‘Quick, lock the car doors!’

| February 12, 2016 | 1 Comment

They were black kids who lived in the northern most part of Minneapolis.
As they waited for the Brooklyn Boulevard bus to take them to school, cars would pull up to the red light, and the kids would hear it.
Click-click.
Click-click.
White people locking their car doors.
“I remember hearing that click-click more times than I can count,” Benito Matias recalled.
“On the surface [at the time], I’m mad, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m not a threat. I’m not going to do anything.’ But those kinds of perceptions make up who you are.”

Benito Matias

Benito Matias

Matias, the interim principal of Ascension Catholic School in north Minneapolis, said that when you think about how many times a black person experiences being stereotyped, one can understand why there are strained relationships between, as he put it, “folks who aren’t like you.”
How do we overcome the racial tensions that continue to boil over, not just in Ferguson, Missouri, not just in Baltimore or Chicago, but right here in the Twin Cities?
Matias, a 42-year-old married father of two, sees one of the facets of the complex issue coming “when we human beings lump folks in the same pot because of the color of their skin.”
Minneapolis born, raised and educated, with degrees from both Dunwoody College and Minnesota State University-Mankato, he spoke of needing to see every person as an individual.
“At the end of the day, we all bleed red, regardless of color or ethnic background,” Matias said. “It’s the unknown that creates fear, misconceptions and stereotypes.”
He wished that people would realize that “even in communities with poverty and violence, there are people who care about their communities, who love their children and want to bring them up the right way.”
It’s hard to relate to those good people, however, he pointed out, when those of other income brackets and other skin color have limited exposure to those who are not like them, when so much of what the majority community sees of people of color is negative.
So, how do we get past this?
How is race being addressed at a Catholic kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school like Ascension, where 96 percent of the students are African-American, African immigrants, Latino or Hmong, and two-thirds of the 281 students are not Catholic?
“A huge part of what helps when we talk about something like this,” Matias said, “is that our Catholicity or Christianity allows us to focus on our common love for God and Jesus Christ, and utilize that in our daily conversations with students.
“Some of the most powerful things we can say in those conversations with our scholars is, think about what God wants for me,” he said, “and that doesn’t hinge on color.”
Matias, who is Baptist, is realistic about what it takes to get people to think differently about those who aren’t like them and to treat others with dignity and respect no matter their color.
“It’s about instilling that type of thinking in our scholars,” he said.
“It’s a life-long process, and it depends on the strength of love for Jesus Christ. It’s reminding them of the kind of people God made us to be and constantly holding that up as the model.”
Both children and adults at times fail to live up to Jesus’ model of treating others with dignity and respect, and a term Matias used to describe those times is one to write down and remember.
We — young and old — can fall back to our “default” position of stereotyping others, he said. That’s when all of us might try to recall what Ascension works at, a lesson outgoing Ascension principal Dorwatha Woods taught, “that we are God’s creatures, created to be wonderful people,” Matias said.
The expectation to hold to, and not to default to fear and stereotype, is, Matias added, that “as a child of God, you are to do great things and uplift others.”

Zyskowski is the former associate publisher and editor of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

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Category: Commentary