Arleen Peterson, Executive Director of Relational Services

Most people recognize a champion as the one who steps up to the podium, but each champion has taken an amazing journey before ever reaching that podium. Champions must create a daily routine and experience failures and opportunities to improve before reaching champion status. Most of the time we only see the final glorious moment, but it’s a head, heart, and way of living that gets the champion to the podium. As lay people and PHJC Sisters we are being called to be champions of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI). Do you want to be a JEDI Champion? Let’s explore how we together are all doing this work! In the summer of 2020, as the echoes of police brutality and scourges of racism awakened our daily routines, PHJC leadership in solidarity with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, announced their province statement on racism and their commitment to address systematic racism. I took this to heart as the Executive Director of Relational Services, as a skilled dismantling structural racism trainer, and as an African American women transformed into a JEDI Champion. The engagement of “Structural Racism Dialogue Discussions” began weekly as either socially distanced in-person sessions or hybrid presentations at The Center at Donaldson. This engaged coworkers, residents, leaders of ministries, and Sisters who wanted to commit to the lens of racial equity and justice.

This is the JEDI Champions way of daily routine, refusing to give anyone an excuse to not understand racism, bias, microaggressions, Jim Crow, Black Lives Matter, or any of the racialized truths and mistruths Sisters and Laity Together BECOMING ACHAMPION justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion By Arleen Peterson | Executive Director of Relational Services Word Gathering Spring 2022

Kathleen Quinn, PHJC centers us in the values of Saint Katharina Kasper, an extraordinary example and JEDI champion.

Our JEDI speakers have inspired us like Fr. James Martin, SJ on LGBTQ issues; moved us like Rev. Smash in addressing “white supremacy”; engaged us like our Juneteenth celebration featuring the National Negro Anthem of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” JEDI Champions create space for more external voices to root for the progress of how the Poor Handmaids are a catalyst for just transformation. Every champion needs competitors and the JEDI speakers are a healthy dose of competition to keep us moving forward and continually improving.

I’m most encouraged that racial equity training is a requirement for all new hires. We are not only training like all champions do to get to the podium, but we are also teaching and being the lifestyle example for a JEDI champion. This year, one of the three African American coworkers at The Center was not the one who led the Martin Luther King Holiday celebration. Thanks to JEDI champion Paul Mach for stepping up to the podium.

This year, we continue to engage JEDI voices – hey, it is an Olympic year! We had an amazing opening ceremony with Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM discussing his recently published book, “A White Catholic’s Guide to Racism and Privilege.” Also in January 2022 we held a showing and discussion of the documentary “13th” by Ava DuVernay, an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality. Perhaps lessening COVID restrictions will allow us to also visit Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum as the year progresses. The pursuit of becoming a champion is difficult. People often look at a champion who wins a competition and think that getting there must have been fun, happy, and maybe even comfortable. Get that out of your head. It’s not. PHJC Sisters are not taking the easy road, and neither am I. We are doing something rare that many predominantly white led organizations are not willing to do. We are engaging the head, heart, and lifestyle together – laity and Sisters. These are the choices we are making to get on the podium and to be JEDI champions.

Of what our history in America has been for Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). There were many sessions in which I had thoughts of quitting, of being emotionally exhausted. In the stories that I’ve read about Olympic champions, exhaustion shows that you are pushing your limits. Like them, I needed to embrace these moments of exhaustion because the fatigue means you are becoming a champion. More than 150+ lay people and Sisters have participated in these sessions and have stepped onto the podium. As the pandemic progressed into 2021, the head work and way of living took aim as JEDI champions moved out of their comfort zones. We established the JEDI Core group which is comprised of ministry coworkers and a Sister who guides and supports JEDI. The core group identifies guest speakers, events, and strategies for implementing JEDI. Like champions who don’t always do things like everyone else, Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, spoke to The Center at Donaldson coworkers, Poor Handmaid sisters and many others on racism and privilege.

