Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Another Perspective

Sr. Kendra Bottoms of St. John Medical Center’s Pastoral Care Team offered a unique perspective on Martin Luther King Day Monday at St. Adalbert School in Cleveland.

She spoke on Henriette De Lisle and the Dream of Equality. Joined by the Holy Spirit Choir, youth readers and the friendship of a pot luck dinner, Sr. Kendra correlated the MLK Dream with the historical perspective of the 19th century calling of Henriette DeLille (1813–1862), who founded the Catholic order of the Sisters of the Holy Family, made up of free women of color, in New Orleans. The order provided nursing care and a home for orphans, later establishing schools as well.

“King had a dream of equality for all. But the establishment did not like this dream, and after a time, it erased the dreamer. And the dream, though it had come some distance, smouldered,” said Sr. Kendra. “Had King been like Jesus? Jesus had a different message for the folks of his time. Yes, becoming free from the Romans was a goal, but returning to God, to being God’s people, to walking in the freedom of the children of God was the freedom Jesus brought.”

Henriette DeLille , a descendent of slaves, rose up through an era of strictly enforced segregation and attitudes of prejudicial extremes to serve in a Holy Family so repressed that they were not allowed to wear the Catholic habit of the day (“Henriette was an octoroon, a creole of color, one-eighths black”). Henriette DeLille was declared venerable by the Vatican in 2010.

“What was Henriette’s dream? Did she really dream of equality for all? Or did she simply hear God calling her to owning who she was – black,” asked Sr. Kendra.

“And we, as African-Americans in these United States, how do we answer this question of who I am? Remember the many phrases we used to describe ourselves? Colored, negroes, Afro-Americans, African Americans, black. How many of us choose to say, “I am an American?

“How do I answer that question of who I am? Am I willing to be who I am? Am I ready to witness to the beauty that God shines through me? Am I ready to praise and lift up and embrace the beauty that resides in each and every person?”

Henriette was a link in the ancestral line of the Black Catholic. She could have stepped out of the line. She basically had only a drop of black blood, but it was an era when a drop of blood defined a race. But she heard the Lord calling her to embrace her reality, to serve her people and be who she was.

Today, about 200 nuns continue to serve in her order, working in southern American cities.

“I am not sure that Henriette’s goal was as broad as our title – a dream of equality,” said Sr. Kendra Bottoms on Martin Luther King Day. “But in reality, how can each of us move our people and a world a step closer to equality?

“Can I own my own blackness, even it is just a drop? Can I encourage our black children to reach for the stars – to be doctors, lawyers, sisters, nurses, president? Yes, we can!

“I’d wager Martin Luther King, Jr., looking at our world today would weep….What has happened to this dream?” continued Sr. Kendra.

“Let us push toward that dream of equality each and every day, by being the beautiful person, and for those of us who are black – the beautiful black person – God has called us to be. By radiating through every ounce of our being the reality that, yes – I am a child of God.”

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