By David Lichter
I often feel grateful for my college years in the late ’60s during the civil rights movement, especially the fair housing marches led by Fr. James Groppi, a legendary figure in Milwaukee history, and the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council. In 1969, I had the privilege of serving at St. Boniface, Fr. Groppi’s church. On weekends he drove one bus and I the other, taking the youth to religious sites to share the Church’s tradition and commitment to social causes.
During the week, I drove a school bus to help cover expenses, and I learned a lot about racial injustice and intolerance in so many forms. Once I was driving middle schoolers past the House of Corrections, where Fr. Groppi had to spend some time. “That’s where my dad works,” one boy boasted. “He asked his boss what he had to call Fr. Groppi, and his boss said he could call him whatever he wanted.” Then the boy proudly strung together a string of demeaning expletives his father had shared at home. This young boy did not know Fr. Groppi, but he was being groomed in racial wariness and hate.
Half a century later, our nation still lives with racial divide, wariness, and hate. But for me, it’s much different now from the late ’60s, when I experienced the social justice movement as a white man working alongside of the NAACP. Looking back, I realize that at that time I was acting more to be helpful than to understand myself and others. Now I find I am called more to be myself, my truest self. I want not just to help but to live and love together, and respond genuinely out of who I am with others.
These past months have made us all too painfully aware that the embers of distrust, disappointment, and disillusionment with our paltry progress in racial justice have been fanned into rage. As I mentioned in NACC Now on June 8, at age 72, I find that the invitation to grow in my own understanding and respecting all of humanity is still a daily call. I am blessed with a Black son-in-law, who shares the world from his eyes, as every person shares his/her world with me from their perspective. I am learning so much from this young man, husband and father.
In my June 8 reflection, I also referred to an article by Fr. Bryan Massingale in National Catholic Reporter, titled “The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it.” The article helped move me from “wanting to help” the other to facing my own whiteness and my many forms of complicity to racism, challenging me to many actions I could do now. My wife, Jackie, has been much better than I on confronting messages on social media, where I am not very active. I am learning slowly to be attentive. This is requiring of me a more contemplative stance while we seek a way forward together.
For the NACC, I am very grateful for Jim Letourneau’s and Carolanne Hauck’s board leadership at this time, and the steps to set up more listening and conversation sessions among us for greater understanding. I am grateful to all the contributors to this issue of Vision who are helping us to have a wider vision of this reality. I am grateful to all my brothers and sisters in NACC who, like my son-in-law, are letting me more into their world and how they experience racism. I look forward, brothers and sisters of NACC, to our shared efforts to listen, understand, love, respect, experience life together and then respond.