Author: Shannon M.D. Smith

Ahead of the #G20: Interfaith Initiatives to Achieve the Agenda 2030 Goals

ICYMI: Read the summary from the July 14th “Ahead of the #G20” webinar on changing societal and values-based frameworks for #ClimateAction.
Panelists included Mr. Arthur Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum; Ms. Karenna Gore, Executive Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City; and Ms. Astrid Shomaker, Director for Global Sustainable Development and Directorate General for Environment at the European Commission. Dr. Pasquale Annicchino of the Bruno Kessler Foundation moderated the discussion.
Read the summary at the IF20 Interfaith Forum:

Faith + Food Coalition: Reflections for WHO Health Week – June 10th

The Faith + Food Coalition:
‘Faith and Food: Reflections for WHO Health Week’
Thursday, June 10th, 11 am ET
To contribute to the UN Food Systems Summit, the Faith + Food Coalition hosted five separate interfaith, multi-stakeholder dialogues corresponding to each of the five Action Tracks. The objective of the dialogues was to explore how faith communities – including Indigenous communities – can support the transformation of global food systems to being sustainable, accessible, equitable, and regenerative. This panel will reflect on the dialogues and offer insights into increased faith engagement leading up to the Food Systems Summit and beyond.
We need everyone engaged to find local and global food systems solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet. 🌍  Join us! www.faithandfood.earth

 

Andrew Schwartz has nearly a decade of experience working with community leaders and elected officials around the world to build movements, craft communications and affect change on climate and environmental issues. He is the Director of Sustainability and Global Affairs at the Center for Earth Ethics where he works to change both policies and culture to advance the sustained well-being of the people of the world. A graduate of the Union Theological Seminary, Andrew began his career as a youth representative to the United Nations Rio+20 Conference in Brazil in 2012. A native of Oregon, Andrew and his wife and daughter live in Portland.

 

Kelly Moltzen is a tireless advocate of making connections between food, faith, and social justice. In addition to being a co-convener of the Interfaith Public Health Network, Kelly is a program manager at the Institute for Family Health with the Bronx Health REACH initiative. She is a 2015 Re:Generate Fellow with the Food, Health and Ecological Well-Being Program of Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Professional Development Co-Chair with the Religion Member Interest Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and a member of the Ecumenical/Interfaith Committee of the USA Secular Franciscan Order. She has an MPH from NYU, completed her dietetic internship with the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and has a BS in Nutritional Sciences & Dietetics from the University of Delaware. Kelly was recognized as part of Hunter College’s NYC Food Policy Center 40 Under 40 Class of 2020. 

 

Dr. Marium Husain is an oncology hospitalist at the Ohio State University James Comprehensive Care Center. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine and completed a residency in Internal Medicine. She will be pursuing a fellowship in Hematology/Oncology. Marium has been working on community service projects in the Columbus area and abroad for the past 10 years. As a board member of the national non-profit, IMANA (Islamic Medical Association of North America), she has been working on public health education and creating domestic campaigns for food insecurity, reproductive health, mental health and climate change.

 

Joshua Basofin is a lawyer, conservationist, sustainability advisor, and climate change organizer. After a stint as a researcher and teaching assistant at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Joshua worked as a sustainability advisor, first in Tel Aviv and then in New York with UK based nonprofit Forum for the Future. He now serves as the  Director of Climate Action for Parliament of the World’s Religions.

 

 

 

Bibi la Luz Gonzales is an international political economist merging food security. Climate, sustainability and human rights. She is the founder of Come Mejor Wa’ik//Eat Better Wa’ik. Bibi is a positive and enthusiastic multilingual Global Shaper, One Young World Ambassador, World Merit Guatemala Office Representative, and Merit360 SDG2 Executor.

 

 

 

Steve Chiu is Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s Representative at the United Nations. In alignment with Tzu Chi’s work in disaster relief, climate action, education for global citizenship, sustainable development and gender equality, Steve works to build relationships, share best practices and develop programs with other organizations to make tangible impacts on the ground, with the mission of alleviating the suffering of those in need. With over 19 years of experience in community based development and local interfaith partnership, Steve seeks to connect the importance of grassroots action to policies that are being developed on the international level.

