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To Face the Truth of our Nation, Black History Must Be Part of Every Month

Black History Month

Today, February 28, marks the final day of Black History Month—and this year, the month has been a study in contrasts. On one hand, it has been encouraging to see an elevated conversation around the contributions of Black Americans to our country’s history and to see honors given to those who are making history today in the fields of science, law, government, the arts and more. There is a growing recognition in many areas of our society that we must commit to righting the wrongs of systemic racism that continue to cause harm to our one human family.

On the other hand, this increased awareness of and appreciation for Black history has been matched by a ferocious backlash against the truth about the enormous obstacles that Black Americans have had to overcome to achieve greatness—and of the obstacles they still face today in just trying to live lives of equal rights and opportunity.

The process of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation is a journey, and our journey must start with a shared understanding of truth. Without truth, we can’t move on to healing; without healing, we can’t move on to transformation. Without this process, our nation will not live up to God’s truth that all people are created equal.

It is a fact that slavery held people in bondage for more than 200 years and a fact that racism is woven into the social, political and legal systems of our country today. Yet in state legislatures and school districts across the nation, there is a push to deny or distort the facts. There is a push to prevent the continued learning of our history, to decontextualize the achievements of Black Americans, and to downplay the tragedy of how racism divides us today. As the past has shown, when we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it—or, just as tragically, perpetuate it. 

As the saying goes, the truth will set us free. But being free doesn’t mean being protected from the ugliness of the past; it means coming face to face with it so that we can know it and never let it happen again. As long as we put up false fronts, like the disingenuous debate around Critical Race Theory, we will deny our children the opportunity to be free. The longer we postpone a reconciliation with the truth, the longer we kick the can down the road and pass on to our children the sins of the past. We owe our children more than that.

Over the past five years, Descendants of Ancestors enslaved by Jesuits in the U.S. and the successors of those Jesuit enslavers have begun a multi-generational truth and healing process. Still, we know that all people of good will must continue to shine a bright light into the places of our society where the truth is swept under the rug, all year-round. We all must make a daily practice of standing strong against a wave of disinformation and denying the impulse to run from what is uncomfortable. Only then will we, all people of good will,  move past the confines of racism and into a future where human value is determined by the love and caring in a person’s heart and not by the pigmentation on the surface of one's skin. Celebrating Black History is much-needed truth telling. Accepting the past is much-needed healing. Embracing and raising up the contributions of those who came before is transformative.


 

Joseph M. Stewart

Joseph M. Stewart

Co-chair, GU272 Foundation Leadership Committee

Joseph M. Stewart is Acting President of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation and co-chair of the GU272 Foundation Leadership Committee. He’s a fifth-generation grandson of Isaac Hawkins, a Jesuit enslaved man. Joe is a retired Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Chief Ethics Officer of Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was a trustee of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and chaired the board for two years. He is co-founder and CEO of Stewart Industries, LLC.