ask your patience to expose data to address the points of the suffering of African Americans. African Americans represent 13% of the US population. However, they represent just about 25% of COVID-19 cases and deaths in our country, which is disproportionate. The unemployment rate across the country currently is slightly above 13%, which is horrible. Yet, in the African American community, unemployment is at 16.7%, disproportionate. The Washington Post recently reported, "The historical data reveals that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years." The economic gap is as wide as it was in 1968. Concerning people being shot and killed by the police, the latest data reflects that African Americans reflect 24% of those killings. The killings are the most disproportionate number among any racial demographic. Prayerfully, we can all accept these disproportionate numbers not to criticize anyone but to address the pain and hard suffering of the African American community. Remember, we need your hearts full of grace and your souls generated by love in spite of everything. We need you!

Nationally, we've become familiar with the names and deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, all within the time frame of this pandemic and brutalized by policemen or a former police officer. Sparked by the death of Mr. Floyd, many protests have taken place across our country. People are hurting deeply. On a more personal level, Cathedral High School and it's African American community members are also hurting very profoundly with the deaths of African Americans Learmon Blaylock '59, Mario McCullough '21, Elicia Bates '14, and Chris Beaty '00, all during this pandemic. We know those stories as well. This is a disproportionate death rate within the Cathedral community. 

Even in the face of death, Catholic school educators are called to serve all of God's children. Catholic school teachers and leaders are often asked to do so against all the odds. James Baldwin said, "Everything that is faced can't be changed, but nothing can be changed until it's faced." I saw a sign recently that said, "WE SAID, blacklivesmatter… WE NEVER SAID, Only blacklivesmatter… WE KNOW… All lives matter…. We just need your help with the #Blacklivesmatter for black lives are in DANGER!"….. of death.

Please strongly consider embracing these three initial "call to action" steps:

(1) If you are not African American, please listen without casting judgment or injecting your opinion on your AA friends /colleagues. Trust that they are suffering in their smiles.

(2) Be a committed Ally – be willing to address racism with compassion and courage- when you see or hear it. Your silence in these settings perpetuates the problem. Without question, we have to have the competence to see and the courage to act.

(3) Be unwilling to mix or compare this initiative negatively with other topics that may or may not hurt you, particularly at Cathedral High School.