WASHINGTON (CNS) — When journalist Olga M. Segura initially set out to write a book on Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church, she intended it to be more of an overview that might prompt white Catholics to get more involved in the work of racial justice.
That was back in early 2020, when she first started writing. Then, the pandemic hit, followed soon after by nationwide protests after George Floyd died while in Minneapolis police custody.
Her book, published last April, essentially took on a new life. As she puts it: “I thought, ‘OK, it’s not about gentle accompaniment anymore.’”
Instead, she said the book’s emphasis became about helping Catholics understand how the church is suffering and how Catholics of color are “struggling in ways that people might not even be thinking about.”
It also ended up becoming more personal because Segura, a Black Catholic who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, wanted to share some of her own experience.
The freelance writer and opinion editor at the National Catholic Reporter said she realized that what she was going through at the time was not an anomaly.
“This is everyone in my community,” she said, adding that the book also revealed her faith struggles, particularly her feeling that her church was no longer providing a safe space for her or other non-white Catholics.
Reaction to the book, “Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church,” has been twofold. Segura said her community felt “really affirmed” and that white Catholics, in the spaces she has been invited to, said they have welcomed the book’s challenges.
The author noted that while the book was timely, it also was difficult to write during so much upheaval, first with the pandemic when her father was hospitalized early on with COVID-19, and then with the protests for racial justice and their reminders of where the country still is and how much needs to be done.
During this time, Segura said she was completely surprised by how many white Catholics were immediately on board not just at protests but also in fundraising efforts. She said she has seen a lot of people engaging with this movement for the first time and quickly figuring out how to get their communities more involved, even while people were still socially distanced.
Although the overall work of fighting systemic racism is encouraging, she also noted that going against it on a daily basis is exhausting.
Segura said she encounters racism in her role as editor where she said she gets a lot of hate mail from “people who get really, really angry when I publish pieces that in their minds are ‘too Black’” or from white Catholic men who tell her she doesn’t understand church teaching or what Pope Francis is preaching.
She also said a lot of Catholic spaces “are still figuring out” how to be less racist and it often falls on her to help, which she finds draining, but also something she believes God calls her to do.
And now, although the public protests have stopped, she said plenty of people are still doing the work, especially in Catholic schools where people are “really trying to figure out how to help young students in particular respond to this moment.”
In her talks at Catholic schools across the country about her book, Segura said students are thinking about how to creatively organize and how to change their schools and their larger community.
“Young people want to respond,” she said. “They want to do this work. They want to be involved” and she noted that “Catholic educators are stepping up and trying to meet that challenge in a lot of real ways.”
Seeing this spirit gives her hope that change is coming, even if it takes time.
“Through God’s love,” she said, “we can radically transform our church. We can radically transform our world.”
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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim