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If You Don't Start Something, It Won't Be Nothing

July 11, 2011:

IF YOU DON’T START SOMETHING, IT WON’T BE NOTHING

Several years ago, I came across a prayer by Therese Wilson Favors, director of the Office of Black Catholics, entitled “If you don’t start something, it won’t be nothing.”  The main focus of the prayer was that our ancestors in faith and action, such as St. Augustine, St. Monica, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Daniel Rudd (founder of the Black Catholic Congress Movement), responded to God’s call by taking some form of action. They “started something” and took the risk, and in so doing, changed their community, the church, and world in which they lived.

IF YOU DON’T START SOMETHING, IT WON’T BE NOTHING

In 1926, Carter Woodson started something with the establishment of “Black History Week.”  Dr. Woodson (one of the first African Americans to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard and the author of the classic book “The Miseducation of the Negro”) was concerned about the absence from the U.S. history books of contributions by African Americans.  Today’s Black History Month evolved from that initial concern and celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of persons of African descent throughout the world.

IF YOU DON’T START SOMETHING, IT WON’T BE NOTHING

Sr. Jamie T. Phelps, O.P., started something in 1989, when she envisioned a program that would educate and nurture Black Catholic lay leadership.  Named after Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first recognized Black priest in the United States, The Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Program at Catholic Theological Union today is still the only program of its kind that works in partnership with a diocese and a graduate school of ministry to provide theologically educated and trained Black Catholic ministers for the Church.

IF YOU DON’T START SOMETHING, IT WON’T BE NOTHING

The Eighth Day Center for Justice in Chicago (http://www.8thdaycenter.org/) ,  a coalition of Catholic, religious congregations, started something over thirty years ago, when it was formed as a center committed to acting as a critical voice to oppressive systems and to work actively to those systems.  Just Haiti (http://www.justhaiti.org/aboutjusthaiti.htm) started something in 2007, when they were established to work with Haitians and others to alleviate poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and disease in Haiti. They seek to create an environment for justice and peace through fostering and sponsoring activities that include sustainable business and community development, education, employment opportunity, health and medical services, infrastructure development, and improvement of environmental quality.

 IF YOU DON’T START SOMETHING, IT WON’T BE NOTHING

The stories shared like the theme of the prayer point to individuals as well as groups of people who “started something.” Some of us are called to direct service by helping to alleviate a present day crisis – such as the current earthquake relief in Haiti.  We give monies, food, clothing, water, and the like.  We are also called to start something by beginning to address the causes of poverty and other oppressive structures in our midst.   How can our voice be added to those voices that call for a change in oppressive structures, how are we educating our communities and supporting programs that look to change the lives of those who currently live in poverty and illiteracy?

We need only respond to God’s invitation to make a difference in our world, in our communities, in our neighborhoods, and in our families.  We need only trust that our one voice, our one response, can make a change.  As Howard Thurman, mystic and theologian, states “the decision to act releases energy in the personality … and in the integrity of the act one knows that he (she) is created in the image of God.”  Mother Teresa stated so eloquently many years ago: “if you can’t feed a hundred, feed just one… it starts with you, it starts with me.  Just one, One, ONE!”   So today, let us take time to listen to the spirit that dwells within us, to that inner voice, and “start something!”

C. Vanessa White is an assistant professor of Spirituality at Catholic Theological Union and the director of The Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Program.