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New advisory council will develop strategic plan to address racism

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Bishop Michael F. Burbidge named 14 Black lay leaders and clergy from across the diocese to a new Advisory Council on Racism Oct. 1. The council members, appointed for three-year terms, will meet at least quarterly to draw up a strategic plan for addressing racism in the diocese.

“I am confident this new council’s work will go a long way in addressing racism in communities throughout our diocese,” said Bishop Burbidge, who announced his intention to form the panel in early August at a prayer service titled “Requiem for the Black Children of God” at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. 

“As we come face to face with the evil of racism, we must remember always that God has created us in his image and likeness,” Bishop Burbidge said. “We are members of his holy family. Together, by the grace of God, we can achieve greater understanding and move forward in confident hope in the transforming power of Christ.

 “In 2018, my brother bishops and I issued a pastoral letter against racism, which urges ‘a genuine conversion that will compel change and the reform of our institutions and society.’ I pray that this council’s work helps bring us closer to that goal, and in doing so, enables us to find the courage not to be silent and to carry the light of Christ, peacefully and boldly, to others.”

Advisory council members were chosen “to reflect a diversity of voices and experiences, (people) who can work together to address racism in our time and place with the Gospel message as their guide,” said Bridget Wilson, director of the diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries. 

She said “the goal is to come up with a strategic plan to address racism and prejudice in our diocese, and achievable ways we can address these issues,” adding that the plan will be “implemented at the parish level and in our schools and ministries.” 

While some of those named to the panel are also active in diocesan Black Catholic Ministries, Wilson said the work of the advisory council will be separate and distinct. 

“In the Black Catholic Ministries, the focus is on elements of faith and evangelization, but this (advisory council) is a social justice, pro-life group. (Racism) is just an element of the dignity of life that we don’t focus on enough,” she said.  

Wilson said that while the strategic plan “ultimately will be beneficial to all people of color,” the advisory council is “focusing on the Black Catholic community of our diocese.” All of those named to the council identify as Black, African American, African or biracial, she said. 

Sharon McCarter, one of four council members from St. Joseph Church in Alexandria, said she sees the group’s mandate as related to “the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. I think many times racism exists because people really haven’t gotten to know one another. … If there is a lack of knowledge of other cultures and there are stereotypes, people are not able to ‘love thy neighbor.’ ” 

McCarter thinks it might help “if parishes make a conscious effort to hold multicultural events where people can meet parishioners of various backgrounds and get to know others who are not like themselves.

“One of the things I love about our parish is that it’s very diverse and very welcoming,” she said. “And our priest will talk about what is going on in the world. I appreciate that. Parishes have to address the issues that are going on in the world today, as far as racism, shootings, violence, policing issues” and more.

St. Joseph Church was founded in 1915 to serve Black Catholics in Northern Virginia. St.  Katharine Drexel, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II, was a contributor to the parish, which is staffed by the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the Josephites.  

“Racism is a horrible sin, and we want to root out the sin, but that’s just the start,” said Deacon Gerard-Marie Anthony of St. Timothy Church in Chantilly. People need “to see each other as a community of brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God,” said Anthony, also named to the advisory council. 

He hopes the group will take time for a listening process to hear from others in the Black Catholic community across the diocese. “People need to have opportunities to listen to each other from the heart, and touch peoples’ hearts,” he said. “We have to aim for the heart, that’s when we’ll be able to change.”

He also thinks activities where people of different races can get to know each other in the context of their families and as part of service projects could be helpful in breaking down barriers. “Service does bring people together with a common goal, to look beyond skin color,” he said. 

Wilson said Bishop Burbidge will attend the first council meeting, scheduled Oct. 28. At future meetings, if he is not available, he will be represented by Father Robert C. Cilinski, diocesan Episcopal Vicar for Charitable Works, who will sit on the council as a liaison, not as a voting member. Father Cilinski, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Burke, is chairman of the diocesan Peace and Justice Commission and is a Catholic Charities board member. Wilson said she will serve as recording secretary for the group. A chair for the panel has not been named. Meetings will not be open to the public, Wilson said.  

McCarter said she hopes “that what the bishop is trying to do will make a difference. It’s not going to be easy, but I feel optimistic about it. I certainly hope and pray for our country that we can make some changes.”

Biographies of advisory council members

Deacon Albert “Al” A. Anderson Jr., St. Joseph Church, Alexandria

Deacon Anderson is a retired accounting operations manager and past chair of diocesan Black Catholic Ministries. He and his wife, Beverly, both originally from Norfolk, have been married 51 years, and have two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He has volunteered with the New Beginnings program at the Alexandria Juvenile Detention Center and offers a Communion service at the Alexandria City Jail.  

Deacon Gerard-Marie Anthony, St. Timothy Church, Chantilly

Deacon Anthony was ordained a deacon in 2017 for the diocese where he has lived his whole life. He and his twin brother, Gerald, were born in Alexandria, and baptized at St. Rita Church; he also has lived in Arlington and Dale City. Currently, he serves at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Chantilly. 

