FSPA action for unity and diversity “proven”
By Karen Lueck, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration
Just Do It. This tagline for a globally-famous brand popped into my mind during a recent conversation I had with Lori and Pat Lunney — people of faith who came to me with a strong desire to stand up against racism and white privilege.
Lori and Pat shared with me that for them, the all-too-frequent police shootings of people of color, specifically the death of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2016, was the impetus for what has become a ministry of social justice. Driven to take action after the tragedy, they joined with 12 like-minded people who collectively began La Crosse Area Showing Up for Racial Justice, a local chapter of the “national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and to work toward racial justice ... to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.”
Committed to further educating themselves about racism, the group established the SURJ Book Club. With continued literary enlightenment — learning about higher incarceration rates and major obstacles upon release from jail or prison that include obtaining employment, housing, education and crucial social services for people of color — the club took steps to start the SURJ Education Fund. This was when Pat and Lori approached me for FSPA support.
A true just-do-it moment happened when SURJ Book Club members found Western Technical College’s re-entry education services program: Project Proven. Project Proven works with the La Crosse County Jail to assist formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, regardless of race, to obtain a GED, transition to college-level courses, apply for jobs and manage finances, and improve both interpersonal interaction and basic computer skills. The fund also provides assistance with rent, childcare, transportation and purchasing work-appropriate clothing — anything that might help the person transition successfully to life after incarceration. Funds raised by La Crosse Area SURJ for the program are earmarked specifically for people of color, a first for Project Proven.
When Lori and Pat reached out to me for FSPA help to make Project Proven more sustainable, my heart connected with them in a deep way. Here are two ordinary people, partnering with other ordinary people, to make an extraordinary difference in the world. I was inspired and knew FSPA must be a part of this vital social justice movement. The call to action led to a ministry grant for Project Proven.
The grace of encounters like mine with Pat and Lori led FSPA to adopt this statement — truly A Revolution of Goodness — as one of our four-year goals: “We celebrate authentically unity in diversity by challenging ourselves to unveil our white privilege.” Like Lori and Pat and La Crosse Area SURJ, we are now educating ourselves about racism and white privilege. But we won’t stop there. We, too, will just do it.
Photo courtesy of Project Proven
Kemesha Harper, a recipient of Project Proven support and pictured above, “was instrumental in helping La Crosse Area Showing Up for Racial Justice establish its educational scholarship fund for Western Technical College,” says Lori Lunney. Within six months of receiving FSPA ministry grant assistance, “Project Proven reported that funds had been utilized for clothing, background check fees, groceries, a phone and a laptop computer for one student,” and payment of outstanding tuition fees for another. “These funds truly act as barrier busters for racially diverse people who might otherwise have limited options to stay in school.”