NBCC XII Reflections – First Time Attendee

By Patrick Rogers, Martin de Porres Church

The National Black Catholic Congress XII, which was held in Orlando, Florida, was the first congress that I attended. Two themes that impacted me during the Congress were Black Catholic History and using our faith to challenge social realities.

In the workshop, Wisdom from the Black Catholic History, led by Paula Manchester.  This session exposed us to the seminal figures such as Fr. Cyprian Davis and Dr. Camille Brown whose research efforts were pivotal in documenting the History of Black Catholics.  Also, the attendees were acquainted with a seminal document: “What We have Seen and Heard” which was written in 1984 by the ten black bishops in the United States.  While the session informed us of the current scholarship, it was noted that there is plenty of room for more scholarship in this area.  This session led me to reflect on possible ways in which we can continue to not only document our story, but share it as well.

During black catholic history month, we could take a moment to discuss the development of the Lead Me Guide Me hymnal.  The documents in the introduction section of the hymnal illustrate that this collaborative effort of scholars who were highly knowledgeable in both black culture and catholic liturgy in an effort to provide the Catholic Church with a compendium of songs that are truly black and catholic.  Secondly, we can the highlight black catholic history from Philadelphia, such as the baptism of Josephine Louisa whose baptism was listed as May 1, 1796, the history of St. Peter Claver parish, and the development of periodicals like The Journal to document black catholic news and black issues.

A second theme that stuck out for me was the application of our faith as we deal with the social issues that affect our community.  In the men’s retreat, Mr. Damon Owens used Ephesians 5:21-33 as the key text for the retreat.  In this text, Paul discusses the relationship between the husband and wife as a metaphor for how Christ loves the Church.  From this passage, versus 28b-29 impacted me the most.  In these verses, Paul says the following: “He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes it and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church…”

When I saw these versus, I see the importance of self- love.  Without self-love, we will have difficulty emulating Christ in our love for others. Our society can present many road blocks to self-love including the perception that African Americans are inherently dangerous and threatening.  Nationally this can be represented by the one year commemoration of the killing of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.  Locally, the recent killing of David Jones and the reported “Untold Story of Stop and Frisk” bring these barriers close to home.  Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley, in her presentation, “Black Family: Challenges and Opportunities” reminded us of the importance of seeking mental health and that just as God provides physicians, dentists, and optometrists to help us maintain healthy bodies, teeth, and eyes respectively. God also provides mental health professionals to aid us in maintaining a healthy mind.    Without taking the steps to heal ourselves we can be susceptible to harming those we love.

By taking a holistic approach to our health, we can demonstrate Christs love to others.  Some examples can include praying for the family of David Jones, Brandon Tate-Brown and the many men in our community who have been harmed by policies like Stop and Frisk in the Prayers of the Faithful.  Also, we can place crosses outside our parish to call attention to each life lost in our community to violence as a fellow black catholic parish, Saint Columba Catholic Church, Oakland does each year.

In conclusion, I thank the Martin de Porres Foundation, Fr. Thorne, Sr. Lynn Marie Ralph, and Deacon Bradley for helping me to attend the Congress XII.

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“Gifted to Lead” Congress XII

By Carol G. Stukes-Baylor, Our Lady of Hope Parish

As I prepared to attend the 12th National Black Catholic Congress I had several questions heavy on my mind and heart. On Thursday, we heard the message from Andrae Goodnight on why he converted to Catholicism and why he felt honored to portrait Fr. Tolton. For me, his message and spirit made the theme of the Congress “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God” come alive. I left that session with my mind racing on ways to promote his play because I wanted the whole world to know about this famous Black Catholic Priest.

