Diocesan News

Gen Z Catholic Wants to Combat Black Stereotypes

Emmanuel Charles said he is concerned about blacks being painted with a broad brush without regard to the diversity that exists within the community. (Photo: courtesy of Emmanuel Charles)

ROSEDALE — Emmanuel Charles loves being a storyteller and hopes a career in film is in his future. Charles, a 19-year-old freshman at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), has a specific goal in mind.

“I want to serve as a challenger to the culture,” he said.

Charles, who lives in Rosedale and is a parishioner at St. Clare’s Church, said the media makes the mistake of painting African-Americans with a broad brush with no accounting for the diversity that exists within the Black community.

“We are often portrayed as victims — as if we can’t take care of ourselves. We’re not all victims,” he said.

Charles is studying film and animation at NYIT. As a Gen Z member, the generation born after Millennials, he wants to use his youth and energy to bust through stereotypes. 

“I think the Diocese of Brooklyn has done a good job of making people of all races and nationalities feel like we all are part of the same church,”  he said. “I feel welcome in my church, and I have gone to other churches that have predominantly white congregations and have felt welcome. I don’t feel like anyone is treating me differently.”

While blacks make up only a small portion of the Catholic Church in America — 5 percent, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center — members of that community are making their voices heard. In the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Commission on Racism and Social Justice, formed by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in 2017, held hearings and received feedback from hundreds of people on ways the diocese could improve race relations.

Charles said he wishes the church would do a better job of educating rank and file Catholics about Black saints’ lives. St. Martin De Porres is his patron saint. “He did so much to help people,” he said. 

And he believes church leaders worldwide don’t speak out forcefully enough on issues like abortion and homosexuality. “They’ve let certain things slide,” he said, adding that he believes it is part of their responsibility to speak out.

Charles, an altar server at St. Clare’s before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, belongs to the church’s youth group. Group members talked a lot about race relations in America in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May. “I’ve met a lot of nice police officers, and I feel safer when they’re around. But most of us felt that a knee on George Floyd’s neck was too much,” he said.

Charles, a Brooklyn Technical High School graduate, said he grew closer to his Catholic faith while in high school. 

“When you go to a secular school, it exposes you to other viewpoints,” he said. “But it also makes you stand up for your beliefs.”