 

Almamy Chouaibou Diagan

Co-Founder, Smart System Services + Rim Robotique designing technological solutions adapted to our cities to reduce the impact of man on the phenomenon of global warming. Co-Founder of the ‘’Union des Jeunes entrepreneurs Mauritanien’’ and member of the Network of young Mauritanian scientists.

 

 

 

Stineke Oenema is the Global Coordinator of the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSN)

 

 

 

Dr. Maria P. Neira has been directing the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland since September 2005. Throughout her tenure and up until now she has led and advised on policy and management in key areas of environmental health.  Prior to that she served as Under-Secretary of Health and President of the Spanish Food Safety Agency. From 1993-1998 she was Coordinator of the Global Task Force on Cholera Control.

Dr Neira began her career as a medical coordinator working with refugees in El Salvador and Honduras for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). She then spent several years working in different African countries during armed conflicts. In early 2019, she was nominated among the top 100 policy influencers in health and climate change.  

 

Dr. Martin Frick is the Deputy of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit 2021. Previously, he served as the senior director of UN Climate Change where he oversaw the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and the secretariat’s climate action work.

The Faith + Food Coalition is convened by the Center for Earth Ethics in response to the call for contributions to the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.

Join us! www.faithandfood.earth

Faith + Food Dialogues Series Registration is Open!

Faith + Food Dialogues ~ May 6th – June 3rd

A series of independent dialogues hosted by the Faith and Food Coalition to contribute to the United Nations Food Systems Summit.

Food sits at the center of our lives. From a meal on the go to a holiday spent around the table with family and friends, food not only sustains us but helps define who we are. It informs aspects of our religious identities and marks how we choose to interact with the world.

Globally our relationship with food and the systems we utilize to produce it are having alarming effects on the earth and its people. Nearly 2 billion people are food insecure while billions more are ailing from diet related health issues. Human and planetary health are suffering as a result of how food is grown and what kinds of food are being encouraged.

This Fall, the Secretary-General of the United Nations will be convening a Food Systems Summit which will bring together farmers, politicians, business leaders, youth groups and other civil society members to examine how our global food systems can be reformed to equitably and sustainably feed the world.

To contribute, the Faith and Food Coalition is hosting five independent virtual dialogues to critically examine the role faith based organizations can bring to conversations about our food systems. These dialogues will take place as part of the broader Food Systems Summit Dialogues.

These dialogues are being organized by the following coalition of leading faith-based organizations: Bhumi Global, Interfaith Public Health Network, Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), Parliament of the World’s Religions, the Tzu Chi Foundation, World Evangelical Alliance, and the Center for Earth Ethics.

 

 

Check out our livestream preview from March 26th –

Join CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore, Sustainability and Global Affairs Program Director Andrew Schwartz, Original Caretakers Program Senior Fellow Mona Polacca and Director of Bhumi Global Gopal Patel on our YouTube Channel.

 

Join the Faith + Food Coalition Community! www.FaithandFood.Earth

Union Theological Seminary Climate Emergency Community Assembly

When: April 22nd and 23rd, 2021 2:00 – 4:30 pm
As you may have heard, Union has recently declared a climate emergency, being the first seminary in the world to do so. The declaration commits Union to adopting a climate mobilization plan with the goal of eliminating our school’s carbon emissions in the next ten years. The plan will recommend changes to Union’s facilities, curriculum, and community engagement.
Union has committed to a democratic process for creating the plan, which will take the form of a Community Assembly on April 22nd and 23rd. The Community Assembly will consist of 15 students, 5 faculty, 5 staff, and 5 alums.
Attached is a copy of the Emergency Declarationthe Assembly Itinerary, and a Google Form if you are interested in participating. All students should have also gotten an email with a slightly more robust explanation and access to all the links as well.

White House Announces Environmental Justice Advisory Council Members including Catherine Coleman Flowers

Today, the White House announced the members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. The advisory council will provide advice and recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on how to address current and historic environmental injustices, including recommendations for updating Executive Order 12898.