On Friday morning, His Eminence, Peter Kodwo Cardinal Turkson, keeping in line with the theme, lead us in a power and spiritual session. He reminded us that as Black Catholics, we had the power and we must stand together. Following the general session, I attend the breakout session “Racism: A Negative and Real Destructive Force” by Fr. Donald Sterling. Fr. Kodwo message was so powerful that it through this session off course. People came in fired up, with questions on racism in the church and the world. Fr. Sterling in turned asked us what steps are we willing to take NOW to improve the lives of those that feel disenfranchised by the Church. He said that we could not leave the Congress without a plan of action, or letting our voices being heard, or sharing our ideas. Friday afternoon I attend the breakout session “The Unrest in Ferguson: Archdiocese of St. Louis-Best Practices and Lessons Learned: by I. Lynn Squires. From the description of the session, you would think it was going to be about the people in Ferguson still being angry and upset. But instead you heard how St. Augustine Catholic Church stepped up and out for its’ parishioners and the community. What better way to end the night than at the “Opening Eucharistic Liturgy at The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe”. From the marching in of the Priest, the liturgy and the choir, we set that church on fire and let with the spirit and then we got our spirit on.

Fr. Maurice Emelu started Saturday morning with an inspirational message on “Gifted to Lead”. He told us that being an inspired leader, a bridge builder, a team worker and relationship should be one. We should inspire others to lead as well. After that, I attended the breakout session “Informing the USCCB Pastoral Letter on Racism”. We were placed in groups to come up with some suggestions for the Bishops. Bryan Stevenson, Esq, lead us in a dynamic session on “Love Mercy and Do Justice: Confronting Mass Incarceration, Racial Bias and Poverty.” He challenged us to change the narrative, embrace the broken, be hopeful and get uncomfortable. I followed up by attending the breakout session “Love One Another as I have Loved you: Witnessing Our Faith in Christ to those Who are Incarcerated in Jails and Prisons” by Deacons Francis Nelson, Jr. and Charles Williams. Both Deacons spoke about how to start a prison ministry at your parish and diocesan level. They spoke about their first impression to the ministry and on how you must listen and gain respect from the inmates. The audience gave their views on the program, as well as, the re-entry program. Next it was the Lay Women Retreat which was embracing, enriching and enlightening. Next it was the moving message from Fr. Braxton on “The Racial Divide in America and in the Catholic Church”. He charges us to “Listen, Learn, Think, Pray, and Act.” We closed the evening with wonder sounds of Mrs. Tonya Dorsey and the NBCC Choir. What can I say but EXCELLENT. OH Yes, we got our praise on. AMEN.

I had to leave early on Sunday, so I did not attend Mass, but I know it was wonderful. At the end of the NBCC, my question where answerer. I want to thank God for allowing me to attend such a motivating and spiritual Congress. What a delight to see so many Black Catholics in one place for one theme.

Now I ask you, are you ready to meet, organize, lead and ACT.

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NBCC to Explore the Call to Live the Gospel in Challenging Times

Father Stephen D. Thorne is pictured in this 2016 file photo. Dennis Sadowski • Catholic News Service • Posted June 13, 2017

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Delegates attending Congress XII of the National Black Catholic Congress in Orlando, Florida, in July will take on new responsibilities this time around.

Rather than working from a draft of a pastoral plan developed prior to the congress as per tradition, the 2,000 attendees will be tasked with developing a pastoral plan during the July 6-9 gathering and taking it home to their parishes and dioceses.

“We’re interested in what the people have to say, what’s in their hearts. It’s what they want to see addressed (by the Catholic Church),” said Father Stephen D. Thorne, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Philadelphia and a congress leader.

“In the end, what is finally approved, we hope to see it reflected in the pastoral plan of the local bishop,” he told Catholic News Service. “Whatever the goals are — an African-American Catholic saint, or Catholic education and Catholic schools being viable in our communities and supporting them, or the violence of young people — can be included.

“It’s a real act of faith, an act of the Spirit, to come together kind of like in conclave, (and) have the people say what is in our hearts.”

The congress immediately follows the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.” Some congress participants are expected to be at both events.

Individuals in 50 dioceses have been discussing ideas for the pastoral plan in preparation for the congress, which is convened every five years. This year’s congress is the 12th. The theme is taken from the Gospel of Luke 4:18 and the Book of Micah 6:8: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: Act justly, love goodness and walk humbly with your God.”

