The Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from the Black and Indian Mission Office that will be used to promote “racial sobriety” training in the archdiocese.

“We will use the money to address the root of the problem (of racism) in a way that is Catholic, in a way that is open, in a way that is healing,” said Sandra Coles-Bell, program director for the archdiocese’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach.

The Black and Indian Mission Office – a national organization working with African American, Native American, and Alaska Native communities – awards the grants to dioceses, schools and other religious programs that evangelize and support those communities.

Coles-Bell said that her office is currently in the process of planning the program which is based on the book, Racial Sobriety, Becoming the Change You Want to See, written by Father Clarence Williams in 2007.

According to the publisher, the book is designed to help people in “witnessing to ourselves and others that our thinking, feeling and acting reflects our commitment to seeing each person as my brother or sister in the same human family.”

Father Clarence Williams, a Missionaries of the Precious Blood priest for more than 40 years, is a noted lecturer and author who has presented workshops on racism to civic and religious groups throughout the United States, South America, Africa, and Europe. He is also the former director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Coles-Bell said the “racial sobriety” program that her office is planning will be offered to Archdiocese of Washington employees, clergy and the laity.

“The audience for this is everyone, and has three phases – acknowledge, confront and transform,” she said. “We will train teams who will be certified to train others. That way, this will have longevity within the archdiocese.”

The program, Coles-Bell said, “talks about the healing we need to get to. It combats racism in a 12-step program that looks at the ‘how’ of the problem and then looks at the cure.”

She added that the “racial sobriety” program is a continuation of a call to action issued by Cardinal Donald Wuerl in his November 2017 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Racism Today.

In that letter, Cardinal Wuerl called racism a sin and a “persistent evil” that “denies the basic equality and dignity of all people before God and one another.”

“To address racism, we need to recognize two things: that it exists in a variety of forms, some more subtle and others more obvious; and that there is something we can do about it,” the cardinal wrote.

The process of writing the letter, titled “The Challenge of Racism Today” began several years earlier when an archdiocesan synod identified racism and diversity as priorities that needed to be addressed by the archdiocese.

“That letter called us to do something like this (racial sobriety program), and I know there are many people who are looking to learn more so that they can do more,” Coles-Bell said.

She added that her office was grateful for the grant because “this money affirms that the pastoral letter is expected to take strong root in this archdiocese.”

The racial sobriety program, she said, “is not superficial, this is something that will stick to the ribs, because it is very hopeful, very grounded and very Catholic.”

“This is a way the archdiocese is saying ‘we really want to address this problem (of racism) by making a heart and head connection’, ” Coles-Bell said.

For more information on the upcoming racial sobriety program, contact the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach at [email protected] or e-mail Sandra Coles-Bell at [email protected]