Olga Marina Segura, a freelance writer and the opinion editor at National Catholic Reporter, is the author of Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church, released last month from Orbis Books. A former associate editor at America Media, Segura is a co-founder and former co-host of the podcast Jesuitical. She was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and now lives in the Bronx. Commonweal contributing writer John Gehring spoke with Segura about her book and why the Catholic Church still has a long way to go in confronting white supremacy. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
John Gehring: Why did you want to write this book and who do you hope reads it?
Olga Marina Segura: I went into the writing process with a very specific idea of contextualizing the Black Lives Matter movement for the Church and to gently accompany white Catholics. And then the pandemic happened. People were getting sick around me. People were protesting police brutality. I wasn’t going to make the book easy or comfortable. Black and Brown people are suffering; we are suffering physical violence and spiritual violence every day. The pandemic radicalized me politically and spiritually.
JG: It’s clear reading your book that the Black Lives Matter movement, especially the women who co-founded it, had a deep personal impact on you. Why do you think this movement has been so effective in inspiring and mobilizing people?
OMS: I think it’s social media. This movement was born on Facebook and it used social media tools to teach people how to organize. It embraced social media when people were still trying to figure that out, and at a time when Millennials were coming of age. These women knew how to use these tools and resources, but they had also been organizing for more than fifteen years. They brought their own advocacy experience to the work. Because of the social media tools they used, I felt as if I could be a part of this conversation about the prison-industrial complex and police brutality. They really figured out how to talk to young people.
Church leaders can learn from that and really jump into this work. A lot of bishops want to have an auditing process first, to meet and vote. But when people are being killed by police violence, inequality, and the pandemic, there is no time for incrementalism. You have to meet people where they are.
JG: You urge leaders at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to meet with the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. Why would that be important?
OMS: We know that symbols matter in our Church. Pope Francis was just in Iraq asking for forgiveness, and that was extremely powerful. Imagine our faith leaders sitting down with the founders of Black Lives Matter and saying, “We have messed up. Can you teach us?” That would say to me, a Black immigrant Catholic, that you finally care, you are finally listening, finally doing the accompaniment you like to talk about so much. The bishops are a body of mostly white men and to have them in dialogue with the Black women who started this movement would be extremely powerful.
JG: Are there priests or Catholic sisters that you know who are working with or talking with Black Lives Matter activists?
OMS: At the local level there are a lot of sisters and priests doing that work. We saw in 2020 how many faith leaders aligned themselves with the movement. But the bishops need to get involved. We also know how Catholic money and power work. Our bishops can talk to those people who have influence and who need to be swayed. We need to see that trickle down from the top. There are people who would not listen to me, but would listen to Cardinal Dolan and others who have power and influence.
JG: What would you say to bishops and priests who have publicly criticized Black Lives Matter because of the movement’s positions on abortion and sexuality that are not aligned with Catholic teaching?