Father Thorne said the theme is meant to inspire how African-American Catholics “respond to the challenges we face in our world and our church.” From racism and the rise of white nationalism to youth violence, black Catholics are called to respond with love, understanding and resolve, he said.

The program for the congress includes daily plenary speakers and workshops focused on topics such as wisdom from black Catholic history; a discussion on the implementation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ anticipated pastoral letter on racism; the Eucharist; domestic violence; prison ministry; and serving the spiritual needs of urban youth in a secularized society.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, is scheduled to address the opening session of the congress July 7. He also is to celebrate Mass for the delegates.

Other speakers include Bryan Stevenson, executive director of Equal Justice Initiative; Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois; Father Maurice Emelu, media evangelist and retreat leader; and Tricia Bent-Goodley, professor social work at Howard University.

Liturgy, prayer and retreats also are on the daily agenda.

A particular focus will be on meeting the needs of young people, added Father Thorne, who has attended the congress since 1987, starting as an 18-year-old.

“We realized we have work to do especially to engage our young adults,” he explained. “If we don’t listen to them and their concerns, we’re not going to have another congress.”

Just as important, Father Thorne said, is the response of African-American Catholics to the rising tide of racism and polarized politics across the country.

The priest recalled Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia and his public comments that encouraged people to bring justice and mercy to a world wrought with violence and division. He said the pope’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) can be particularly inspiring to carry on the necessary work.

“It’s unique times politically,” he said. “How do we live our faith in the public square? How do we create community in that challenged world? We cannot act for justice, love tenderly, without the Lord,” he said.

“That’s a message we can share to the wider community … and offer an alternative to the discourse in our country.”

Father Thorne said he expects the role of African-American, Latino and Asian Catholics in church life will continue to grow in the future. He said faith and better understanding of the Gospel call for justice in the face of racism and violence will guide the evolving church.

“Black Catholics have been through challenging times before. We are called to be men and women of resilience,” he said.

“Our diversity is one of the gifts we can offer. It reminds us that the church is truly catholic, universal,” he added.

The congress can help inspire the work ahead, Father Thorne said.

“We’re committed to being the leaven and beacon of hope. Eucharist every Sunday gives us the strength we need to go out for the work of justice.”

(MDPF July Newsletter 2017)

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The Hardest Talk: Racism in Parishes

Participants in the session “Racism and Prejudice in Our Parishes” take notes for discussion in the final part of this year’s series, “Conversations on Race in Our Country,” held May 22 at St. Athanasius Parish, Philadelphia.


By Arlene Edmonds • Posted June 20, 2017

Catholics from across the Philadelphia Archdiocese are now applying what they learned from the four-part series, “Growing in Racial Harmony within the Catholic Church,” held this year in several parishes. Because it took a hard look at a fundamental unit of church life, the final session “Racism and Prejudice in Our Parishes” may be one of the most challenging to implement.

It examined differences in ethnicity and social class within church communities, especially those without ethnic diversity.

Although the last session was held May 22 at St. Athanasius Parish, in Philadelphia’s West Oak Lane section, the implementation of the series is ongoing, say those who attended.

(See related stories on the kickoff of the series in January and a follow-up session on race.)

Janice Paige, a member of St. Athanasius, said the May discussion was the most important of the four-part series on race because it is one that is often “swept under the rug.”

Paige believes this is because in society, and even within Catholic parishes, racial differences are more obvious. Many people, she believes, do discriminate against those who have different levels of education, types of job or even the parish one belongs to.

“I wish more people were here,” Paige said of the group of about a dozen attendees. “What was good was that people really talked about things we don’t always talk about regarding our churches. I hope we do something about this because if people don’t feel a part of the church they will leave.”

“We need to resolve these issues,” said Marietta Shipanga, another St. Athanasius member who was very vocal during the session regarding respect for ethnic and class diversity. “We should not have these problems if we are truly practicing our faith. We have to address these problems.”

