Remarks delivered to the St. Francis Xavier parish community for Mission Weekend
by Cassandra Agredo, Executive Director
October 10-11, 2020
I have recently learned that it is part of the current cultural shift towards equity and inclusion to introduce yourself at events with your name and with the name of the Indigenous tribe or tribes that used to occupy the land on which you now live or work. Some people disregard this as a performative, hollow gesture, and like anything else, if done without context or intention, it can be. However, I believe it can be a very meaningful practice. Doing so is a sobering reminder that, no matter where we are or what we are doing, we are doing it on the backs of countless numbers of people who were forced to give up their land, their heritage, and their lives because they were viewed as ‘unequal’ and ‘less than.’ It is a reminder that our country was built on an inherently unjust and racist system that continues to this day. It is a reminder that, no matter how hard we try, we can never give back all of what was taken, and all we can do now is what is right and just moving forward, fighting to create a more equitable and fair society, and striving not to repeat the evils of the past and present.
With this in mind, on this weekend honoring Indigenous People, my name is Cassandra Agredo and I’m the Executive Director of Xavier Mission. I’m addressing you from Manhattan, on what was originally Munsee Lenape land. Today, on this spot, lives an organization that works hard to care for those in our community who are struggling with a myriad of issues, many of which are rooted in deep, systemic, pervasive problems for which there is no quick fix, and for which we all bear some responsibility.
In the past, Mission Weekend has been a time to celebrate the work of Xavier Mission and to recognize the good that we do. However, with all that is happening in our country and in our world, we at Xavier Mission are taking a long, hard look at our organization and exploring the ways that we are a part of the systems that we want to change. This weekend, we want to focus on what we as an organization and a community are called to do to address the issues that make it necessary for us to exist in the first place, and the ways that we have been complicit in upholding and even perpetuating those problems.
This is a journey that we are all required, as members of the human race, to take. It requires an honest look at our own biases, fears, assumptions, and privilege. It is not easy and it is not quick, but it is necessary. We ask you to join us as we take a deep breath, exhale the knee-jerk emotions we may feel hearing some of these words and phrases that are so fraught with political meaning these days, and open our hearts to the very real, lived experience of our fellow human beings.
There is no question that every person faces challenges – each one of us has experienced difficulties in our lives, some many more than others. However, there are many people among us who, in addition to the obstacles of the general human experience – illness, mental illness, injury, addiction, war, trauma, abuse, loss – also face obstacles because of things they have no control over – the color of their skin, country of their birth, their gender and sexual identities. Some people – such as transgender black women – have to contend with ALL of those additional “challenges”. Recognizing that these layers of added hurdles exist for some people does not negate the challenges that the rest of us face. It does not mean that we haven’t suffered or that we don’t deserve care and attention for our wounds too. It simply means that there are those who require extra care and attention to help them past the additional layers of hurdles. It also means that those of us running the race without as many hurdles need to start doing the work of removing those extra hurdles, so that we can all run the same race.
In beginning this work, it is difficult, but not surprising, to recognize that the majority of people we serve at Xavier Mission are Black, Latinx, and other people of color, and the majority of people doing the serving and the donating are white. My purpose here is not to explain why that is true, or why that truth is problematic. At this point in time, I imagine we all understand the whys. I am here simply to acknowledge that we recognize that this IS a problem, and it is one that we at Xavier Mission must be, and are, engaged in and committed to solving.
This weekend, we launch our annual Holiday Hope & Healing Campaign. This campaign helps to fund our financial assistance program, as well as other organizational expenses, throughout the remainder of the year. As you can imagine, we are being inundated with applications right now from people who are behind on their rent and other bills due to the pandemic.
Usually in my address to you on Mission Weekend, I share a specific story or two of people we serve, in the hopes that it will tug your heartstrings and encourage you to donate to support our work. But I’m not going to do that today. Instead I’m going to tell you what we strive to do, and ask that you will support Xavier Mission, not because you feel connected to one of the people that we serve, but because you feel connected to ALL of them. Not because you were brought to tears, but because you feel in your heart that it is the right thing to do. Not because I inspire you to support us, but because Jesus has called us all to care for our brothers and sisters.
At Xavier Mission, we provide our neighbors with the most basic of human needs, the things that make life possible – food, clothing, and shelter. We offer a sense of welcome, safety, and love, for those who do not feel welcome, safe or loved elsewhere. We offer people the chance to make the changes in their lives that they want to make, and empower them to grow and achieve their goals. We help prevent people from becoming homeless by supporting them through difficult times with assistance and resources to overcome their challenges and find stability. We serve thousands of people every year, with tens of thousands of meals, hundreds of thousands of dollars in assistance, countless smiles, and open arms. And now we are also striving to make sure that we are doing all of these things in the most just, equitable, and sensitive way possible, so that we are not causing any harm to our neighbors in our attempt to help them.
That is the essence of Xavier Mission. While we struggle with systemic issues, we serve our neighbors, one person at a time. We hope that you will support us, join us as a volunteer, and walk with us on this journey, as we live out Christ’s call to love one another as he has loved us.