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Community still feels impact of Floyd's murder, related events a year later

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Lift each other up in the midst of trauma, poverty and injustice.

That's the simple but profound advice from Michael Goar as he works through the anxiety and sorrow of clients and employees at the organization he leads, Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact one year ago of the death of George Floyd at the hands of former police office Derek Chauvin.

Many employees of Catholic Charities, and many of the people the organization helps, are Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American, said Goar, president and CEO of the largest social services organization in the Twin Cities, with over 500 employees serving 23,000 men, women, children and families each year.

Last summer, protests focused on racial justice and police reform followed Floyd's death in the Twin Cities and around the country. Rioting also broke out in St. Paul and Minneapolis and other U.S. cities. The Minneapolis Star Tribune daily newspaper estimates that more than 1,500 locations were damaged in the Twin Cities, with dozens of buildings burned down. Chauvin's trial drew further national attention.

"The issue of racial reckoning has a tremendous impact on a personal level, not just an institutional level," Goar said.

He doesn't leave himself out.

"One thing I recall, when I first saw Mr. Floyd's death at the hands of Mr. (Derek) Chauvin, I felt like that could have been me," said Goar, who was born in South Korea, adopted at age 12 and raised in south Minneapolis.

"I don't have a stamp on my forehead that I'm CEO of Catholic Charities. I am a Black man in our community," he said.

Goar, 55, took the helm at Catholic Charities in January, after nearly five years of leading youth mentoring organization Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities and serving in public education before that.

The COVID-19 pandemic and Floyd's death have been particularly hard on youths, who haven't developed the coping skills of an adult, Goar said.

School campuses were closed for months last year during the pandemic, limiting youths' ability to seek counseling or other assistance if they needed it, he said.

Recent violence making headlines in Minneapolis reflects some of the trauma being felt, Goar said. Three young children were struck by stray bullets in the course of two weeks in Minneapolis and one died.

So far this year, the city has had more than two dozen homicides, nearly double the number at the same time last year.

"It's profoundly impacting our youth," Goar said of the pandemic, Floyd's death and the protests and riots that followed in the Twin Cities and around the country. "Young people don't have the tools and skills to debrief and talk it over. On top of that, you have single parents, food insecurity, homelessness.

"Who will they process with? Who will they talk to? We are witnessing young people disengaging from community norms and engaging in destructive behavior."

Catholic Charities has a child care center and programs that assist young families and homeless youths 16 and older, Goar said. "Where possible, where we engage, we are very aware" of the difficult environment, he said.

Statistics show that homelessness and a lack of affordable housing disproportionately impact people of color, Goar said. Blacks are incarcerated at a higher rate than whites, and Minnesota is last among the 50 states for people of color graduating from high school, he said.

A 12-member volunteer committee at Catholic Charities has helped lead efforts in the organization to greater equity and diversity, Goar said.

All Catholics need to be aware of racial injustice where it exists and the issues of equity and diversity, and the shepherds of the Catholic Church have a critical role in talking to the faithful about this, said the pastor of a historically Black parish in St. Paul.

"That is the purpose for shepherds, to preach the Gospel," said Father Erich Rutten, pastor of St. Peter Claver Church, "and to call out injustice, to call out evil when we see it. ... If 50 years from now, if they're looking back and all they see was a silent church, it's just a great scandal."

Father Rutten made his remarks during his appearance on the new "Gloria Purvis Podcast" from America Media. Purvis, who is Black, is a radio personality and Catholic commentator.

The priest recalled seeing the video of his death, calling it egregious and traumatizing. He said the parish quickly put together a video "just to try to speak out." Father Rutten said he wanted to send a message to encourage "our community to hang on and hold onto each other."

The universal church needs to be exactly that — a universal church, Father Rutten said. "And really, if we have the heart of Christ, that means to reach out specifically to those who are on the margins."

"And if we're missing that, that's not just a feel-good thing," he added. "That's a core element of the Gospel. And I think that would change the conversation about race."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021