An Overview of ‘Open Wide Our Hearts’

BRIDGEPORT—Danielle Brown was the presenter of the second of several webinars being hosted by The Leadership Institute, the diocesan Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and the Apostolate for Black Catholics.

Danielle Brown is the associate director for the Ad hoc Committee Against Racism of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

During the webinar, Brown discussed “Open Wide Our Hearts,” the USCCB document in which, “the bishops say that racism arises when, either consciously or unconsciously, a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior and judges other people of other races or ethnicity as inferior or unworthy of equal regard.”

The document addresses many points, including that racism is a sin, especially when it excludes, mistreats or discriminates against people of another race.

Brown explained that the letter was the response to rising societal racial and ethnic hostility prevalent in 2014/15. “It was really the election of Barack Obama that sparked a lot of nationalist ideologies and xenophobic rhetoric,” explained Brown.

“Open Wide Our Hearts” specifically rejects organizations formed out of racist ideology, calling participation in them or fostering them sinful.

In the letter, the bishops call for a conversion of heart. They discuss racism and systems of racism, identify groups particularly impacted by both and a call to action and conversion.

The bishops reiterated that racist acts are a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister created in the image of God.

Brown explained that the letter also calls out the “sin of omission,” which occurs when individuals, communities and even churches fail to speak out against racial injustice. They also condemn institutional racism in all its forms.

The letter touches on the Native American, African American and Hispanic American historical and contemporary experiences.

Brown shared that the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism has been tasked to promote justice, and to facilitate ongoing national dialogue and reconciliation by holding listening sessions and providing resources for parishes, schools, college campuses and catechetical.

“We need to recondition ourselves to see people really based on the content of their character…to see people for who they are and for their souls and how their culture informs that,” Brown said.

The USCCB letter issues a call to action, calling for dioceses to aid communities of color with struggling schools and parishes, provide catechetical training resources, youth ministry programs and support for families. The bishops also call each other to self-education through cultural and learning institution visits, and by presenting and preaching the entire Christian doctrine on racism.

“One of the biggest pronouncements that the bishops make is that racism is a life issue,” said Brown. “It’s unfortunate that many Black people had to die in front of our faces and we had to watch them die over and over again on our screens for us to realize that people having biases can affect the life-span of people of color and does on a daily basis.”

Brown explained the importance of looking at how health care disparities are affecting people of color and how health outcomes tell a story of how true this disparity is.

“Implementation has changed, most certainly, over the last two or three months,” Brown explained that many bishops are putting together committees and beginning to pay more attention to the issue of racism.

During the Q&A session, Danielle Brown encouraged listeners to be advocates for anti-racism within their own parishes and communities, by having conversations with their priests about things they would like to see and hear.

Brown explained the importance of doing what we can within our diocese to reach the people in our communities.

“Only love can draw out hate,” said Brown, “conversion as it relates to any sin is the same as converting to the person of Jesus Christ. It takes somewhere between 30 and 60 times until someone becomes open to the idea.” She explained that for people to get to the place where you are there needs to be a conversation that is digestible, coming from a place of love.

About Danielle Brown
Danielle M. Brown, associate director of the ad hoc Committee Against Racism at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), was born and raised in the Archdiocese of Detroit. She is a lawyer licensed in the State of Michigan. Before coming to the USCCB in May 2018, she served on several boards, commissions, and ministries in Lansing, Michigan, including co-founding and leading one of Renewal Ministries’s first young adult discipleship chapters, I.D.916, now known simply as I.D. She was also a diocesan delegate at the USCCB Convocation of Catholic Leaders and the National Black Catholic Congress in 2017. Previously, she was a three-time governor appointed appellate administrative law judge in the State of Michigan, and an assistant deputy legal counsel to the Governor of the State of Michigan.

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