Voices of Change: Sr Madeline Wicks

In honor of Black History Month, the SisterStory podcast producers have created a mini-series inspired by the voice of black sisters throughout history. The monologues presented in this series were derived from the interviews shared by author Dr. Shannen Dee Williams and of sisters who attended the first National Black Sisters Conference in 1970.

Inspired by the community she found with her fellow black sisters, Sr Madeline talks about her spiritual growth as she embraces her identity. Having found strength in her new community, she aims to extend that kind of personal support with her young students.

The National Black Sisters Conference (NBSC) was established in August 1968. NBSC was organized by Sister Martin de Porres Grey, R.S.M to confront racism in the Catholic Church and in society by supporting, communicating, and educating Black Catholic women religious. What began as a support system for Black women religious has turned into a national support and communication system for members of the Church, congregation, and surrounding society.

Pa Ying:
As an organization, the National Black Sisters Conference uses its platform to speak and act on social justice, educational, economical, and religious issues in the United States and the world. As a collective, NBSC promotes a positive image of the Black community, and serve to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the communities that they serve and live. As an organization, National Black Sisters Conference vows,

“As women religious and associates, we draw strength and courage from God, support one another in the faith; and hold our elders in high esteem. We study, speak and act on issues that impact the social, educational, economic, and religious milieu of the United States and the world community. We promote a positive self-image among ourselves, and all African Peoples. We believe that through the power of the Spirit working in and through us we can be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the communities where we live and serve.”

This is SisterStory Presents! And, I am Rocky.

Pa Ying Vang:
And I am Pa Ying Vang.

In honor of Black History Month, we at NCSW will be doing a special limited series focusing on the untold stories of Black Catholic Sisters.

Pa Ying Vang:
The stories from this series were discovered with the help of a news article from Global Sisters Report that was highlighting the dissertation of Dr. Shannen Dee Williams. Dr. Williams’ dissertation documents the history of Black Catholic Sisters.

Through further reading of Dr. William’s dissertation and further research, we learned of the National Black Sisters Conference. And, as we read, we found wonderful interviews with and commentary from sisters who were part of the conference. Their words provided powerful insight into their experience as sisters and the importance of this conference.

Pa Ying Vang:
Inspired by their words, we set out to create a very unique kind of podcast project. We read about the sisters interviewed, and, from that, wrote monologues inspired by them.

As these are monologues, they are best heard as they would be performed. So, we recorded them as they were performed on a stage.

Pa Ying Vang:
And, unlike our other series, where Rocky and I are the main voices, we have invited other women to participate.

*break*stage curtain opens and footsteps start*

In her dissertation, Dr. Williams’ wrote, “...black sisters are the forgotten prophets of American Catholicism and democracy.” This is performance inspired by one of those sisters. Performing as Sr Madeline Wicks, this is Maakwe Cumanzala.

Maakwe Cumanzala:
From the moment we are born, we are taught to be cautious of our blackness. Mothers and fathers worry about the threat that comes with our beautiful melanin that the world has learned to hate. The blackness that flows through, you and I, will have identified us for all things negative before we are even able to crawl. Before we have reached puberty, we have already heard “the talk” more times than we were present in class.

Our existence is policed because of our blackness. We change our clothes, the way we talk, our hair, and even the way we act. How we present ourselves to the world is examined and critiqued with extreme scrutiny. Accept ourselves? How could we? And, with dignity? Absolutely unimaginable.

Well, it was.

But, this last spring there was new growth. The flowers were the same as they were before, but, somehow, they were also different. The beautiful, tiny flowers that grew too low to be seen under the usual favorites grew much much taller. And, for the first time, it wasn’t just me, but so many others saw them too.

I am a sister. I am an educator. And, I’m one of those flowers. I grew to my natural strength and beauty, and no one could hide me from the sunlight. Instead, the sunlight is matched by the warmth that radiates from within me. And, it shines brighter everyday so that I may warm the newest of these flowers.

I know now that at least one group of black children is being pushed to accept themselves with dignity.

They will grow. They will love their blackness and I’ve never been more devoted to my work.



NYTimes Article: https://www.nytimes.com/1970/08/15/archives/finding-identity-black-nuns-...

Global Sisters Report: http://globalsistersreport.org/news/trends/forthcoming-book-documents-hi...

SisterStory Presents: Cover Art

About SisterStory Presents:

SisterStory Presents: is a collective podcast for work without a series for a home. One-offs, mini-series, short audio clips, and anything in-between; this podcast serves as a point of connection for SisterStory and the various audiences we serve.