Father Joseph Okonski, pastor of St. Athanasius, uses a PowerPoint presentation and feedback to lead the discussion on racial issues.


Father Joseph Okonski, pastor of St. Athanasius, led the workshop and began with a PowerPoint presentation defining words like “bigot.” He then asked those present to list some of the issues that divide people.

After much discussion the group came up with three major challenges: prejudices against foreigner, especially those from the Caribbean, South America and Africa; social class distinctions; and not willing to associate with those from other parishes, particularly when parishes merge.

Much of the conversation involved how to have a welcoming spirit among those who may not share the same social class or ethnic heritage. Another point was the need to see fellow Catholics as individuals rather than stereotypes.

“Most of the time when we see Africa in the media we see these starving children with flies (swarming) around them,” Okonski said. He has traveled to West Africa several times and seen the region’s mega-cities. He stressed the need to expand one’s limited mindset in assuming that an African Catholic, for instance, is coming from a poverty-stricken background and not a developed, urban environment.

The priest reminded the attendees that some immigrants are not documented and this may cause them to be wary of socializing with residents of a community here. He insisted that they may want to become more in the life of the parish, but they are cautious of whom they can trust.

Conversely, Father Okonski pointed out that one should not assume that any parishioner with an accent is undocumented. He said that in predominantly African American parishes, most members from the Caribbean and Africa have legal documentation.

He also pointed out that those from Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other American territories are American citizens.

Maunta Brice suggested that local parishes should allow even those with thick accents to take active parts in the church’s liturgy, including by proclaiming the readings. Other people suggested the need to listen more attentively to those with accents rather than saying, “I cannot understand what they are saying.”

Many pointed to issues like education, judging others based on the neighborhood they live in or excluding others based on age, especially regarding young people. One parishioner from West Philadelphia agreed. He said that some will refer to parishes as “ghetto churches” and “bourgeoisie churches.”

“In the city, many do feel different about others if you are from North, West or South Philly then if you are from Germantown or Chestnut Hill,” Father Okonski said.

Deacon Bill Bradley, the most recent director of the Office for Black Catholics, piggybacked on the comments around “clerical bias.” He said he has come across those who feel that ordination sets one apart as a Christian.

“They will tell me that you are ordained so you know more than me, which is not always the case,” Deacon Bradley said.

The session concluded with the hallmarks of the Christian faith: charity and unity.

“This has been a good series,” said Charlene Cornish. “We need to come together in love. We need to love others as we love ourselves. We cannot afford to have all these divisions when we are supposed to be one universal faith.”

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RETIREMENT!! Deacon William Bradley

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia recently announced the retirement of Deacon William Bradley, Director of the Office for Black Catholics, effective June 30, 2017.

The Martin de Porres Foundation would also like to congratulation Deacon Bill, for his upcoming retirement. We applaud him for his dedicated years of service and achievements. After the many years of working together, we will try to adjust to the idea that he no longer works in the OBC. But, this is not the end of his career of inspiring, spiritually uplifting, and helping to develop leadership and Vocations for the Priesthood and the Deaconate within the African-American/Black Catholic Community.

Again, we send congratulations on a well-deserved retirement. Few have worked as hard as Deacon Bill. We believe, he will continue to enjoy and focus some of his energy into working with our Church and community.

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St. Raymond of Penafort Men’s Ministry Raises Monies with Musical Events

Arlene Edmonds Tribune Correspondent – May 5, 2017

The Men of St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Mount Airy raised money by holding a jazz night. — TRIBUNE PHOTO BY ARLENE EDMONDS

The St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Mount Airy raised monies through its men’s ministry for the independent St. Raymond Mission School. This was the first of two sold-out, back-to back benefits for the church located at 1350 E. Vernon Road.  The Men of St. Raymond held a jazz night in the school hall recently. The following afternoon the church hosted “An Evening of Mahalia Jackson” featuring singer Joilet Harris in the sanctuary.

