November 20, 2015

Be Our Guest / Fr. Kenneth Taylor

Brown’s legacy includes imploring Church to address racial issues

Last weekend, citizens of the city of Indianapolis gathered in large numbers to celebrate the funeral of Amos Brown III. For those of you outside of Indianapolis, you may not be familiar with him.

Amos Brown was a journalist who for 40 years spoke out for the African-American community through television, print and radio. He became known as being a voice for the voiceless. At his funeral, speaker after speaker, from a former governor and former mayors to grass-roots community leaders spoke as to how he would tackle any problem that people had, no matter how big or how small.

If a pothole hadn’t been fixed or if a street light was out, he would be on the case. If the issue was a problem in the judicial system or the educational system, he was on it.

Brown was especially noted for standing up for the African-American community and boldly addressing any issue that would help improve the life of the community. He always backed up his claims with extensive research. One speaker said that when he interviewed you, you had better know your stuff because Amos already knew your stuff before he would ask the question.

While not Catholic himself, Amos had a great respect for the Church. He felt that the Catholic Church had the potential to effectively address the racial issues of the day. But he felt that the Church was not fulfilling its potential, and so he kept pushing. In that regard, Brown was similar to another journalist from another time.

Daniel Rudd was an African-American Catholic layman who lived in the 1800’s. Strong in his faith, he too felt that the Catholic Church had the potential to effectively address the racial issue of his day. He began publishing a newspaper, the American Catholic Tribune, and kept pushing the Church to fulfill its potential.

Eventually, he felt that more needed to be done, so in 1889 he convened the first National Black Catholic Congress in Washington. This was the first ever national assembly of lay Catholics in U.S. history. It was deemed so important that the president of the United States addressed the assembly. That first Congress highlighted the issues facing the African-American community that the Church was called upon to address.

National Black Catholic Congresses are still being held. The most recent one was held in 2012 in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Many of the issues that were raised were very similar to those of the first Congress, and again the call went out to our Church to fulfill its great potential.

This is the kind of legacy that Amos Brown leaves us. With what we are seeing around the country, we still need to face racial injustice head on. Amos would not back down and would not give up.

As Catholics, we can make a difference if we would allow the full potential of our faith to come through.

(Father Kenneth Taylor is pastor of Holy Angels and St. Rita parishes, both in Indianapolis, and president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.)

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