The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) was established by President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad to fulfill his and Vice President Harris’s commitment to confronting longstanding environmental injustices and to ensuring that historically marginalized and polluted, overburdened communities have greater input on federal policies and decisions.

“We know that we cannot achieve health justice, economic justice, racial justice, or educational justice without environmental justice. That is why President Biden and I are committed to addressing environmental injustice,” said Vice President Harris. “This historic White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council will ensure that our administration’s work is informed by the insights, expertise, and lived experience of environmental justice leaders from across the nation.”

The WHEJAC members will represent a diverse set of geographical regions and will serve in a voluntary capacity.

• LaTricea Adams, Michigan
• Susana Almanza, Texas
• Jade Begay, South Dakota
• Maria Belen-Power, Massachusetts
• Dr. Robert Bullard, Texas
• Tom Cormons, Virginia
• Andrea Delgado, Washington, D.C.
• Catherine Flowers, Alabama
• Jerome Foster, New York
• Kim Havey, Minnesota
• Angelo Logan, California
• Maria Lopez-Nunez, New Jersey
• Harold Mitchell, South Carolina
• Richard Moore, New Mexico
• Rachel Morello-Frosch, California
• Juan Parras, Texas
• Michele Roberts, Washington, D.C.
• Ruth Santiago, Puerto Rico
• Nicky Sheats, New Jersey
• Peggy Shepard, New York
• Carletta Tilousi, Arizona
• Vi Waghiyi, Alaska
• Kyle Whyte, Michigan
• Beverly Wright, Louisiana
• Hli Xyooj, Minnesota
• Miya Yoshitani, California

“This is a historic moment that environmental justice communities have been working toward for decades. President Biden and Vice President Harris are, for the first time ever, bringing the voices, perspectives, and expertise of environmental justice communities into a formal advisory role at the White House,” said Cecilia Martinez, Senior Director for Environmental Justice, CEQ. “The advisory council builds off the important work of EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and will provide input and recommendations to senior leaders across government as this administration works to clean up toxic pollution, create good-paying, union jobs in all communities, and give every child in America the chance to grow up healthy.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) will fund and provide administrative support for the WHEJAC. The first meeting of the WHEJAC will be held virtually tomorrow, March 30, and will be open to the public. Please visit the U.S. EPA’s WHEJAC webpage for more information at:  www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/white-house-environmental-justice-advisory-council.

The WHEJAC will complement the ongoing work of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee established in 1993 to provide advice and recommendations on EJ issues to the Administrator of the EPA. More information about NEJAC can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/national-environmental-justice-advisory-council

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Watch: Faith + Food Coalition opens dialogues with livestream

The Center for Earth Ethics is so excited about the Faith + Food Coalition Dialogue Series – we hosted a livestream conversation Friday, March 26th!

Check out our conversation with CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore, Sustainability and Global Affairs Program Director Andrew Schwartz, Original Caretakers Program Senior Fellow Mona Polacca and Director of Bhumi Global Gopal Patel on why we are convening faith groups to talk about food systems and the contributions of indigenous wisdom to solving these complex challenges.

Bring a snack to eat! Make a cuppa.

Join the Faith + Food Coalition Community at faithandfood.earth!

March 24th registration deadline approaching for Earth Day online training Faith Cohort!

The Center for Earth Ethics is kicking off Earth Day by co-hosting a Faith Leaders cohort at the upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training happening April 22 – May 2. We are teaming with The Climate Reality Project to create specific sessions that will help faith leaders from across traditions integrate climate activism into their work. Registration is open until March 24th!

 

FAITH COHORT REGISTRATION INSTRUCTIONS:

Visit the Registration link at Climate Reality. To register to be part of the Faith Cohort please answer the following questions in the registration form as outlined below:

  • Do you currently volunteer or organize with any groups focused on climate change or environmental justice? Please answer “YES”
  • Organization Name: Please write “Center for Earth Ethics”
  • Email Jennifer Fei at [email protected] and let her know you’ve joined the Faith cohort. This will help us ensure that you are given access to all of the faith specific events and tables.