The Rev. Christopher M. Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond’s, was pleased with the overwhelming response for the events. Together they raised thousands of dollars for the church ministries.
“The parish is most grateful to all those who have worked so generously to raise funds for our hall renovation recently,” Walsh said. “Mary Jones and Pat Brockington along with a very large crew of helpers raised more than $1,400 with their Good Friday fish fry. Joanne Evans, along with her very able team, raised more than $3,500 through the Mahalia Jackson tribute concert.”

The men’s ministry raised even more money from the jazz event. Otis Wilson said that they reached their goal of at least $1,000. He said that the monies will be used for some much needed upgrades at the school that serves children in the surrounding community from kindergarten to eighth grade. The school is no longer under the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, so the resources are welcome.

“We are fundraising for the school and this is clearly a success,” said Wilson, one of the coordinators of the event. “I’ve been a member of this church for 40 years and with this ministry about 20. We are just pleased with the turnout.”

Steve Mathis, a longtime member of the St. Raymond men’s ministry, was pleased with the turnout for the event. He readily admitted that having two musical fundraising events on successive days at the church could have proven to be a challenge. But he said St. Raymond’s parishioners do come out to support their church. He said the men’s group takes hospice trips to St. John’s Center, hosts soup kitchens, and have taken children to basketball games or engages in days of service.

“It takes many hands to put this together,” Mathis said. “The men of St. Raymond are involved in many other activities. Another ministry did the other concert, and they also do well as far as turning people out.”

Steve Lawrence, who has been with the men’s group for five years, added that the organization has also had many previous fundraisers to raise scholarship dollars and support the parochial schools.

“We just raised monies with our fish fry during Lent,” said Lawrence. “We know how to have a good time. We do this all out of love.”  There are many ongoing ministries at St. Raymond. They launched a new Mom’s Café for mothers with children at home to gather for a conversation over coffee. The first session took place April 29. They will continue the last Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon.  Also, the church has Bible study every Tuesday at 1:30 in the lower level Rosemary Room. There is an evening Bible study that resumed Wednesday at 7 p.m. This is a seven-week series that focusing on the theme, “Who am I to judge?” It will explore the ways Christians can handle the many moral issues in today’s world, according to Walsh.

Fundraising for St. Raymond’s parochial school is ongoing. “In June and July we will give our school hall a serious makeover,” Walsh said in a statement in the church’s April bulletin. “Consider purchasing a leaf on our giving tree in honor of or memory of a loved one or friend.”

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FR. STEPHEN THORNE, LEADING BY EXAMPLE

NATIONAL CATHOLIC EDUCATIONAL ASSOCIATION AWARD

by IMS Staff •March 1st, 2017 – Posted By: Mark Hostutler Posted date: January 13, 2017
Sister Rita, Principal at St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, and Rev. Stephen Thorne, Pastor at St. Martin de Porres Church, Neumann University Chaplain, and adjunct faculty member in the Division of Education and Human Services. Fr. Thorne has also volunteered his time and expertise to assist Gesu School, an independent Catholic School in Philadelphia. They both will be honored with the 2017 “Lead, Learn, Proclaim” award from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) for dedication and commitment to Catholic education. The NCEA chose Sr. Rita and Fr. Thorne for this prestigious award from more than 150,000 administrators, diocesan leaders, and organizations across the nation. Congratulations!!

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KAIROS RETREAT: WEST CATHOLIC PREP H.S.– “GOD’S TIME”


By Michael Field, Director
Campus Ministry-West Catholic Prep H.S.

Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment. The ancient Greeks had two words for time: Greek: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time, Kairos signifies a period or season, a moment of indeterminate time in which an event of significance happens. What is happening when referring to Kairos depends on who is using the word.  Ask 34 teenagers from West Catholic Prep, plus the twelve teens and adults on the leadership team what Kairos means and they will tell you “God’s time.”

