Being well-versed of race, culture and societal worthiness important to cultural diversity

September 26, 2017

"The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:43-46)

The Master Himself during His earthly life was victimized by discrimination grounded simply on His cultural and societal makeup. In Jesus’ time, there was a bias between the neighboring villages in Galilee, perceived solely on one’s birthplace and residence.

One village looked down upon another as being even lowlier than they were. Bethsaida looked down on Nazareth, and, therefore, banished at once the idea that anyone from there would be perceived as being virtuous, let alone the promised Messiah.

This thinking is what Nathanael was proclaiming with his query, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

We are now in the month of September. Our vision and attention suddenly turns to football, a respite from the heat and humidity and the beginning of another school year.

This September will begin a new chapter in our household, or more importantly, a new episode in the educational and cultural life of our son, Adam.

From three years old until second grade, Adam attended a predominately Black Roman Catholic inner city elementary school. From third grade until his graduation in May from St. Thomas High School, he attended institutions where he was in the minority in his class as well as at the institution.

When he began to look at colleges and universities, I discreetly suggested he strongly consider attending a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), such as Xavier University of Louisiana, Prairie View A&M University, or Texas Southern University.

He immediately informed me that Xavier was out because he had encountered 15 years of Catholic education and all the composition that comes with that experience. However, he applied and was accepted to Texas Southern University and completed a successful summer session.

My inducement to convince Adam to attend an HBCU was straightforward. He needed to experience firsthand his Black culture and be exposed to his rich African-American history.

As a young man, and for the first time in his young life, Adam needed to encounter an institute where he would not be in the minority, but be a member of the majority population.

I was blessed to form a friendship at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Convocation in July with a young Roman Catholic lay campus minister whose mission is to minister to college and university students.

In one of our exchanges, he detailed to me how millennials, especially those on today’s college and university campuses, struggle to find their niche within the Church and society as a whole. He described the dilemma as a “blindness, unwillful guilt, or maybe just sheer ignorance.”

He said, “as a campus minister, my colleagues and I find ourselves lacking the knowledge, i.e., language, history and insight, to discuss race and all its ramifications among ourselves and the students we have pledged to serve.”

Along with this same line of discussion, my lay minister colleague said, “race and discrimination on most college and university campuses in America today have come to resort to ‘The Blame Game.’

The Anglo students blame the minority students for affecting their ability to participate in special programs and receive funding because of their so-called ‘minority status,’ and the minority students blame the Anglo students for their so-called ‘white privilege’ and the issues of race and discrimination are never truly examined and debated.”

One would presuppose, or at least place at the beginning of their discourse, “that besides possessing the gifts of understanding and acceptance towards a different race, culture and their societal worthiness, students must first be well-versed of their race, culture and societal worthiness.”

After only a few short weeks on the campus of Texas Southern University, Adam was exposed to his own culture in a new light.

Being part of the majority makeup of the institution, along with a certain freedom that comes with that experience, Adam has begun to achieve a fuller understanding of who he is as a young Black man in America.

He has a richer appreciation for the exposure that came with being a minority within a setting greater than himself.

In his human imperfection and inclination, Nathanael almost let the grace and beauty to be in the constant presence of the promised Messiah elude him.

In our own human imperfection, how many times have we allowed a precious gift from our Creator to vanish from our sight simply because they look different, spoke a language or dialect, worshipped a different deity or were perceived being unworthy to exist within our borders?

In this hour of continual uncertainty and relentless anxiety in our nation and world, perhaps it would be worthwhile for all us of to take the words of Nathanael to heart.

We should strive to make them part of our daily meditation when we encounter one of our brothers and sisters subsisting on the peripherals of our society in this great nation, “Can anything good come out of?”

Let us continue to be unwavering in our praying to our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and may He always keep us In His Light. †

Deacon Leonard Paul Lockett is the vicar for Catholics of African Descent.