Rockford Native Recalls Growing Up on Changing West Side of Town, Urges All to Rethink Community
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
July 2, 2020
FREEPORT—Father Kenneth Anderson, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Freeport, grew up on the west side of Rockford at a time when it was changing into a place with families of many races.
 
“We had an excellent opportunity to engage with people who were very different from us,” he says. “As kids we became friends with these other kids who were Black. We knew them as friends and their parents as adults.
 
“The biggest difference,” he adds, “was that they were mostly Baptists and Evangelical Christians.”
Many of his friends from Rockford’s east side “seemed to perceive Blacks as a threat to their well-being and safety.” He says that “huge hurdle” comes from “not knowing other people in a very human, personal way.”
 
One barrier to that human connection may be “what is seen in entertainment and in the media,” he says. “Eddie Murphy, the hip-hop culture, and Saturday Night Live are not the totality of what it means to be Black.” 
 
He is concerned that as a result at least some Catholic youths have a skewed perception of Black culture.
 
From his current perspective on the west edge of Freeport, Father Anderson points to another place where he sees barriers. 
 
“It is very much like the perception that the west half of the diocese is a bunch of ... farmers,” he says. Those kinds of “broad brush” sterotypes are a cause of “walls and defenses (that) discourage true dialogue.”
 
Church has resources
 
He points to resources available in the Church to combat the walls, defenses and inaccurate perceptions. 
 
“Our Church has an enormous amount of documents and writings concerning racism, human dignity, and the respect of human life,” he says. “We should be, especially at this time, talking about these and beginning conversations of what it means to respect life, from womb to tomb. 
 
“We can be talking about some of our great saints whose lives touched the poor and anawim, especially those people who are considered to be minorities.” 
 
He points to St. Martin DePorres and St. Katharine Drexel as examples to follow
 
Scripture, too, is filled with the “one bread, one body” view of humanity, he says.
 
Father Anderson sees parishes as places where Catholics can become “engaged in programs and with people that support all people, especially Blacks and other minorities. 
 
“We could join other churches to pray for justice and peace, and locally support issues that are of concern to the poor, oppressed and forgotten people,” he adds.
 
He and his staff have begun discussions to start in that direction with a special study evening, he says. 
“We had suggested going through some of the stereotypes of Black people and where these originated,” he says, pointing also to the many positives that come from Black culture such as “gospel, jazz, and blues music” as well as great African-American artists who “combine the experience of slavery with some African motifs” in their art.
 
It is, he adds, a matter of “the building of understanding and knowledge … It is not all about beating our breasts and tearing our garments.”
 
Father Anderson bemoans the loss of Rockford’s Martin House, a ministry of the Diocese headed up by Father William Collins. 
 
“When we closed the Martin House, on the southwest side of Rockford, we closed any ministry (specifically) to the Black community,” he says. 
 
He had volunteered after Father Collin’s death to carry on some of his work. A perceived lack of Black Catholics derailed his offer.
 
“Maybe we need to re-examine that,” he says.
 
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