REGISTER HERE

THIS IS OUR MOMENT FOR CHANGE. YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps Virtual US Training will feature four days of two-hour live broadcasts, with additional on-demand viewing and interactive sessions available between April 22 and May 2.

 

During the training, you’ll join broadcast sessions with some of the world’s leading climate experts and activists – led by former Vice President Al Gore – along with breakout sessions designed to dive deeper into the most important climate topics of today. Sessions will focus on three key themes in the fight for an equitable and sustainable future:

  • Stopping fossil fuel expansion
  • Accelerating just climate solutions
  • Driving federal climate action in the US

The Virtual US Training offers the chance to connect with other activists just like you and join a global network of world changers making a real difference for the planet when it matters.There is no cost to attend and our flexible online format is designed to work with your schedule. This is our time and your year to make a difference.

*Note on Scheduling:

We will offer the Faith Cohort option during the weekday training schedule. If the weekday schedule does not work for you and you would like to participate in the weekend training schedule, please let us know. Feel free to email Jennifer Fei at jen[email protected] with any questions or to discuss your options for participating in the Faith Cohort.

REGISTER HERE

Looking forward to seeing you April, 22nd!

– The Center for Earth Ethics Team

Water, Sanitation and Inequality in the US – Catherine Coleman Flowers project with The Guardian

Help us Investigate Sanitation Inequality in the US

Categories: Public Programs & Events

We know that access to sanitation – just like access to clean air and water – is so often divided along race and class lines. But while there’s never been more awareness that environmental racism pervades the US, there’s not enough research detailing how – making solutions hard to come by.

For that reason, we’re excited to announce that Union is supporting a critical environmental justice project focused on sanitation inequality – one that every one of us can take part in.

We are joining with the Guardian newspaper and the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice in a project called “America’s Dirty Divide”. Led by the environmental justice pioneer and senior fellow at the Center for Earth Ethics Catherine Coleman Flowers, they have created this questionnaire to investigate how widespread this problem is. The project will investigate how many people in America do not have access to sanitation and sewage services – a problem endemic to many poorer communities and communities of color that has never been properly documented.

TAKE THE QUESTIONNAIRE

In particular, they’re looking for examples of sewage problems in homes or communities; poorly functioning septic systems; or poorly operating municipal sewage systems. Entire communities are living with sewage flowing into yards or homes, with terrible consequences for their health, economic stability, and dignity. Yet there is no sustained national effort to tackle this problem. (The Guardian’s first story since launching this project, about the town of Centreville, Illinois, is here.)

We would love your help in circulating the questionnaire to your contacts – clergy, other faith leaders, community activists, and anyone you think would be willing to respond or to take the questionnaire to their networks. The Guardian and CREEJ would also like to hear from you directly if you have experience with these issues, or familiarity with a community that you think they should look into.

If you have questions, suggestions, or ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. Thank you so much for taking the time to spread the word. It’s our hope that by exposing the scope of this issue, we’ll be able to catalyze efforts to address it.

Restoring Brigid, Restoring Justice

Shannon Michaela Doree Smith.  Updated March 8th. 
This piece is re-published on International Women’s Day 2021 with gratitude to President Joseph R. Biden for his Proclamation on Irish-American Heritage Month, 2021 and a call for “all Americans to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Irish Americans to our Nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs. The story of the Irish the world over is one of people who have weathered their fair share of hard times, but have always come out strong on the other side.”

“We sing a song to Brigid

Brigid brings the spring

Awakens all the fields and flowers 

And calls the birds to sing…”

In the rekindling of the sacred fires of early Christianity, a Celtic Christianity that was not afraid of earth based traditions, we pause at the cross quarter days of Imbolc to welcome Brigid – Goddess or Saint – as she brings spring back to the land.

Brigid (Brigit, Bhride, Brighid, Bríd) as Saint is Patroness of Ireland, she is also a triple Goddess figure of a pre-Christian time. She represents the aspects of Irish traditions and culture encompassing blacksmithing, animal husbandry, hospitality and justice. She holds the teachings of the elementals and of alchemy from the forging of iron and shaping of tools to the forging of words, philosophy and spirit into the prophetic bardic tradition of poetry.

