Nationally Recognized Wheaton Professor Addresses Dominican

April 5, 2016

By Natalie Rodriguez

Nationally recognized scholar and activist, Larycia Hawkins PhD, visited Dominican on March 31 to speak to over a hundred people in the Rosary Chapel. Her speech was on the relationships between race, religion and politics.

She caught the attention of the media when she was a professor at Wheaton and made a Facebook post expressing her intentions to don a hijab in solidarity to Muslim women. This brought about the question on multi-faith solidarity in current times when the political agenda emphasizes differences among people of faith. This comes from her belief that theoretical solidarity is not true solidarity.

“Faith is about participating in all that the Eucharist is about…finding ourselves in others,” Hawkins said. “We do not exist for ourselves. We should not have individualistic tones in our society to say actually, but a collective consciousness, that’s what the Eucharist is about. The Eucharist is about Christ. And we all want to follow his mission and are filled by his mystery.”

The chapel was adorned in an abundance of white lilies to welcome the presence of guest speakers Adrienne Alexander, Fr. Larry Dowling, pastor at St. Agatha Church and Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor at Sr. Sabina Church.

A group of students lifted the audience’s spirits up by singing songs emphasizing peaceful community living. The audience seemed receptive to Hawkins’ charisma as she explained her early influences, such as her grandfather. He was a pastor at a Protestant church and wanted his church free of politics, although that was not always the trend with churches at the time. Hawkins emphasized the need for places of faith to remain politically engaged in issues of community.

“Sacred spaces should always stay political,” Hawkins said. “Black churches have historically always been political, some more or less in terms of activity. Black churches have always functioned as one of the institutions in Black communities. They have always been sources of civic messages… What we emphasize in the content of our messages our congregants internalize…that’s power.”

Churches stand as sources of influence in low socioeconomic Black communities. “Reimagine parishes as being one of the most powerful places in the city…churches are the locals of power,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins highlighted the dark history between parish and race relations.

“Italians, Pols became white by keeping blacks out,” Hawkins said. “That’s how Europeans became white.”

Rev. Pfleger agreed with Hawkins and explained how the Catholic Church has historically attributed to separation of parishes between races such as in the creation of colored churches.

“We have a long history of helping the division and separation of racism,” Pfleger said. “We have this deep history of racism so we have an obligation that comes with what we have created to do something. The city of Chicago is, I think the most segregated possibly because of the Catholic Church. We are a Catholic city, we have built that so now we have a responsibility do something.”

Hawkins also detailed the importance of unity within different parishes.

“We’re a minority within a minority because black Catholics comprise 5 percent of black Christians…Catholics are a minority within Chicago,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins will act as the Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.