Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

July 17, 2019

Modeling Thomas Merton as a Response to Racism

Racism is a deeply embedded and terrible part of the American consciousness. Since its inception the Americas have been plagued by the commodity of objectifying other human beings, buying and selling them for a price. It is essential to reclaim and acknowledge the dignity of the human person in the midst of aggression and violence that continue today. Although racism is still present today, in obvious and physical actions, it is more often present in opinions that we hold in our hearts, directly or indirectly affecting our thoughts and actions. The following lesson can help adolescents recognize traumatic experiences of racism in the past, through a tangible example and the lens of Thomas Merton.

The Birmingham Bombing

On September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded at the 16th street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  The timed explosive device injured more than twenty and killing four young girls between eleven and fourteen years old.  It is chronicled that the Cistercian monk  and popular twentieth century author Thomas Merton was so haunted by a photo of one of the girls who was killed that he kept a magazine clipping of her picture in his journal – as a constant reminder of someone who never learned how to hate (Merton, The Road to Joy: Letters to Old and New Friends, 1989). Merton was also so moved by the horrific attack that he wrote a letter directly to the McNair family (who lost their daughter Denise in the bombing), as well as two poems inspired by the event (Merton, The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, 1980). 

Preparation

Have the students develop a contextual understanding of the Birmingham Bombing by researching several credible resources about the event (such as, but not limited to):

Have the students develop a contextual understanding of the Birmingham Bombing by researching several credible resources about the event (such as, but not limited to):

Activity

Have students choose a contemporary example of racism or stereotyping in culture (offer examples of groups/communities affected by racism, if necessary).  Then commission the students to create an artistic response to explain and address that situation or event of racism such as through: a poem, song, short film, eulogy, digital painting or online blog/article.

Submitted by

Thomas Malewitz, M.T.S., Ph.D.

St. Xavier High School (Louisville, KY)

 

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