It is worthy to note the perspective of the Brigidine Sisters, Catholic Sisters who to this day celebrate the qualities of Brigid as a woman ‘for our time’. She is emblematic of the call to care for the earth and a beacon in the work of justice and a guide for chaplaincy. From the Sisters: “A Life of Brigid” (Vita Brigitae), composed by Cogitosus about 650 AD, places great emphasis on Brigid’s faith, her healing powers, her hospitality, her generosity, her great skill with animals, and her compassion for the poor and the oppressed. Twenty three of the thirty two chapters tell of her extraordinary concern for the poor. Today that call for justice is strong. 

The story of the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes sits as a stain for the Irish people. Irish Central reported in 2019, “The Magdalene Laundries, named after Mary Magdalene who was in earlier centuries characterized as a converted prostitute, existed from the early 1760s through the late 1990’s in Ireland, the UK, Australia, and the US. An estimated 30,000 women were confined.” The last laundry closed in 1996, just 25 years ago. The numbers of women and babies held was largely speculated but ultimately unknown as records of forced labor and imprisonment as well as records of pregnancies and forced, sometimes illegal, adoptions were not always kept. It has long been a sore reality of children now grown into adulthood not knowing their histories having been separated from their shamed mothers, some not even knowing their own birthdate.

The grievousness of this buried trauma came into painful focus when 796 children, most of them infants, were found in a mass grave on the grounds of the Mother and Baby home in Tuam that had been operated by an order of the Roman Catholic Church between 1925 and 1961. The bodies of the children were found conspicuously in the area of a sewage tank with no shrouds, no coffins. This horrible discovery begged the question, what else was hidden, what else was unknown about this terrible time in Irish history? 

In 2015, a federal commission was formed to collect survivor testimony with the intention to produce a report of what happened principally between 1925 and 1998. When the report was to be completed and released in the fall of 2020 in the midst of Covid, a series of missteps began to occur. Survivor testimony was reported lost, portions of the report were leaked, motions were passed in government at a moment’s notice seemingly without regard for the survivors themselves. These events compounded other issues. In January of 2021 the Mother and Baby Homes Commission reported 57,000 children being moved through these homes and over 9,000 infant deaths, however, only 18 out of over 150 homes were included in the report and the recommendation by the Irish Human Rights Commission to apply a human rights framework to the Mother and Baby Homes investigation had been rejected.

The image given to the public was one of a desire to rush through to the completion of the investigation without response to areas of concern and without consultation from survivors, those whose stories of abuse would be summarized, assessed and filed away. While the government leader, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, offered an apology, for some it has not been enough to bring justice to the wounds of the past. In his remarks, Martin said, “One of the clearest messages of the testimonies in this report is how this treatment of women and children is something which was the direct result of how the State, and how we as a society acted.” 

This statement inspired the daughter of a Mother and Baby Homes survivor, Laura Murphy, to write an extraordinary history as to what created the conditions that led to the mistreatment, humiliation and oppression of women and their children at the hands of both the church and state when from their collusion, ‘A terrible beauty was born’. In her declaration, “The Irish people were coercively controlled – indoctrinated  – through instruments of shame and fear to behave in ways that were contrary to our nature. Muintir na hÉireann did not give informed consent.” “Mná na hÉireann (the women of Ireland) did not give informed consent”, “the people of Ireland did not give informed consent”, separating the actions of the church and state from the will of the people (‘we as a society’).

In this clarion call for justice, her words speak volumes to the loss of Brigid for the Irish and descendants worldwide and to the potential watershed of healing as we acknowledge and repair the trauma of colonization and the ‘perverse’ religious narrative that was adopted and continues to perpetuate harm. 