Fr. Tony Appiah, St. Anthony Church, Falls Church

Father Tony is originally from Kumasi, Ghana, West Africa, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992 for the Archdiocese of Kumasi in Ghana. He arrived in the Diocese of Arlington in 2012 and serves as the representative to the Arlington Ghanaian Community, which meets weekly for Mass at Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria. He is in residence at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church.

Christian Bentley, St. Joseph Church, Alexandria

With a background in sales and marketing, Bentley also has advocated for mental health and social justice. His family has worshipped at St. Joseph since its founding, and previously at St. Mary Church in Alexandria (now the Basilica of St. Mary.) He sings in the gospel choir, and serves as a lector and cantor, among other roles. When he is not busy in his community, you can find him walking his dog, Epi, through the streets of Old Town Alexandria.

Joseph A. Brooks, Jr., St. Joseph Church, Alexandria

Born and raised (Baptist) in New Orleans, Brooks has a degree in electrical engineering. In 1984, he began working for the Department of the Army and a year later he transferred to the Night Vision Laboratory at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County. He and his wife, Desiree, have two daughters and have been members of St. Joseph for almost 35 years. In 1997, he converted to Catholicism. He serves on various ministries, sings in the gospel choir, and is on the pastoral council, among other roles. He is the Grand Knight of the Knights of Peter Claver, Council 398.

Iris C. Brown, St. Jude Church, Fredericksburg

A cradle Catholic who grew up in Cleveland, Brown has been a deputy court clerk, worked in banking and in nonprofit organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where she was administrative secretary for the Secretariat for Evangelization. She has significant volunteer experience and is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and religious education assistant. She is founder and editor of The Voice Newspaper, News and Information Echoing African American Viewpoints, and she created and produced “The VOICE” TV show for 10 years. She has founded and been involved in many community organizations.

Beverly Carroll, Holy Family Church, Dale City

Carroll, who was born and raised in West Virginia, is vice chair of the diocesan Black Catholic Ministries and is involved in many ministries at Holy Family Church, in addition to serving as president of the Dale City Lions Club. Married for 42 years, she has three children. She worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s public affairs office until retiring with 40 years of federal service. For 20 years, she was the logistics and program manager for the team in charge of procuring and transporting the Capitol Christmas tree.

Gerard “Jerry” Cousin, Holy Trinity Church, Gainesville

Cousin, chair of the diocesan Black Catholic Ministries, was born in New Orleans, and served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army for 26 years before retiring. He joined General Dynamics in information technology, continuing to support the military and other government agencies for the next 24 years. Jerry and his wife, Song, have been married 50 years and have two children and one grandson. He coordinates a weekly rosary for an end to COVID-19 and for an end to racism.

James “Jim” Crawford, Church of the Nativity, Burke

Crawford is a retired vice admiral of the U.S. Navy.  An experienced leader, he served in a number of critical positions during his 35-year career, including legal counsel to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commander of NATO Rule of Law Field Support, Afghanistan, and as the Judge Advocate General of the Navy. He serves on the parish counsel.

Kolie Erokwu, Cathedral of St. Thomas More, Arlington

Erokwu is an Ohio native and a resident of Arlington. She attended Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla., and practices personal injury law in Maryland.

Fr. Ghenghan Bamenio Mbinkar, St. Mark Church, Vienna  

Father Mbinkar hails from Jakiri in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. He attended seminary in Cameroon, where he graduated with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and divinity. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Kumbo, Cameroon, in 2012. He was formator in the minor seminary where he taught Latin, music and religious studies, was director of the cathedral choir and was chaplain of the diocesan pastoral center. In 2014, he began further studies in canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, where he graduated with a licentiate in canon law in 2017. Father Mbinkar assists with the Cameroon Catholic Community and the Francophone Catholic Community.

Sharon McCarter, St. Joseph Church, Alexandria

As a member of a military family, McCarter grew up in Naples, Italy. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English and a master's in communications, she had a long and successful career with the federal government, working for the Air Force, the Department of Defense, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She retired as a senior executive after 36 years in communications, public affairs, education outreach, protocol and event planning. Then she became a substitute teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools, working with special needs children in grades K-4. She is a reservist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and has served as a manager in recovery centers in Texas, Hawaii and Georgia. She is involved in many parish ministries. She and her husband, Ben, live in Alexandria. 

Melissa Rihl, St. Leo the Great Church, Fairfax

Melissa Rihl is director of youth ministry at St. Leo the Great, where she has served since 2015. Before that, she was assistant director of youth ministry from 2012 to 2015. Rihl comes from an interracial family and converted to Catholicism in her early teens. She graduated from Florida State University in Tallahassee with a bachelor’s in theatre. She lives with her husband and two children in Fairfax. In her free time, she enjoys running, singing, growing potatoes and tending to her lemon tree. 

Fr. Cedric Wilson, Church of the Nativity, Burke 

Father Wilson was ordained to the priesthood in 1978 for the Order of Saint Augustine, Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova in Pennsylvania. He earned his doctorate at Howard University in Washington, and as a psychologist, worked at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale. He has been in residence in the Diocese of Arlington since 2007 at St. Leo the Great and St. Agnes Church in Arlington. He serves as the pastor’s delegate for the Hispanic community at Nativity.

Find out more

Read more about the new Advisory Council on Racism


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