Kairos is a retreat program held for juniors and seniors, where the participants take time away from their lives to reflect on self, God, and others.  The participants separate themselves from Chronos time and enter into a process by which they do not tell time.  This allows the work of the retreat to really take full effect and enter into a different time, a significant time, a time to let go and let God!

The gratitude for the support from St. Martin de Porres Foundation cannot be expressed greatly enough.  The teenagers that came away from the retreat know the Love that God has for them and are not about to express it.  Some of the participants have asked to pray continually, together, as a retreat community.  The retreat experience does not just stop on the last day.  They are challenged to “Live the 4th” day of the retreat for the rest of their lives. With your generous support, students at West Catholic Prep High School are able to live their lives to a different calling now that they experienced God in a real, true, and powerful way.

There is a new sense of hope, a new sense of change and purpose.  Students interact differently with each other, faculty, staff and administration.  The conversations that they have with parents have also changed.  A simple recognition in a real, powerful way of the Living God shows teenagers their value, dignity and worth, as they were created.

The 46 participants at West Catholic Prep are ever indebted to your great generosity and they hope that with your support, they can share the retreat with their peers and classes to follow.

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Archdiocese Tribute Turns Civil Rights Spotlight Inward

Arlene Edmonds, Tribune Correspondent January 20, 2017

“A Dream in Black and White: Growing in Understanding as Catholics” drew a diverse, standing-room-only crowd to the St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Lafayette Hill on Monday evening to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

It was the 34th annual Archdiocese gathering to the civil rights icon on his birthday, and marked the first time the event was held in a predominantly white Catholic suburban congregation. About half the audience were African Americans as at least three busloads of parishioners came from churches such as St. Raymond of Penafort in Mount Airy, St. Athanasius Catholic community in West Oak Lane and St. Barbara Church in West Philadelphia.

On the program was Deacon Bill Bradley, the Director of the Office for Black Catholics, along with African-American priests, the Rev. Rayford Emmons and Rev. Stephen Thorne.

First year seminarian Jamey Moses tell of a time where he was racially profiled on the seminary campus and his experience as a black male in today’s times.

The remarks that drew the loudest standing ovation were those of James Francis Moses, a first-year seminarian at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood and a parishioner at the St. Martin de Porres Church in North Philadelphia. It was his experiences on the Main Line campus that was at the heart of his testimony.

“I was walking on the grounds reflecting and praying,” Moses said. “The campus guard came in detail and physically restrained me before I realized what happened. I was taking a little time with Jesus.”

Moses explained that someone reported seeing “a suspicious Black man on campus.” The person who called security “reported feeling uncomfortable when a Black man walked by,” he said, leading him to ask whether Black lives mattered. Besides Moses, the two other speakers during the reflections portion were Marq Temple and Ann Menna. Temple, a member of St. Athanasius and Executive Director of Concerned Black Men, spoke about the bias he saw as Director of the Juvenile Justice Services Center.

Menna, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Doylestown, shared a personal anecdote where she had to confront her own racial bias. She was shopping with her young children, Menna said, when she noticed that a young African-American male was staring at her, followed her down the aisle and then stood in front of her. During that time, she was terrified and wanted to flee or call security. Then Menna said the person spoke, “He said [to] me, ‘Didn’t you teach at Holy Child? It’s Alphonso. I knew who he was and recognized him right away. This left me in a fog and I had to question myself whether I would have reacted that way if he were white.”

The Rev. Christopher M. Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond’s, served as the master of ceremonies. He said though there was a diverse crowd from across the Philadelphia Archdiocese there was a problem. “I see all the Blacks sitting with Blacks and the whites sitting with whites,” he explained.
So, he encouraged the crowd to get out of their seats and change seats so that all the pews were integrated, which later became a topic during evening discussions.

One white woman from a Philadelphia parish readily acknowledged that she had to check her own racist attitudes after hearing the stories from those on the stage.

“Sometimes you can really believe that you are not racist,” she said. “Then something happens and you realize that it is there. Sometimes it is so unconscious. So, this is a really great program to help us to check ourselves.”

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