Murphy writes, “Our society was the remnants of one invasion after another from the beginning of our history, the vestiges of a perpetual battle for the reclamation of sovereignty and the preservation of the spirit of our people and land. It was a miracle that we – a small, pillaged, broken nation – had any remaining energy or means to fight for and win our freedom. But we did. Irish women were pivotal in the winning of Irish independence. When Pádraic Pearse declared Irish independence, he addressed ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’. The promise of our proclamation was ‘equality, happiness and prosperity for all men, women and children’. We were a war-weary, exhausted, divided and vulnerable society. Women and children were written out and the Roman Catholic Church was written in. This truth needs to be understood, acknowledged and acted upon. Survivors need real respect, redress and support, not just lip service. As part of this I am calling for a new national holiday to mark Brigid’s Day. It is time to honour Ireland’s women, past, present. and future.”

In these days when the call to justice, not just recapitulation, is bold and strong we must heed the wisdom of those who keep their hearts and minds close to what is truly being called for. Black Lives Matter and Land Back movements are among those pointing the way. Justice does not come from tolerance, but from equity. Justice comes when we tell the truth about our history. Reconciliation only comes after the Truth.

There is much to learn from the history of the Irish and Irish American people’s experience having been colonized on their own soil by the British; then emigrating, persecuted and punished; then assimilated into ‘American’ and other westernized cultures. Similar to other colonized peoples such as those indigenous to “the Americas” and “Australia”, the Irish, despite being white bodied, were also subject to beatings and humiliation in their post-colonial schools if caught speaking their native language. Their skulls were measured, some on their heads and some stolen from graves, by British researchers in an attempt to prove the Irish as the ‘missing link’ in evolution between monkeys and black bodied people. 

When the British came to Ireland they burned the trees to enforce their domination. It destroyed the shelter in which the Irish could hide from their colonizers and simultaneously destroyed a cultural connection to the land, terrorizing a free people away from their language and traditions which were rooted in the forests. For the Irish, their first laws and language emerged from the trees. Brehon Laws were passed to wisdom keepers by oral tradition until the monastic scribes wrote down what they could to preserve them. The Irish language formed from the Proto-Celtic Ogham alphabet where each letter was representative of a species of tree. This system of law and language for many is interwoven with their living indigenous forms of timekeeping which align seasonal, agricultural and archetypal calendars.

 

Image by Yuri Leitch, author, The Ogham Grove

When the Irish came to the shores of Turtle Island they were leaving under duress fleeing famine and persecution at home. As descendants of Irish immigrants in the Americas many of us learned a skeletal version of the story of the potato famine. As has been done with other genocides and actions against marginalized peoples, much was erased from our school books. Most of us were not taught how the English sent food that was growing in the nearly barren soil back to England, starving the poor and the hungry people native to the land all while burning their houses and their forests. Some report the most sacred Oaks were cut and used to build the stately homes of the oppressors.

We know that this was not the only instance of colonization enforced through the desacralization of trees as the British had also applied a similar tactic at home. Hawthorne trees, for example, are sacred to the Celts and pre-Celtic nations of many European lands. You will find them commonly beside sacred sites, especially holy wells, as one of the designated ‘guardians’ of these sacred openings into the womb of the Mother. The English co-opted use of the Hawthornes from their place in indigenous culture and turned them into shrubbery used to demarcate property – another design of the dominator culture to enforce ‘ownership’ of the land – a concept both foreign to original peoples. What we understand from this is that for colonization to take root and to thrive it is necessary to cut the relationship between the land and the people. And it is only by the enforcement of this disembodiment can the dominator maintain control. 

During the time of the Great Famine many Irish departed for foreign lands from a place called the Bridge of Tears in the north of the republic near Donegal so named because it was the place where families said goodbye to loved ones making far-away journeys. Those leaving did not know if they would ever be returning home – those staying behind not knowing if they would ever see their loved ones again. Some left for the likes of Australia or South Africa, others to Nova Scotia where Irish communities still exist, some co-mingled with Native American populations like the Mic Maq on Cape Breton. Some came through the gates of the ‘New World’. Into the twentieth century they may have faced the signs of racism “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”, or in London ‘to let’ signs reading “No Coloured, No Irish, No Children.”

