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Springfield,MA Walks for Nonviolence

Posted by Ryan Hall

On Sept. 17th Campaign Nonviolence organizers gathered for a “Walk for Nonviolence” during the CNV Week of Actions.  Below the photo slideshow is the powerful talk on racism given at the event by Sister Melinda Pellerin

” No body knows the trouble I’ve seen, no body knows my sorrow ….nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen no body knows my sorrow….”

The lyrics from a Negro Spiritual 1867 rings true as I stand here today.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Once said:” In the hundreds of years in this country, black people have been humiliated, abused…. you cannot find your voice if you whisper injustice!”

Our modern age of technological resources makes it so easy for us to view and videotape racism, to send it out on Facebook, racism is alive and doing well in America 2016. It is 2016 and we’re still in trouble! We bear witness to a black woman hanged in a cell, another black woman slammed to the ground for a minor traffic offense and as Ms. King is handcuffed and seated in the back of the police cruiser; the officer explains to her black people’s violent tendencies and then asks,” Why are so many people afraid of black people?”  ” NO body knows the trouble I’ve seen, no body knows my sorrow. The great sin of racism stills lives in 21st America . We should be ashamed , we are not, WE ARE STILL IN TROUBLED WATERS.

Young black men, teenagers gunned down, hands raised and still gunned down. Black Americans are choked, wrestled to the ground ,shot, dying in a police transport van. We are in the troubled water.

In a recent paper presented at The National Black Sister and Brothers Conference the following statistic was highlighted. In this country a black man is nine times more likely to be killed by a police officer. We live in these troubling times but we also morn violence when police officers’ lose their lives.

In his letter from a Birmingham Jail , Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words speak to us today: “Violence begets violence.” ” We reap what we sow.”

The Good News comes in the form of a movement, a new Civil Rights Movement , Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter because frankly speaking to all of you, in this country , they have NOT mattered.

Let me make this clear, this statement does NOT mean I or the Black Lives Matter Movement want police officers harmed or killed. It means I will not allow you to marginalize a movement, a people, a group who wants their focus to be on young black men killed by the police.


The racist naysayers spread the lies. “The Black Lives Matter Movement is an international activist movement, originating in the African American Community, it  campaigns against violence and systematic racism towards black people. BLM regularly organizes protests around the deaths of black people in killings by law enforcement and broader issues of racial profiling, police brutality , and racial inequality in the United States.”

BLM is in good company. The BLM like the Prophet Micah in the Old Testament, reminding his people that justice means something, like many movements BLM transforms people to become peacemakers in troubled times. BLM is similar, it reminds me of  the First Century Rabble Rouser, crucified Jewish teacher who dared to challenge, to spread love, to speak peace. BLM is the Indian attorney who led a movement that crushed the power structure in India. Ghandi’s weapon? Peace. BLM is Rosa who would not give up her seat, BLM … Malala, MLK, two Peace Prize Recipients.

Our  call, our black, African ancestors cry out . The black bodies of all those who survived the horror of the middle passage to land here. BLM reminds me that my blackness, my strength was forged by those black bodies that came before me. I call them from the past and they are with me, I draw them in, at this moment I am the whole reason they existed at all.

The anger, the frustration the pain and sorrow I feel reminds me that I must tell my  American Story. In telling my story you bear witness to My Humanity. Our connected humanity: black , white, brown, yellow is our strength. I want to share my American story with you.

This is a story my Great Grandmother, Virginia often told  her great grand children:

My great, great  grandmother was a slave, her name, I will never know.  Many African American’ s stories are disjointed, tragic, violent. It is  accurate to say that our history begins with being beaten, being abused, subjected to horrible but profitable systems in America .  The chattel, livestock, the black bodies built this nation.

Hear me now, this is America’s original sin, slavery.

My great great grandmother worked in the big house, a servant/slave of her master, one day while cleaning, she broke the handle of a china  cup and knew she’d be beaten for her accident. The many bruises on her body were testimony  to her white master’s cruelty.

Knowing she did not want to be beaten again, my great great grandmother put a rope around her neck and killed herself. As she was hanging from a tree; the master announced that she would hang there until the buzzerds ate her. This would be a reminder to his other slaves/chattel on the plantation.

The Master’s son took her body down in the middle of the night; she was buried in an unmarked grave.

When ever I tell this story it remind’s me of Bille Holidays Strange Fruit:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Look at this black body and see my humanity. I am a woman, I am the First African American woman to enter a white Catholic, Sisters of Saint Joseph of Springfield , Mass. The Catholic Church also has a past rooted deeply in prejudice, violence and slavery. I am a human being, I am your neighbor . If we know each other’s stories if we sow right relationships we can be saved. Neighbor to neighbor and neighbor with God. The Sisters of Saint Joseph strive to live this out . If you are my neighbor, if you know my story then as MLK wrote, “the arc of Justice bends toward peace and understanding. ”

If we know our neighbor our lives together, as sisters and brothers, one humanity will sow those Right Relationships.

We must be in solidarity with each other. We must speak the truth, walk in the truth, dialogue and work to change the system.

This is not a new  idea, it is what will save us. We are NOT THOSE PEOPLE , WE ARE YOU , WE ARE ONE, ONE HUMANITY. If you see my humanity you would never slam me against a police car, shoot at me, there would be equality in the schools, affordable housing, quality health care. The unjust systems will disappear.

My great, great grandmother’s master didn’t see his chattels’ humanity, the profit margin got in the way. The comfortable life he was able to have because he owned human beings, greed got in the his way.

We need to admit that racism built this country.  Knowing this, owning this, let’s fight for our redemption shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand, why? Because you are my sister, you are my brother.

WE are one body, one humanity, the arc of the moral universe is long, however if each of us takes hold of that arc we can bend it toward justice, we can bend toward understanding, we can bend toward peace. MLK was right.

MLK wrote: “the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love, sister and brotherhood will shine. ” My sisters my brothers Let us all keep our eyes on that prize, the distant tomorrow is today.

WE reap what we sow? Let’s sow love!!!

– Sister Melinda Pellerin

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