We are not only training like all champions do to get to the podium, but we are also teaching and being the EXAMPLE LIFESTYLE for a JEDI Champion.

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Fort Wayne Ink Spot | By Tabitha Ervin, Editorial Director

I learned so much in this conversation that I first want to share my own thoughts. Have you ever wondered who you are, I mean before you were even a thought? Let’s say 80-100 years ago or more. Who was your family, where were they from? As I learned about Sharon’s book, “They Got Daddy”, and what led her to write it, it made me ask questions about my own background and history.

My oldest living relatives, a great aunt (Aunt Dean) and 2 great uncles (Uncle June, Aunt Dean’s husband and Uncle Frank, Aunt Dean’s brother) are all in their 80’s but other than them many have passed on. Additionally, I never met either of my grandfathers. My dad wasn’t connected to his father at all and my moms father passed away when she was young. Both my grandmothers were in their 70s when they passed and my maternal grandmother lived with us for a bit when I was around middle school age. But before them, my mom and dad could only tell me stories of other relatives. Beyond that, there are pictures as well as my mom has been quite the historian on both sides of my family history. One year on a visit to North Carolina to see my dads family I made a family tree on a poster board back at least 2-3 generations ago.

I am thankful to have known and spent precious time with both my grandmothers and I am blessed that my mom and my relatives on my dad’s side can still share those valuable details.

My Great Uncle June tells wonderful stories of his past and how he and my Great Aunt ended up in Michigan from the South with a stop in Ohio before making Michigan home which is also how my dad ended up in Michigan; he moved with them to work at GM. I think I’ll record him next time I’m home!

This is my reflection after a wonderful conversation with Sharon about her new family memoir.

Sharon is not only the Executive Director of HealthVisions Midwest of Fort Wayne but an accomplished author having written several books nonfiction and fiction. This is her first memoir. She majored in Journalism for her Bachelors degree and has always wanted to be a writer.

Ervin: Thanks for your time today! So what led you to tell your grandfather’s story and why were you interested?

Tubbs: My grandfather was a Pastor, a well driller and a sharecropper. He was in a car accident in which he injured his arm and was not able to work as much to support the family. There was a whole story behind it that I was not aware of with him being kidnapped and also filing a lawsuit with the courts. As a child, my mother and I were watching tv together and the story on the news was about the Klu Klux Klan. At my age, living here in Fort Wayne, it didn’t seem to make sense that a rally was happening in Indiana. This was in the 80s. While I was asking my mom about the news she mentioned, “they got daddy” and some small details on what she meant but not much. That began my lifelong journey of discovering what happened to my grandfather who passed a few years after my mom mentioned that.

Ervin: So you were a child when that initial interaction with your mother happened and fast forward to now you did the research and wrote a book about it… That’s incredible!

Tubbs: It just kept coming back to me, from middle school to college and beyond especially during my career as a journalist. I finally started to research in 2005 when an uncle of mine mentioned a lawyer and a court case which to that point I had not been told about. This began my journey of discovering the incredible history and boldness of my grandfather during that time but also the sadness and trauma he and my family experienced.

Ervin: I did just get my book and started reading it now so I am excited to dive into this story! I’m intrigued by the parallels in each chapter from then to now and your reflections.

Tubbs: As I was researching it brought up various experiences that I’ve had as a black woman and as a journalist. It made me realize that the times then aren’t as far off from the current times as we think they may be and I wanted to show that through my writing. It also made me think about cultural trauma and how that impacts people and they don’t even know it.

Ervin: I am personally excited about the impact this book can have on people telling and discovering their family stories even through the pain of what may have happened. Thank you for your research and thank you for sharing it with us! I encourage everyone to get this book!

To contact Sharon for speaking and to get your copy please check her out at Books can also be purchased on Amazon.

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Meet Justine Johnson, the new Executive Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Justine’s work is essential to continuing the mission and charism of Saint Katharina Kasper, who was inspired to serve the poor and most in need.