Photo Credit: Hamil Clarke, ‘Two generations. One fight’: Black men talk about their experiences of racism in Ipswich’, ITV

Patrick became the Saint they carried with them – a Roma-British missionary from a wealthy family credited with the arrival of Christianity to Ireland and driving out the snakes. Patrick himself was brought to Ireland initially as a child under capture and ‘found God’. When he returned to Ireland as an adult he challenged the Druids – and drove the earth based traditions into the ground – a story told in the allegory of driving out the ‘snakes’. Brigid herself – Irish patroness, symbol of justice, love for the stranger, care for the earth and all her creatures was largely forgotten. While some describe Patrick as a figure who embraced the old world and the new, one can read the Catholic encyclopedia’s full story on Patrick’s battle against the Druids online here. The success of replacing Bhride with Patrick is evidenced easily by the popular parades each March 17th in the US, Ireland and all around the world. It is also noted by oral tradition keepers like John Willmont of Carrowcrory Gardens, stories of more subtle but enduring maneuvers, such as the renaming of holy wells to shift their dedications from Brigid to Patrick changing the course of local traditions and veneration. 

Why is this important especially in these times? 

In a time of great upheaval, and in the US, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and a wholly unacceptable number of black brothers and sisters in the United States, white descendants of immigrants (and sometimes of the original colonizers themselves) have been asked or rather tasked with a sometimes uncomfortable demand – to go back and wrestle with the truth of our own heritage and the sins committed both by and against our ancestors. We are tasked with undoing the inculturation of white supremacy – of all forms of supremacy – to relieve our black, brown, yellow and red brothers and sisters of the burden white supremacy has placed on them. To relieve the burden the doctrine of domination has wrought upon the earth. There is no question that in addition to the burdens placed upon our colonized ancestors, there was a moment when the old world’s stories were put to the side to rise within the new society where one’s ability to conform and willingness to compete, paved the way for acceptance and material success. But now what? 

White bodied people in the US are instructed not to culturally appropriate from the traditions of others in our ‘melting pot’ of diversity but what, if anything, does that leave? With churches seeing record numbers of losses in membership and systems of privilege, capitalism, and patriarchy under fire for abuse, where does that leave so many people? On defense? With shame? An unending apology? Reparations? – yes. But if we can look at the shame that is exposed and make that sincere apology we can begin to make equitable amends and to retrieve our own cultural and spiritual identities. 

So this year, we can begin. Begin by honoring the ways of your ancestors. Begin making relations with the land you are on and the waters where you reside, but also, begin to research, to study, to understand, and even to practice what it was that your ancestors did to offer their gratitude, to pray, to connect to the earth. To honor the cycles and the seasons – just begin.

As social justice innovator Sonya Renee Taylor offers, there are some questions to ask, and a quest to fulfill:

“White people cannot escape the violences of whiteness without reckoning with their history. Without reckoning with their ancestors…The history of whiteness is a trauma on the whole world, and every day people of color have to deal with the trauma of whiteness. The problem is white people have been trying not to deal with the trauma of whiteness in their own lives.

And the only way to do that is to actually go back and heal –

  • To heal the relationship with your ancestors
  • To grieve the loss of their humanity through their violent acts
  • To learn what it was that it made them
  • To seek who they were before they became white 
  • To see what can be salvaged from that place that is within your own culture 
  • and to account for that which was done in harm to gain power.

That’s the only way to move from whiteness…

It is in the cultural mindset of whiteness to figure out how to not have to sit in the discomfort of that history. Be clear I’m talking about an indoctrination in whiteness (not the color of your skin). You actually have to become really clear about how whiteness operates as a system and where it operates as a system. And then the work is to not only remove it from yourself, but to remove it from the systems and structures in the world where it continues to wreak harm.”

Sonya Renee Taylor – Being Assigned White at Birth – Complete Video

 

This is our call to the Both / And. 

Not the both / and that asks us to give equal airtime to the oppressors and the oppressed. This is the both / and of both dismantling the broken system of white supremacy – and beginning to sow new roots in the culture and traditions we have been uprooted from.

