By Jessica Shannon
I may not be parading around Union Square, but in no way does that discount the amount of social justice work that I have done. In fact, when I have the time and autonomy to attend protests, I certainly will. Do these actions make me a bad Catholic? Or a bad Christian? They do not.
Without my faith, I would not have the motivation to care about social justice issues. As a young white woman living in an upper-middle class neighborhood, I have always been privileged in almost every way. I saw this as an opportunity to make a difference. I could use the prejudices of society to help the prejudiced. I thus set out on a journey to use my voice to make their voices heard. Catholicism made me recognize injustice and understand that it is my responsibility to help to make a change.
Even though I grew up in Catholic school, nothing made sense to me. Romans 12:10 says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
Yet, every day on the news or in the newspapers I saw stories about rape, murder and police brutality. Romans 2:10 says, “For God does not show favoritism.”
Yet, white women make 77 cents to the white man’s dollar. They’re lucky compared to black women who make 64 cents to the white man’s dollar and Hispanic women who make 54 cents to the white man’s dollar. I experienced this in my own life when I ran for class president of my middle school – St. Mel’s Catholic Academy in Flushing – and lost.
I was told by several boys in the class that it was just because “they didn’t think women were strong enough to be president.”
I was aghast for two reasons: first, I had no idea that people in my class harbored such misogynistic sentiments; second, we were in seventh grade at the time of the election. I realized that this hate was everywhere. It made no sense to me because many times people cite religion for having prejudices, but no religion teaches hate. In fact, all teach the same sentiments which I quoted from the New Testament. My experiences compelled me to involve myself more in social issues.
When I got to high school, the first thing I did was join my school’s all-girls robotics team. I was interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). I figured that there was no better way to be introduced to engineering in a comfortable environment than with an all-girls robotics team.
Now, as a rising senior, and the soon-to-be captain of the team, I do not plan on going into a STEM-related field. But I can tell you that the team means a lot more to me than just learning about STEM. I’ve been able to encourage the team members to help me use our team as an outlet to help others. We aim to not only help spread STEM opportunities to those who wouldn’t originally have them, but also to help in any other way we can.
In terms of STEM-related outreach, we helped teach young girls at the Bronx House Community Center about the basics of Lego Robotics. These girls come from underfunded neighborhoods with high rates of crime and teenage pregnancy. If not for this program, these girls may never have had the opportunity to explore STEM as a career.
Even if they don’t go into a STEM field, they learned that they could achieve whatever they set their mind to. We do other forms of outreach as well. For example, one of the youngest members of the team, a girl named Montaha, has a family that owns an orphanage in Bangladesh.
This summer, she is visiting the orphanage and is then going to give our team a list of supplies that the children need. Every member from our team will donate something. I’m happy with all the work my team and I have done for the community. However, I know that being prideful is a sin. Thus, instead of being proud, I am grateful that I am able to help others.
Growing up Catholic taught me to recognize injustice and motivated me to act. For this, I am thankful. I hope that in the future I can continue to use what I have learned through my faith to help others.
Shannon is a rising senior at the Bronx High School of Science. She is a parishioner at St. Mel’s in Flushing.