Race & Social Justice Coalition
Reading, learning, and discussing what we don’t know.
Acting to change what we discover.
Thomas Merton’s Call for Racial Justice
From Seeds of Destruction -1965
In the midst of the intense struggle for civil rights, Thomas Merton insisted that Christians had a moral duty to address racism—on a personal and systemic level. His words were prophetic at the time and continue to be relevant to this day. He writes:
The race question cannot be settled without a profound change of heart, a real shake-up and deep reaching metanoia [Greek for repentance or change of mind] on the part of White America. It is not just [a] question of a little more good will and generosity: it is a question of waking up to crying injustices and deep-seated problems which are ingrained in the present setup and which, instead of getting better, are going to get worse.
The purpose of non-violent protest, in its deepest and most spiritual dimensions is then to awaken the conscience of the white people to the awful reality of their injustice and of their sin, so that they will be able to see that the Negro problem is really a White problem: that the cancer of injustice and hate which is eating white society and is only partly manifested in racial segregation with all its consequences, is rooted in the heart of the white people themselves.
In later writings, Merton elaborates on the pernicious evil of systems of oppression and how we must combat them through the use of faith, hope, and love.
When a system can, without resort to overt force, compel people to live in conditions of abjection, helplessness, wretchedness . . . it is plainly violent. To make people live on a subhuman level against their will, to constrain them in such a way that they have no hope of escaping their condition, is an unjust exercise of force. Those who in some way or other concur in the oppression—and perhaps profit by it—are exercising violence even though they may be preaching pacifism. And their supposedly peaceful laws, which maintain this spurious kind of order, are in fact instruments of violence and oppression.
Growth, survival and even salvation may depend on the ability to sacrifice what is fictitious and unauthentic in the construction of one’s moral, religious or national identity. One must then enter upon a different creative task of reconstruction and renewal. This task can be carried out only in the climate of faith, of hope and of love: these three must be present in some form, even if they amount only to a natural belief in the validity and significance of human choice, a decision to invest human life with some shadow of meaning, a willingness to treat other people as other selves.
The Race and Social Justice Coalition, a diverse and committed group of faithful people based at a progressive Episcopal Church in Norwalk, Connecticut, dares to imagine a world free of racial oppression, poverty, educational inequality, and other forms of social injustice. By convening conversations, building partnerships, and engaging in direct action, it aims to help make that world a reality and ensure justice for all.
The group’s statement following the death of George Floyd:
The Race & Social Justice Coalition at St. Paul’s condemns the violent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless people of color by those who are supposed to protect them, a result of centuries of systemic racism in our country. We offer healing prayer for their families. We offer healing prayer for all. We commit to standing up and showing up as we continue to work for justice. We call for police reform and accountability. BLACK LIVES MATTER
The group meets every week to discuss current events, upcoming actions or advocacy, or books and media chosen for study. All regularly scheduled meetings take place Zoom on Wednesdays from 7-8:30pm. Contact the group for a Zoom link to the meeting. Newcomers are always welcome!
Protests and demonstrations
Several coalition members attended a Black Lives Matter protest and march on May 31st, with plans to participate in future demonstrations.
Harry Rilling, Mayor of Norwalk, offered a “seat at the table” to all interested parties on a newly formed city committee on racial justice issues. Thirteen members of the coalition attended the mayor’s meeting to join the effort.
Feeding the hungry
Members deliver groceries to the homebound, including the sick, the elderly, and parents who cannot leave their children, by partnering with Person-to-Person. Members also volunteer at P2P’s food pantry in South Norwalk.
The coalition will focus its efforts in “getting out the vote” in the 2020 primaries and elections.
The coalition has read over two dozen books and watched several films and documentaries over the course of its weekly discussion group. For a list of books, documentaries, films, and other media discussed by the group, click here.
In the course of its regular group meetings, the group has hosted multiple local experts and community advocates, including Jennifer Baharona of Norwalk ACTS, Bishop John Selders of Moral Majority CT, Denique Weidema-Lewis of Positive Directions, Margaret Suib of Fair Housing Norwalk, the Executive Director of Family Re-Entry, and Stephen Healey, Provost of the University of Bridgeport and others. For a complete list of guests, click here.
July 2023 Visit to the Ruby & Calvin Fletcher African American Museum
As part of their commitment to continuous learning about issues of race and justice, some members visited the first African American Museum in Stratford, Connecticut, founded by Jeffery Fletcher with artifacts collected by his mother, Ruby Fletcher. Read more about the experience HERE.
March 2020: True Justice screening
The coalition sponsored a free screening of the documentary True Justice, which chronicles the work of Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. The event, held in partnership with Norwalk ACTS, included a facilitated discussion following the screening.
January 2019: Let Justice Roll
Let Justice Roll, held in honor of MLK Day, was an evening concert and story-telling event at St. Paul’s featuring pianist, singer, and composer Mark Miller. The night included readings from texts the coalition had discussed, personal stories from the group’s members, and music led by the St. Paul’s choirs, directed by Mark Miller himself.