Just for today, just for now, remember and recognize that your people, wherever your ancestors are from, were connected to the earth. No matter how far back you have to go to find it. They prayed with the fire and the water. The forests were sacred. They still are: a realization and a revelation of our time on Earth “When we come to it,” as Maya Angelou says again and again as a mantra of awakening in ‘A Brave and Startling Truth’.

As President Biden writes in his address for this month of Irish-American History, ”Everything between us runs deep: literature, poetry, sadness, joy, and, most of all, resilience. Through every trial and tempest, we never stop dreaming.” In beautiful confluence with International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, let us join in a chorus for Brigid to raise her into our consciousness again with the goal to bring forth justice.

Lady, from winters dark,

Star of Imbolc, rise

Dance around our threshold,

Scattering warm laughter,

Seeds of hospitality, forgiveness!

Return again to the folk;

You the spring we yearn for!

Walk to a well, a river, a stream and tend to the waters in reverence. Return among the trees. Be a Brigid of hospitality to a friend, a family member, or a stranger who needs it. Do the work of justice on the inside. Let that guide you in the work of justice without. Be in community. Take care of one another. Alchemize – metal into fire, words into inspirations, poetry into action.

Support the establishment of Brigid’s Day as a National Holiday in Ireland beginning in 2022 and for Irish Americans to stand in solidarity with our kin.  #BrigidsDay2022.


*Author’s Notes: the Irish daughter of a Mother and Baby Homes survivor Laura Murphy penned an Open Letter to the Taoiseach in response to the recent controversial 3,000 page report. In her letter she addresses themes and issues brought forth here, and suggests the designation of Brigid’s Day, February 1st as a National Holiday in Ireland. Please read her letter linked above and support #BrigidsDay2022.

You can learn more by watching Ms. Murphy’s Feb 26, 2021 interview with Carrie Ford on One Boat International Chaplaincy for Covid Times. “The Friday Conversation with activist Laura Murphy discloses a terrible history of shame, cover – ups, lost lives, workhouse conditions, silencing, traumatised lives, and over 9000 documented infant deaths in the recent revelations of the twentieth century experiment of social control exercised by the Catholic Church and State in the first century of the Republic of Ireland. And opens up a pathway for healing and hope.”

**This piece was researched and compiled in cooperation with Karen Minchin, Bean Feasa.

Resources:

The Irish Famine: Complicity in Murder, The Washington Post

Saint Patrick in the DIB, Royal Irish Academy

When America Despised the Irish: The 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis, History Stories, Christopher Klein

St. Brigid, Irish Chaplaincy

Mother and Baby Homes report: 9,000 children died amid high infant mortality rate, The Irish Times

Mother and Baby Homes Commission Report, Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation

‘Two generations. One fight’: Black men talk about their experiences of racism in Ipswich’, ITV

2021 Online offerings for Brigid this Imbolc – Solas Bhride Centre & Hermitages

Sonya Renee Taylor: Videos including Bodies of Resistance

John Willmont of Carrowcrory Gardens

Old Cork Waterworks, Cork City

Our Patroness, Brigidine Sisters of Australia

St. Brigid of Ireland, Catholic Ireland

Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Wikipedia

Bigotry against Irish alive and well in the Uk in 2020, The Irish Times

The last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland closed its doors in 1996, Irish Central

Catherine Flowers and her fight for environmental justice in Alabama

In parts of the American south, many homes don’t have access to working waste treatment – something activist Catherine Flowers is fighting to change

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The environmental activist Catherine Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama. It’s an area that was once home to plantations, and today is still known for its rich soil. But that soil also poses a challenge for waste management: 90% of households in Lowndes County have failing or inadequate water systems.

This means they have no way to manage the raw sewage from their homes. It’s a problem that exists across the state, but one that disproportionately affects the African-American population.

The lack of public sanitation in Lowndes County can be explained by government neglect, Flowers tells Rachel Humphreys. And because the cost of installing private septic tanks is more than many residents can afford, they have been punished with threats of prosecution for failure to install sanitation systems.

Catherine Flowers
 Photograph: AP