Justice Profiles: This is the fifth story in a series.
MORRISTOWN, Tenn. -- When Rita Castañon observes people clashing over issues around racism, she sees opportunities for Black and Brown people to unite and help build bridges for everybody.
In fact, she believes her Hispanic neighbors need to step up and "acknowledge the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement."
“Until Black lives are free and until they are treated decently, Brown and other communities will never be free," she said. "We need to unite and empathize with our Black brothers and sisters, because if we're not in the fight with them, we’re never going to get anywhere.”
Castañon, who turned 23 on Sept. 10, speaks with insight gained as a child brought to the U.S. from Mexico at a young age. When she was in 5th grade, her father was deported. She hasn’t seen him in 12 years.
Castañon went on to try to work her way through college. The road has been difficult, even with legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She has served as staff for Camp Wesley Woods and Camp in the Community. For the last year, she has served as Hispanic ministries outreach worker for Holston Conference’s Tennessee Valley District.
She's on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2022, majoring in psychology and political science at Carson-Newman University.
“My dream job is to be a resource for communities of color, either in the educational or policy wing,” she said, “or I would like to get my doctorate in psychology and be a psychologist who specializes in communities of color.”
As the denomination prepares to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Castañon said she would like to see Black communities celebrate her heritage, just as she would like to see Hispanic communities celebrate Black History Month in February.
“I think this year has not only tested the Black and White communities, but it has also tested the Black and Brown communities.” In addition to recognizing White privilege, Castañon believes people should recognize the stereotypes, cultural differences and language barriers that can divide Black and Brown communities.
“The pandemic is a big re-start for society,” she said. “Churches are closed. They’re not having activities. So in a way, they’re being forced to see the community that’s around them ... I hope the new model includes Black and Brown communities becoming stronger and unified, as well as trying to build bridges between the people of color and the Anglo community.”
In discussions about privilege (a hot topic for colleges and churches these days), people often confuse or mislabel their own privilege as a “gift” or a “blessing,” Castañon says.
“A gift is something God has given you to use for the world. A blessing is something that God has done for you in that moment,” she said. “But a privilege is something that you can use to do something about it. It’s the only one out of the three that you can use to make change happen for others and not for yourself.”
As an example, Castañon says people of color need friends to call when they’re in danger or treated unfairly due to race. “I should be able to speak up for my Black brothers and sisters if I’m a leader in the community,” she said.
Churches also can make a difference by speaking up for God’s children of various colors, she said. The pandemic has created and revealed an online gallery of pastors preaching God’s world from around the world. People notice when a church remains silent about racial strife happening on the news, said Castañon, a member of Liberty Hill United Methodist Church in Morristown.
“At the end of the day, I feel people are tired of being silent and tired of being quiet, and I feel they’re ready to seek validation. They are ready to seek change,” she said.
“I just wish churches would come out and say, ‘Black lives matter.' Just acknowledge it. If all lives matter, then Black lives matter.”
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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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