Racial Equity in the Atrium

by Mary Roney

Our beautiful, large Roman Catholic church is a jewel in an area of Baltimore city that has been neglected in revitalization efforts. The good people of that neighborhood are predominately African American; however, our church community and atria are mixed but predominately suburban and Caucasian. 

We began building our level one atrium in 2006 and after a suggestion from formation leader, Jill Hall, our sheep were painted brown and gray in equal numbers to the white sheep. In the years since of observing the children’s Good Shepherd art work, I see those sheep colored in all the colors of the rainbow. When my granddaughter made a banner for her first communion, she chose a pink and blue plaid material for the sheep. 

In Atrium II we have extension work depicting the life and travels of Jesus and his disciples; all the people in the pictures which they match with a place or event, are a deep rich brown almost black. To date only one child has called attention to this distinction and objected to Jesus being depicted as black (interestingly, the child was not Caucasian). This incident opened a general discussion of why most of the pictures we see of Jesus depict him with light skin and almost blond hair. Few of those traditional artists had traveled and none had the advantage of traveling the globe via TV or internet. A fact, recently brought to my attention in a newspaper article, is that there are very few white people in the Bible! So, one small but important thing we can do is to begin looking for more realistic depictions of the people of the Bible to place in our atria.

We came into the world without prejudice – and learned it through absorbing, almost unconsciously, what we saw and heard. This prejudice can and should be unlearned, allowing us to become catalysts for a better understanding of all God’s people and God’s plan for all creation.

Mary Roney, St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish

Baltimore, Maryland

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